LGBTQ Voice from Kakuma

Lucretia Ssenyonjo

By Lucretia Ssenyonjo

My preferred name is Lucretia but I was legally named Ssenyonjo John, a transgender female from Uganda. I liked the name, Lucretia. When I recognized there is someone special within my body who is not John, I decided to name her that. I, therefore, feel bittersweet, special, and unique when someone calls me by that name. No one gave it to me; I gave it to myself.

I never use my official names.  I don’t prefer being called by it. However, it is the name that I used in my primary and secondary school life in Uganda as well as in college. It is the name on all my official documents, including my national identification card.

I faced a lot of challenges in my home country because of my special name, Lucretia, my gender identity and my feelings. My partner, Derrick, and I were attacked by a mob after our house help found us in an intimate situation. She alerted the community who came baying for our blood and we were only saved by the police. Our relationship and actions were viewed as abominable and unnatural.

For my safety, I had to flee from my home area to my uncles’ place in a community that did not know anything about me. My uncle was willing to accommodate me, albeit with caution, once I narrated the ordeal my partner and I had faced in my hometown.

I continued meeting with Derrick behind my uncle’s back. a rich elderly lady got attracted to me and started pursuing me. I turned down her multiple marriage proposals which only infuriated her. In revenge, she shared my photos with Derrick publicly within my new community and they too turned against me. Derrick and I were attacked by a mob. I managed to escape with physical injuries, but Derrick was not so lucky. The mob lynched and murdered him. His lifeless body was left dumped in a pool of his blood.

I was no longer safe in my home country. I constantly found myself relocating for safety. Left with no alternative I left Uganda, in March 2020, through the Uganda-Malaba border.

In Kenya, I was registered as an asylum seeker in March 2020 and placed at the Kakuma refugee camp. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS), the government of Kenya department that deals with issues touching on refugees, facilitated my relocation from the urban area to the Kakuma refugee camp. They assured me of my safety as a refugee.

At Kakuma I was able to meet other refugees who had fled their home countries because of their gender identity. I felt at home, I stopped feeling lonely and distant. I felt more open in this place as I had met other people of similar identity as myself.

However, it was not always safe in the refugee camp. My dominant female traits, despite having a male physical appearance, were received with hostility. Other refugees saw me as a threat and a bad example. I experienced several homophobic attacks, which only got worse over time, and constant discrimination due to my sexuality and gender identity. I maintained a low profile and found solace with my fellow LGBTQ community members within the camp.

For our safety, the camp authorities allocated a separate camp for the LGBTQ community. However, we were still attacked and called names.  Occasionally, other refugees and some members of the host community would attack us. They once hit me with a big stick causing gracious harm to my body.  Some other refugees and some members of the host community have resorted to attacking us in the night just to steal our belongings.  Sometimes, some of the LGBTI refugees must be on night watch for security reasons.

These attacks have been ongoing for a long time. We have reported these attacks to the police, UNHCR and RAS offices in Kakuma. As things got worse, we held a peaceful protest at the UNHCR offices in Kakuma. We were about 140 LGBTQ refugees. In response to our peaceful protest, the Kenyan police beat, tear-gassed, whipped, and at gun-point escorted us back to our camp.

On 15th March 2021, our compound was attacked at the wee hours of the night and a petrol bomb hurled at a shelter where LGBTQ refugees were sleeping. Two of my fellow LGBTQ refugees, unfortunately, sustained serious burns. Seeing their bodies on fire was traumatizing. Atuhwera Chriton, one of the two victims who sustained serious burns died while receiving treatment.

I will always remember him as being inspiring and encouragement to others, self-made and an outspoken activist. He taught me a lot. He constantly reminded me that power belongs to the people. He was always inspired by Miriam Makeba’s song A Luta Continua. He would risk everything when it came to ensuring the safety and freedom of those around him. He stayed up late many times looking after us, acting as our guard. Unfortunately, we were not there to protect him during the arson attack. He was an exemplary great leader. He could mobilise us and encourage us whenever we were weak and hopeless. His death has left a huge gap in the African and international human rights space.

Chriton would always report any attacks or threats on the refugee LGBTQ community to the authorities. His death was preventable. He should have received the protection he asked for. His death has left me stressed, insecure and helpless.

Leaving your home in search of safety is one of the hardest things to do. We call on Kenyan authorities and the international community to ensure that we are safe.