By Lesego Tlhwale (BTM Intern)
KENYA – 21 October 2009: Blackmail and money extortion are increasing in Kenya as gays are forced to pay some scheming members of society to keep mum about their sexual orientation.
Other Sheep-Kenya, a gay rights Christian organisation, has reported that one of its members became the latest casualty to the scam of being blackmailed by his neighbour.
The victim who requested to remain anonymous told Other Sheep-Kenya that he was currently visited by his neighbour who asked him many things about homosexuality.
“He was very friendly and so we talked about life in general and homosexuality. With time, he told me he was working for an organisation [which he named], that offers health programs for the gay community.”
He added that the neighbour questioned him about the existence of gays in Kenya and about the gay life in general.
Having gathered substantial information, the neighbour allegedly started threatening the victim.
“He said he was trying to gather information to confirm that I was gay because there should be no gays in society and that he was going to take action, unless I give him money.”
When the victim did not cooperate, the neighbour allegedly started assaulting him.
Such incidents, according to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists, are widespread and have distressed many members of the gay community in Kenya.
Lourence Misedah of ISHTAR, a gay rights organisation in Nairobi said numbers of gays have been blackmailed but fail to report the cases for fear of being exposed.
“It [blackmail] also occurs by people working closely with members of the gay community who identify some of the targets and then start working with the police, or issue threats to out these people if they do not offer certain amounts [of money] requested”, Misedah said.
He pointed out that one of the reasons for such manipulation is the fact that the majority of LGBTI people in the country are still closeted due to trans and homophobia in society.
“Even when they know the law they [victims] would not want to be humiliated further by following the cases up.”
Even though he said most cases go unreported, Misedah acknowledged support from the Kenyan Human Rights Commission on reported cases.
He however said that there is still lack of awareness within the police force about the laws and that this results in further stigma and discrimination.
“The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALK), through its different partners and networks, has tried to address this issue but is currently facing challenges following up the cases fully, because people involved opt not to further pursue the cases, fearing the repercussions”, Missedah concluded.