"When I think about what’s at the root of the pain of Queer Kenyans, and in other words for me too, it’s the law itself. It’s the law that permits all the violence and discrimination against us. And now I must go into battle to make things better by using the tools of that very same law that causes the pain in the first place!"
Njeri Gateru is a Co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Kenya, and head of the legal department. She oversees administration and provides legal aid, litigation, documentation and advocacy services to persons violated on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. The organization’s mission is to promote and protect the equality and inclusion of LGBTIQ individuals and communities in Kenya, and advance their meaningful participation in society. Recently she was part of the legal efforts to get the anti-LGBTIQ laws in Kenya repealed: an effort that was thwarted by a conservative judgement.
Fresh from a bruising negative 2019 verdict in a suit to decriminalize homosexuality in Kenya, the LGBTQ+ lawyer Njeri Gateru notes the value of the case, anyway, in raising awareness, attracting new supporters in parliament and the media: “Being yourself publicly also changes people’s perceptions. People are unable to marry their hate or their ignorance with their understanding of your humanity.” Using her personal experience, Njeri makes the point that the “the law” and “the people” are not two distinct columns: her life and her practice, her politics and her profession, are inextricable. She describes the complexity, of this, in her preparation for the decriminalization case: not just preparing the legal arguments, but “preparing yourself as a person who participates in the movement” and “preparing the emotions of the community for whatever the outcome is of such huge litigation.” As she prepares to take the judgment on appeal, Njeri notes that, “of course, neither a win nor a lose in court will necessarily keep a movement together.” Coming together to fight a court case was unifying – but staying together is the hard stuff.