Lilian and Cynthia moved to the UK to seek refuge after fleeing LGBTQ+ persecution in their home country of Kenya. They arrived in August 2022 and we are delighted they have made their new roots in Cumbria. Young reporter, Delilah Massey, meets with them to discover more about their past, present and future.

Lilian and Cynthia, I’ve known you for almost a year now.  I really love having you in my family’s life in Cumbria but why did you leave Kenya?

The reason we left Kenya is because we were being persecuted for our sexuality.    

Do you think you’ll go back to Kenya to visit?

No, unfortunately Lila we cannot go back there because of the threats and persecution we went through. It’s dangerous. Unless the laws are changed to protect same-sex couples or legalise same-sex relationships and everything that goes with it.  We cannot even think about going back.

Do you notice people in the UK to be more accepting?

Oh yes, they’re more accepting.  They don’t judge us for who we are and if they do they don’t do it to your face.  In the UK, there are laws that are there to protect same-sex couples.  In short, even if they don’t agree with it, the laws protect you.  

What has been the most difficult part of your move to the UK?

L: The culture shock.  Us being away from our kids.  Integration has been a challenge because we come from such a different background.  There are things that we had to learn when we came here e.g. the core British values, the slang words. What is acceptable and what’s not acceptable.  

C: The most difficult for me was leaving my family and children back home.  

L: Also, not to forget the asylum process.  It has been so difficult.  It breaks you.  

Can you tell me about something positive that has happened since you left Kenya?

C: Oh, there’s so many!  We met new friends and family in the UK that we never thought we would.  We have absolutely caring and beautiful friends who accept us for who we are.  

L: We never hide, it’s something we don’t take for granted.  In Kenya we used to hide a lot.  We would introduce ourselves as sisters but here I can introduce Cynthia as my partner and we are accepted. We got a lot of support from the community.

C: I’m grateful that we got new friends, we’ve networked, and we’ve learnt a lot from the people we’ve met.  We love everyone around us, our family and friends – that’s what we call them.

You left behind careers in Kenya, can you tell me a bit about your jobs?

C: I was a senior Government official in Kenya so it was hard for me to leave my career behind.  It was a successful career and progress was on the cards.  I had worked there for more than 7 years.

L: I was a self-taught mechanic. I had my own car garage business, where I would repair, buy and resell vehicles.  It is difficult to leave behind what you’ve worked hard to build.  Growing a business is not easy and I left at the peak of it. We couldn’t liquidate it at short notice so we just left.  

I understand that gay people in Kenya do not have the same rights as other citizens, is this true?

C: It’s not legal, it’s not recognised.  In fact it’s perceived as the bigger evil in the society.  It’s not socially accepted.  You have no rights as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.  They say the act is evil, unnatural and ungodly and it destroys family units.  But what is a family?  Because I know mine is a family.  

What change would you like to see for others going through a similar experience to you?

L:  Rights.  Love is a human right.  No one should dictate who you love. 

C:  Equal rights to everyone.  We shouldn’t have to fight to get these rights.  I’d love to see LGBTQ+ people have support in Kenya.  Some do not know where to go.  They need a safe haven.  We were fortunate enough to have some savings and assets which enabled us to get visas and leave the country, for some it is just beyond what they can do.  They have nowhere to go, nowhere safe. Lilian and I, would love to create awareness on the atrocities committed against LGBTQ+ community in Kenya.

L: The Kenyan government and its citizens should allow LGBTQ+ persons to exercise their freedom to love and marry whoever they feel comfortable with as it is one of their human rights. Furthermore, they should be protected at work places and allowed same job opportunities as any other member of the society. This is a huge challenge especially for masculine presenting lesbians who find it extremely difficult getting a job because of their appearance. 

It’s International Woman’s Day soon, who inspires you?

L: My mother inspires me because I never thought she would accept me for who I am, but she did.  That is something I would love to one day pass to my children, whatever they become I will be accepting.

What would you like other people to know about the asylum seeking process?  

C: The UK Government has been very supportive throughout the whole process. We were working from a place of not knowing.  We didn’t know what to expect and what to do at the beginning. We did not expect the help and assistance we received

On the downside the process is too long. From my point of view, I expected the process to be quicker because we had left our children back in Kenya. That separation from my children had a negative impact on my mental health and I had to take anti-depressants. We would love for them to consider fast tracking cases.  

L:  Nobody would ever leave their homes and their lives without good reason.  People seeking asylum are facing traumas and should be treated with a bit of kindness. I have heard things like asylum seekers have come to take our jobs. That part is not true, like I  mentioned earlier, we had our careers and business going on well but because of the persecution we faced we had to flee and seek refuge, so I would urge the public to not lean towards that notion. The majority of people understand the predicament that asylum seekers go through and they really show their support. For the Government, it would be far beneficial to come up with projects, social activities and policies that will help them integrate and blend well with their local communities through partnerships with charity organisations. This will ensure physical and mental wellbeing and reduce on doctor’s appointments.

I’m interested in education for girls in different countries.  What is girl’s education like in Kenya?

C:  Girls in Kenya are not privileged enough to go to school.  It’s not a guaranteed right that a girl would go to school. The journey has not been smooth sailing but we have organisations in Kenya that champion the right to educating a girl child.  The subordination of women and girls is being challenged by these organisations.  We have brilliant women in our communities, but they have not been empowered.  They have not had the same opportunity that girls are starting to receive now.  

L:  Families focus on the boy-child’s education because traditionally the wealth transfers to the man’s family.  Therefore if a girl-child were educated and became a doctor, her income would be seen as belonging to her man’s family.  This is a very unhelpful narrative.  It comes back to misogyny because it was men who shaped these systems.  

C:  Girls education is still not guaranteed.  It is something we fight for.  It is something I fight for.  There is a huge improvement.  They realised that the world was moving so fast, modernisation and globalisation came and women can be successful professionals. 

We are still fighting.  All girls must be educated!