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Transgender Kenyans Seek Refuge After Activist's Killing


Arya Rams, a transgender women, poses for a photograph outside a safe-house in Kenya hosting members of the LGBT community who have been profiled and assaulted in various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, Jan. 11, 2023.

Kenyan transgender woman Arya Rams says safe housing for people like her has become critical following the killing of LGBTQ rights activist Edwin Chiloba last week.

Her community, she said, has been facing backlash following Chiloba's gruesome murder.

The 27-year old now lives in a room in a safe house located deep in Kenya's Rift Valley with support from a Dutch non-governmental organization, Trans Rescue.

For the first time in years, Rams said she goes to sleep and wakes up daily without dread, something that hitherto was a luxury for her.

But the LGBTQ community in Kenya was yet again thrown into a state of shock and disbelief after Chiloba's body was found in a metal box on the side of a road near the town of Eldoret.

According to a pathologist, Chiloba died of asphyxiation caused by socks stuffed in his mouth.

Police this week named Chiloba's reported partner as the main suspect in his death amid ongoing investigations. Reuters has not been able to reach him for comment.

"People were visiting the social networks of other homosexuals saying, 'Have you seen Chiloba? You're next,'" Arya said.

Being transgender in Kenya can be dangerous. In 2021, a mob stoned a friend of hers to death on a beach near the town of Malindi, Arya said. Rams said that a few months later, she was chased by people wielding machetes.

FILE - Kenyan LGBT activist Edwin Chiloba poses for a selfie in Narayanganj, Bangladesh March 14, 2022, in this picture obtained from social media.
FILE - Kenyan LGBT activist Edwin Chiloba poses for a selfie in Narayanganj, Bangladesh March 14, 2022, in this picture obtained from social media.

Much of the public commentary on the case has been harsh and, at times, threatening.

"Let's not waste time discussing LGBTQ ...it's illegal...Jail them," lawmaker Mohammed Ali tweeted Tuesday.

A rarely-enforced colonial-era law makes gay sex punishable by 14 years in prison. Identifying as gay or transgender is not a crime.

Amnesty International and other campaign groups last week said there had been increasing cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), as well as domestic abuse, across Kenya.

They said there was an "uncoordinated and often reluctant response to SGBV from State and non-state actors" and called on authorities to do more to investigate crimes and work with survivors.

A positive response to that appeal would make a big difference, said Arya.

"I'm just saying that if someone ... from the LGBTQ community could be in a situation whereby they don’t fear to walk into a police station and record a statement ... then probably we could have reduced a lot of (problems)."

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