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Kenya’s lesbian footballers fight for the right to play

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All Imani wanted to do was to play football. But Kenyan fans, gossiping about her sexuality, had other ideas. “That one is always with girls,” Imani overheard one man saying as she was in the middle of a match in the coastal city of Mombasa. “Jersey number four, she is a renowned lesbian.” There and then, Imani knew her game was over.

She faked an injury and went straight home, worried for her safety in a country where discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is rife and can lead to abuse including taunts, attacks and rape. “Those remarks got to me, and it wasn’t just because I had been outed publicly,” said Imani, who – along with other lesbian footballers interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation – asked to be identified by a pseudonym. “The spectator went on to announce … that he knew my friends and even where I lived.” Around the world, lesbian and bisexual football players are at the forefront of top women’s teams, unlike in the men’s game where only a small number of elite players have come out.

South Africa’s Banyana Banyana team, which last month was crowned champion of the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations, is captained by lesbian Janine van Wyk.

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