Gay Ugandan refugees launch Kenyan craft company

Clutch purse made by His Grace Fashion and Design.
Clutch purse made by His Grace Fashion and Design.
Oven mitts made by His Grace Fashion and Design
Oven mitts designed and made by His Grace Fashion and Design

Hundreds of LGBTI refugees who fled Ugandan repression are now enmeshed in new difficulties in Kenya, where they must endure long bureaucratic delays in order to have a chance for resettlement abroad.

Stylisth bag designed and manufactured by His Grace Fashion and Design.
Stylisth bag designed and manufactured by His Grace Fashion and Design.

In the meantime, making ends meet is a challenge.

Several young LGBTI refugees have founded a fashion, design and crafts  business to support themselves while they await their official recognition as refugees and their eventual relocation.

It hasn’t been easy, especially since they learned last month that they need to raise money to pay for a business license. When the local council cracked down on their enterprise, they had used all their money to pay for materials.

Under the business name of His Grace Fashion and Design, they designed and manufactured clothes, bags, clutch purses, laptop bags, cooking gloves and aprons.

Apron designed and crafted by His Grace Fashion and Design
Apron designed and crafted by His Grace Fashion and Design

Each of the craftsmen fled from Uganda to Kenya for refuge. In Kenya, where they live together in a small house, it is safe to identify them by name, they said:

  • Kamarah Apollo, 26, used to work with the LGBTI rights group Kampus Liberty Uganda.  He was attacked on his way home from work after being accused of “recruiting” students into being gay. (See also: “Apollo’s Story” on
  • Kwesiga Simon, 22, worked as a driver in Kampala. Because he was known to be gay, he was attacked and beaten up several times. He hopes to get corrective surgery to remove some of the many scars he received in those attacks. (See also: “Simon’s Story” on
  • Chris Lwande, 24, was expelled from school and then attacked after he became the subject of speculation that he was “recruiting” students at Makerere University in Kampala into being gay.
  • Bugembe Henry, 22, had been working for a decorating company, but was  denounced by his parents and thrown out of the family home after he exchanged wedding vows with his boyfriend.
  • Yassin Kaya, 30, an openly gay businessman, was forced to shut down his shop after his colleagues started threatening his life.

Life in Kenya can be better than what they left behind in Uganda, but LGBTI refugees still face the risk of homophobic violence.

“We face a lot of insecurities, including being attacked and pointed out as gay people in a foreign country,” Lwande said.

Products from His Grace Fashion and Design are made by hand.
Products from His Grace Fashion and Design are made by hand.

“We are young talented men who have the potential to live happily while doing work to keep us busy. We  do not indulge ourselves in bad acts such as sex work or drugs,” he said.

To start their business, they pooled the money they had received from the HIAS refugee support organization. Before they were shut down, the group’s goal was to move into a slightly larger house that could accommodate them and their crafts workshop while they awaited resettlement.

Now they are seeking help simply to resume operations. They need about $200 for a business license from the local council, plus about $100 for a work permit for each of the five non-Kenyan workers.

For more information or to provide financial help, visit  their business’s Facebook page — His Grace Fashion and Design, which is also their site for selling their crafts online.

The refugees say they have found that many Kenyans prefer to make purchases online.

It is also safer for the refugees, since the gay Ugandan craftsmen don’t have to worry about being harassed at a public crafts market by homophobic Kenyans who don’t even speak their language.




Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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