Rights group challenges Kenya's anti-gay laws in court

Kenyan gays, lesbians and others supporting their cause wear masks to preserve their anonymity as they stage a rare protest. AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's High Court on Thursday began hearing arguments in a case that challenges parts of the penal code seen as targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission argues that sections of the code are in breach of the constitution and deny basic rights by criminalizing consensual same-sex relations between adults.

They are also used to justify violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the East African nation, the commission's executive director, Eric Gitari, said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear when a ruling is expected.

Members of the public listen as the High Court in Kenya begins hearing arguments in a case challenging parts of the penal code seen as targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, at the High Court in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday. AP Photo/Ben Curtis.

Many countries across Africa have laws against homosexuality, with people facing severe harassment and physical threats.

Gay activists in Kenya say ignorance is the main reason many people lash out.

A person can suppress sexual behavior but not sexual orientation, expert witness for the rights commission and associate professor of psychiatry Lukoye Atwoli told the court.

"People just rush to make decisions and judgment about queer people when the truth is, it is not as bad as it is put out there," activist Jay Arap Salat said. "It is not about the monstrous things people say about us. It is not about pedophilia, sodomizing or things like those. It is just love, we are out here, we are love, we just want love and to love each other."

Legislator Irungu Kangata, who challenged the petition, called homosexuality a lifestyle choice.

"Well, I am somehow perturbed to see that this case is being supported by the westerners," Kangata said. "It is a form of western colonization. They want to demean Africans. They want to demean us Kenyans."

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The Gayly. February 22, 2018. 6:00 p.m. CST.