I was denied a haircut because I was gay

May 17, 2017

Denis Nzioka

Gay rights activist

Exactly a year ago today (March 14), myself and a Botswana gay activist who was visiting Kenya, were driving along Jogoo road at night when I was flagged down by two men with heavy jackets. Seeing they were not police officers or the dreaded NTSA officers with their Alcoblow – I decided to ignore their frantic hand signals to stop. That is when one of them reached inside his jacket, drew out a gun, and shot at me, hitting the windscreen near the driver’s seat. In the confusion, I lost control of the car, causing it to roll over several times, before landing on a ditch.

A month or so before this incident, I had received death threats from a police officer that I had exposed on the online platform, WATETEZI, as behind a syndicate that targeted, blackmailed and eventually robed gay men in Nairobi.

Being gay is risky in Kenya. It is even riskier if you are openly gay as I am. I have been a gay rights activist since 2004, and I have faced many challenges – both personally, and in my work.

Severally, landlords have evicted me with little notice after I made TV appearances, with the most famous being Muffled Killer (KTN). Earlier on, I had done several other TV and radio interviews before some neighbors reported me to the landlord and the Nyumba Kumi initiative, putting pressure on me on vacate where I lived.

Countless times I have been arrested, and harassed by police from various police stations over my involvement with gay rights activism. In 2010, we joined a health demo in Nairobi’s CBD to demand greater access for health. That evening, two plain clothed officers demanding to know where I work, and why I was in the demo accosted me. Police surveillance on my personal life and activism has been ongoing for years, I know ever since I begun to question some of our political leaders’ anti gay utterances. This was more prominent in 2015 police raided a house in Umoja where I was.

One night in 2008, conductors in Ronald Ngala Street physically assaulted my partner and me. This was in addition to them hurling insults and other profanities whenever I walked to the same bus stage each day. This is also something I face when I am in a bar, or social place.

In addition to death threats, and other humiliation, I have been ‘exposed’ by some tabloids in Kenya, including publishing personal details of my life, partner and family, thus exposing them to danger.

Gay people face countless challenges – from being rejected by their families, to being humiliated and ashamed by friends, colleagues, or close relatives, to being victims of assault, arbitrary arrests, and other challenges, just on account of them being perceived gay.

This was brought to the fore explicitly, when a famous barbershop in Nairobi’s CBD, decided to not give me a haircut when I went to get one in early 2012. They sent management to ask me to leave. Imagine that! Being denied a haircut because you are gay.

*This article was produced as part of marking the 2017 International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

 **An edited version of this article was first published by Love Matters Africa.

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