A Nairobi-based newspaper is under fire for publishing a list of Kenya's "Top gays, lesbians," in a move eerily reminiscent of media practices in neighboring Uganda that many believe have prompted homophobic attacks and murders.
Kenya's Weekly Citizen, which bills itself as "Kenya's most authoritative political newspaper," on Sunday published a front-page story featuring photos of what the paper describes as "Top gays, lesbians list in Kenya."
"The article was clearly written to instigate violence towards the LGBT community and activists in particular, but that won’t stop us from fighting for our rights. We shall not be cowed or intimidated," George Barasa, a Kenyan gay rights activist told Uganda's Kuchu Times, a news outlet run by LGBT activists in east Africa.
Newspapers in east Africa are no stranger to splashing the names and photos of leading LGBT activists, along with provactive headlines, across a publication's front page. In 2011, a now-defunct Ugandan tabloid ran a similar article listing the country's "Top Homos," including prominent activist David Kato, under a text banner that read "Hang Them."
Shortly after Kato's picture appeared on the tabloid's front page, he was bludgeoned to death with a hammer inside his own home. A judge ultimately rejected a "gay panic" defense from Kato's killer, sentencing Enoch Nsubuga to 30 years in prison.
Many believed that the salacious nature of the cover contributed to Kato's death — and LGBT activists ultimately used the tragic incident to win a court injunction against publications publishing similar lists in the future. Unfortunately, the ruling hasn't stopped Ugandan tabloids from running similar lists, including plagiarizing an award-winning photo-essay from The Advocate, which was splashed across the front page with a headline reading "Uganda's top gays speak: How we became homos."
Indeed, Kuchu Times reflected on the hostile environment LGBT Africans face in the media, lamenting that "Such incidences where the media has incited violence to the point of death should serve as a lesson not to put other people’s lives in danger, but not in Africa."
Paper's Online Commenters Reject Homophobic List
While the Citizen's list seems intended to incite anti-LGBT hatred, the good news is that readers seem to be unwilling to accept the transparent, homophobic premise of the coverage.
Comments on the newspaper's website were overwhelmingly supportive of the gay and lesbian people outed by the publication, including words of encouragement directed at the activists listed who ventured into the Citizen's comment board. In fact, at press time, there was not a single comment supporting the list on the first page of comments at the paper's own site.
Some activists believe the list's publication is part of a backlash against two recent victories by the LGBT community in Kenya, including successfully securing an apology from the country's vice president for insinuating that there was no place for homosexuals in Kenyan society.
The other victory was a court ruling that overturned a bureaucratic decision to block Kenya’s National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission from operating as an officially recognized nongovernmental organization, on the grounds that Kenyan law "criminalizes gay and lesbian liaisons."
Barasa, the gay Kenyan activist, did find a silver lining to the Citizen's incendiary coverage:
"Some of us [listed by the Citizen] are openly gay, but that does not mean anyone can just bad mouth us, and I know the lawsuit might be on the way," Barasa told Kuchu Times. "One thing I would like to assure everyone is that if there is one thing that gays are good at is winning a court case."