LGBT Representation in Entertainment Is Changing Some Minds in Kenya, Where Homosexuality Is a Crime
Last month at Africa’s largest film festival, Kenyan actress Samantha Mugatsia won the Best Actress award for her depiction of a lesbian character in the film Rafiki. A coming-of-age story of two young women who fall in love, this was also the first Kenyan movie to premiere at the Cannes film festival. Homophobia is a backdrop for this love story, as well as for Kenya’s reception of the movie itself. Homosexuality is illegal there, punishable by 14 years of imprisonment. In 2018, the Kenyan Film Classification Board banned Rafiki for “promoting lesbianism.”
While homosexuality remains taboo in Kenya, there are signs of momentum toward greater acceptance there. In response to the work of gay rights activists, the Kenyan High Court is scheduled to vote in May on whether to strike down its law criminalizing gay sex.
Last year, Logo and Viacom released the results of the ILGA-RIWI 2018 “Global Attitudes Survey on LGBTI People,” a poll of over 116,000 online individuals in 77 countries, including Kenya. We reviewed this data to gain a better understanding of Kenyan attitudes toward homosexuality. Here’s what we found:
A growing contingent believes that homosexuality is not a crime. In 2018, 45% of respondents in Kenya disagreed that people engaging in same-sex relationships should be charged as criminals – up from 36% the previous year. On the flip side, the percent who agree with criminalization declined dramatically, from 49% in 2017 to 35% in 2018.
A majority believe that LGBT people deserve human rights. Two-thirds (67%) in Kenya agreed that human rights should be applied to everyone, regardless of whom they feel attracted to or the gender they identify with.
Most Kenyans do not believe they know anyone who identifies as LGBT. Our global research revealed that knowing an LGBT person is the factor that most often improves people’s perceptions.However, more than half of respondents in Kenya (54%) said they do not personally know someone who is LGBT. Among LGBT Kenyans it’s uncommon to be fully “out,” with just 28% of this group saying that all or most of their family and friends know. While smaller, the percentage of the general population that says they do know an LGBT person is rising — from 26% in 2016 to 31% in both 2017 and 2018.
On balance, perceptions of the LGBT community are improving. When asked if their attitudes toward LGBT people have changed over the last 5 years, the percentage who said their attitudes had become more favorable (34%) exceeded those who said their views were less favorable (22%). However, the largest group (44%) said their perceptions had remained the same.
Representation in entertainment makes a difference. Among Kenyans who said their attitudes toward LGBT people had become more favorable in the last 5 years, seeing LGBT characters on TV and in movies contributed to their change in sentiment the most (19%).