Two Kenyan lesbians are in hiding after being injured in an attack organized by their parents, who are prominent leaders in the anti-LGBT Anglican Church of Kenya.
One of the victims is Sheila, age 23, daughter of the Rev. Canon Zephania Omollo, dean of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Kisumu, Maseno South diocese. The other victim is Befine, age 24, daughter of Suzan Airo, leader of the Mothers Union of St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Kisumu.
The attack occurred after the Omollo family heard a rumor that their daughter was living with another woman, whom she considered to be her wife. The family quickly confirmed that Sheila was indeed staying with Befine, who had long had a reputation as a tomboy and was open about being a lesbian.
The Omollo family had been worried about Sheila’s sexual orientation since her high school years, when she had been suspended from a boarding school after being accused of lesbianism. She then had to attend a day school.
The Airo family, who also worried about their daughter, took drastic measures to try to change her sexual orientation. In late 2016, they arranged for her to be gang-raped on the belief that it would correct her sexual orientation. In the supposedly “correctional” gang rape, Befine was repeatedly raped by seven men throughout the night of Dec. 12 in hopes of turning her into a heterosexual, Befine said.
The rapes prompted her to leave her parents’ home and move in with Sheila.
The families of both women warned them to end their relationship. When they didn’t, the families vowed to teach them a lesson.
Sheila’s father, Zephania Omollo, told them the family would “beat the devil out of them.” The Omollo and Airo families then organized an attack squad, which assaulted Sheila and Befine on Jan. 5.
A family friend, Denis Onyango, led three other men in an assault on the two women. Among the four attackers were Sheila’s cousins, Caleb and Abraham. The attackers vowed to kill both Sheila and Befine.
They beat Befine, who was able to escape by hopping onto a motorbike. They hit Sheila with a metal bar and knocked her unconscious. Caleb and Abraham dragged her body out to the tarmac. They piled plastic, paper and other litter around her body, intending to set her ablaze, according to one of the women’s neighbors.
The attackers tried to buy paraffin at a nearby shop to ignite the fire, but the shopkeeper refused to sell it to them.
Passersby began to gather, and the attackers fled. Two LGBT rights activists were alerted. They arrived and took Sheila to Kisumu County Hospital, formerly known as Kisumu East Hospital.
Meanwhile, a bodaboda (motorcycle taxi) driver took Befine to the Nightingale Hospital, a private hospital. Because of the extent of her injuries, the nurses there referred her to Kisumu County Hospital.
The assaults were reported to police, who recorded statements from Sheila, Befine and some eyewitnesses. But police have filed no charges against any of the assailants.
The attack victims and LGBTI rights activists believe that the police took no action is because they had been bribed. When Sheila and Befine visited the police station to ask for an update about the case, senior and junior police officers chased them away, Sheila said.
Because the attackers had sworn to kill them, Sheila and Befine both went into hiding in Kisumu.
But family members found them and organized another attack. This time, Sheila was gang-raped until she lost consciousness. From then on, they lived on the streets in Kisumu until a well-wisher gave them enough money to leave the city and seek shelter far away at the home of a lesbian friend.