As part of Kenya’s plans to streamline its government process, the country began a census last weekend to align global population projections with the factual data. However, the 2019 Kenyan census differs from its previous head counts in one very important way; for the first time since the country gained independence, it is recognizing intersex persons as a distinct gender separate from the traditional male and female gender binary.
Why does this matter?
Well, earlier this year, the country’s LGBT population went to court to force the government to repeal archaic colonial sodomy laws that outlawed same sex relationships. The country had been forced to informally acknowledge the existence of sexual minorities during the height of its HIV crisis. Since 2017, the country’s minorities have painstakingly worked to repeal legislation that limits their freedoms, convincing their legislature to reinstate the right of LGBT persons to publicly associate with each other. Films like Rafiki that centered the experiences of LGBT characters have also helped challenge stereotypes.
But the Kenyan government’s new directive to include intersex persons as a distinct gender identity is groundbreaking. It acknowledges that the discussion around non-traditional sexuality and identity extends beyond sexual orientation and acknowledges that intersex persons are not abnormal or require surgery to conform to the binaries. Including them in the census will destigmatize their existence, allow the government adequately include them in discussions of welfare, integration and healthcare.
The census numbers haven’t been publicly announced yet, but I suspect when it is, the data will allow Kenyans have candid conversations about the future of their country. It is also a beacon to LGBT persons in other African countries, especially those with restrictive governments that the needle is shifting and their existence can no longer be denied.