by Larry Misedah
IRMA Steering Committee Member

Even though same sex practices are criminalized in Kenya, there have been milestones that are of great significance. It is however of great importance that people and institutions maintain their commitment and strengthen the links between scholars, advocates and service providers in ways that build and sustain the development of skills, knowledge production, and the accessibility of local literature.

As the world marked the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO – May 17), this year saw a remarkable commemoration of the day in Kenya graced by great panelists from the mainstream human rights organizations. The issue of strategies came out strongly from both the Commissioner for the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Lawrence Mute and the Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Muthoni Wanyeki .

In his speech about the use of Yogyakarta Principles to advance human rights for LGBTI people in Kenya, Mr. Mute pointed out the challenges still faced in Kenya especially in terms of intervention programs. He pointed out the inclusion of MSM (men who have sex with men) in the Kenya National Strategic Plan yet there are no intervention programs on the ground apart from the initiative of a few organizations. Perhaps key to the health awareness for MSM/WSW (women who have sex with women), was Nguru Karugu, a public health consultant who gave a speech about how homophobia hinders HIV/AIDS intervention programs for MSM/WSW. Mr. Karugu stressed on the issue of internalized homophobia drawing from varied research that have been carried out. As a way forward, he put the different groups at task to try and find out the possible ways of investigating whether internalized homophobia also has implications for the activities carried by the different organizations in trying to prevent sexual risk behavior.

In the presentation about th importance of inclusion of MSM in research projects – Joseph from the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative( KAVI) made a strong emphasis on the importance of inclusion of MSM as a sub group in the HIV/AIDS Vaccine research in ensuring an effective vaccine for all taking into consideration the different strains of HIV. Notably, KAVI still remains one of the few organizations that provide intervention programs for MSM.

Despite the research done by Coalition of African Lesbians in South Africa, WSWs are still not believed to not be at a higher risk of HIV infection. This has led to being left out at the National Plans for HIV/AIDS intervention Programs citing lack of evidence. This brought out clearly the importance of data in providing evidence since interventions can only be carried out where the facts have been verified.

As the day came to a close with a silent candle light vigil held in memory of those who have suffered and even lost their lives to homophobia. With the prevalence rate of 22% following the VCT services carried out at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) in December 2008, hearts poured out to those who have lost their lives to HIV and suffered severe consequences of other STIs in silence. With the Access Project, an Initiative of Ishtar MSM with funding from the amfAR with technical support from Liverpool VCT care and treatment, it is of utmost hope that the project and other initiatives will provide access to relevant sexual health information to MSM in Nairobi in order to reduce the rate of spread of HIV/Aids and STIs among the group.