NAIROBI — Until a new anti-homosexuality bill caused a wave of homophobia in Uganda, John and Paul could hold hands in the streets of the capital Kampala and kiss in night clubs.
Then the nightmare started — people began insulting and then assaulting them, and then they had to run away to Kenya. The couple have been in Nairobi since May of last year.
Like other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, they came to this urban jungle seeking anonymity, explained the official running a programme that looks after these refugees.
His organisation, which last year alone looked after 67 LGBT cases in Kenya, did not want to be named for fear of endangering its refugees.
Some have fled a strict application of Islamic law in Somalia, others are running from general sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and yet others have fled a climate of growing hostility elsewhere in east Africa.
Some hope to be able to find refuge in Western countries sympathetic to their plight, such as the United States.
In December, President Barack Obama said that fighting discrimination against gays should be at the forefront of American diplomacy.
And last month UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told African leaders they must respect gay rights, in an unusually outspoken statement at the African Union summit.
"One form of discrimination ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long has been discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity," he said at the meeting in Addis Ababa.
In Kampala, people "did not know we [gays] existed" until a member of parliament in 2009 proposed strengthening the law against homosexuality, which could already lead to a life sentence in prison.
"People demonstrated against us, told us we were not human beings. We could not buy from shopkeepers," recounted John, 26.
But worse was to come.
A screaming tabloid headline encouraged its readers to "hang" homosexuals and in October 2010 published the names, photos and addresses of more than 20 gays, including those of the couple.
"People started disappearing," said John, who was beaten up several times.
Then Paul was attacked.
"I was watching a film when I heard a lot of noise," said the well-built 24-year-old. "People had broken into my place, armed with stones, sticks and machetes."
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