Ugandan refugee's life of prayer and being preyed on

Tendo Kalyango, an LGBTIQ Ugandan refugee in Kenya, turned to sex work to make ends meet while awaiting a ruling on his quest for asylum abroad. His earnings help him to stay alive, but also go into the pockets of blackmailers and corrupt police officers.

This is Tendo’s story, as told to Alexandria Carter, an LGBTIQ Ugandan refugee who, like Tendo, is also hoping to be resettled in the United States.

By Alexandria Carter

Tendo Kalyango (Photo courtesy of Alexandria Carter, used with permission of Tendo Kalyango)
Tendo Kalyango (Photo courtesy of Alexandria Carter, used with permission of Tendo Kalyango)

As an LGBTIQ refugee in Kenya, I have been preyed upon many times. My response has been to turn to prayer.

Yes, sex workers pray too.

My name is Tendo Kalyango.  I have lived in Kenya for close to two years. I came from Uganda to seek asylum from my native country’s anti-LGBTIQ violence.

In Uganda, I was attacked several times for being transgender and for associating with prominent gay Ugandans. I was beaten. I was arrested.  I decided to flee to Kenya, because my life was at risk.

Since Day 1 in Kenya, life hasn’t been good to me.The little support that I got from HIAS  didn’t cover the cost of food, medical bills, housing and other bills. [The refugee agency HIAS, founded in 1881, was formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.]

I had to find ways  to survive.

I tried repeatedly to find a job, but each time I failed. I decided that I needed to venture into sex work in order to go on living as a foreigner  in a country that wasn’t my own.

I got to know LGBTIQ Kenyans and they would hook me up with fellows who needed sexual satisfaction.

This is what I do now: My pimp connects me to guys who have money and afterwards, in return, I give him his share. That’s when it works well.

But sometimes things don’t go as planned. I might meet a guy, discuss everything in advance and then, when he’s done with me, he tells me he’s going to call the police. He threatens to have me arrested by telling the police that I was sexually abusing him. Instead of paying me, he takes what few belongings I have and tells me to go away.

Apartments in Kasarani, a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya.
Apartments in Kasarani, a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya.

At one point, in the Nairobi suburb of Kasarani I was hooked up with a man, as usual, expecting to be paid after I satisfied the client. But then two guys that I hadn’t known were in the house came out and beat me up. Then they raped me. After they had done that, they called police and said I was a thief. The police came, arrested me, and took me to the police station. The only thing I had on me was a small phone.

At the police station, I tried to explain myself, but the police officer  told me bluntly that, however much I claimed I had been raped, what I had gone to do at that house was illegal. He meant that homosexuality is illegal and prostitution even more so.

The police demanded money from me if I wanted to be released rather than be taken to court the next day. I didn’t see any other option but to pay. I used what little savings I had in M-Pesa [mobile-phone-based money that is in common use in Kenya] to bribe the police constable so that I could get out of the mess. I was released after four hours at the station. I called a friend to tell him I had been blackmailed and to ask him to help me.

Since then, I pray before I meet my clients. My prayer is that I won’t be  preyed upon again, like the many times I have been in the past.

That’s my life these days, as I await word from the Kenyan government whether it will officially recognize me as a refugee.

Alexandria Carter, the author of this article, is an LGBTIQ Ugandan refugee in Kenya who writes under a pseudonym.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at

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