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Meet the people behind the first Pride at a refugee camp in Kenya

Meet the people behind the first Pride at a refugee camp in Kenya

A colorful Pride festival is set to take place for the first time in one of the world’s most infamous and homophobic refugee camps.

The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya is the third largest in the world. It became famous for hosting the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’. Last week, it also became the first refugee camp in the world to host a TEDx event.

It’s also home to about 200 refugees who identify as LGBTIQ, many of them from neighboring Uganda. The Ugandan refugees fled from their country after the government tried to introduce a ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill.

LGBTIQ have faced violence and death threats for years at Kakuma, but they hope this week’s Pride event will help raise awareness about the community.

It’s a risky business trying to organize a Pride festival in a country where gay sex is illegal. It can also be hard when you’re surrounded by people who label you as ‘demonic’.

But that’s exactly what Mbazira Moses, executive director of Rainbow Flag Kakuma, is trying to do.

‘We have been at refugee day celebrations as LGBTIQ refugees in the past but with out being clear that it’s also pride celebrations due to the fear of threats and intimidation from homophobes and heterosexual refugees,’ he told Gay Star News.

‘But in Kakuma camp, this year with courage and security promised by security organzations we decided to be clear with an aim of letting the people around the camp know that we are of no harm, we are human like any of them and also to promote unity amongs us as LGBTI refugees.’

Putting up flyers around the refugee camp to advertise the upcoming pride march. | Photo: Rainbow Flag Kakuma

All of Kakuma’s LGBTIQ refugees are there because they were persecuted for their sexual and/or gender identity in their home countries.

Moses has planned a full day of celebrations on 16 June. The celebrations will kick off with a sports event in the morning. Later in the day the Rainbow Flag Kakuma will host a fashion parade and lip sync performances for trans women.

‘Organizing a pride event inside a refugee camp is so challenging, we get negative comments, abuse, neglect, authorities refuse to give us permission for things’ Moses said.

‘We also face ignorance and poor perception of refugee issues by the people in power and local chiefs.’

Rainbow Kakuma Flag crowdfunded US$1,500 to help pay for the Pride festival.

‘You’re demonic’

Moses extended an official invitation to all organizations and agencies operating within Kakuma. They include groups like the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and World Vision Kenya.

a letter and envelope, it is a4 size and is an invitation
The official invitation to the Kakuma Pride festival. | Photo: Rainbow Flag Kakuma

But one of the organizations has flatly rejected Moses’ invitation because does not want to associate with ‘demonic issues’.

Moses and other refugees went to visit the Kakuma office of World Vision Kenya to find out if it was attending the Pride festival. But the organization’s staff allegedly told them a Christian organization couldn’t associate with LGBTI events.

According to Moses the staff told him: ‘we received your invitation letter to your refugee day/Pride celebrations but we sat as the officers in charge and we looked into our objectives, terms and conditions, right from our headquarters. We do not assist or engage in any activities to deal with LGBTIQ refugees, being that that we are Christians and our organization doesn’t need to associate with any demonic issues. Vacate our premises in 15 seconds and never come back here’.

‘Such a statement left us worried, desperate and disrespected, denied rights and discomforted spiritually, and emotionally,’ Moses said.

Discussion were respectful

A World Vision spokesperson told Gay Star News the discussions between Moses and its ‘were held in a respectful manner’.

‘We are planning to continue further discussions in future so that both sides can fully understand each other’s positions,’ the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also denied World Vision would not discriminate against someone based on their sexuality.

‘As a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to serving the world’s most vulnerable children, we believe every person is created in God’s image and deserves life in all its fullness,’ they said.

‘We aspire to reflect God’s unconditional love in all we do, and believe basic human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should be protected and available to all people.

‘As a humanitarian organisation, we are a signatory to the International Red Cross Code of Conduct. World Vision serves all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.’

The spokesperson said the incident at Kakuma was ‘sensitive and touches on emotions, identity and culture’.

‘We recognize that there is a spectrum of views across the Christian church on this issue. We emphasize the importance of people accepting others without condemnation,’ the spokesperson said.

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