Out Rugby Player Wins Case, Avoids Deportation from the UK

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday July 20, 2021

An openly gay rugby player from Kenya has prevailed in his endeavor to avoid being deported from Britain and returned to his home country, where he feared what would happen to him, UK newspaper The Guardian reports.

Kenneth Macharia, 41, "won an appeal in the immigration tribunal," the outlet reported. The victory capped five years of Macharia's ongoing efforts to remain in Britain, where he plays for the Bristol Bisons, "an inclusive rugby union club, whose players offered support throughout his ordeal."

"Macharia came to the UK in 2009 on a student visa to study mechanical engineering, and his subsequent visas — post-graduate and work — were extended on several occasions," Sky Sports recounted.

"As an out gay man, he decided it would not be safe for him to return to Kenya, so he claimed asylum in May 2016," Sky added.

His fear was well-founded, as Kenyan law punishes LGBTQ people with jail terms of up to 14 years.

Moreover, The Guardian article noted: "In May 2019 a Kenyan high court judgment upheld criminalization of gay relationships on the basis that the 2010 Kenyan constitution, which defines marriage as between those of the opposite sex, would be undermined if gay people could start living together."

Even before the Kenyan court's anti-LGTBQ ruling, Macharia faced the possibility of deportation, according to Sky Sports' report, recounting how "his case came to national attention in 2018 when the Home Office issued a removal notice and detained him while deportation plans were made."

But Macharia's teammates rose to the challenge, lending their aid to his cause.

"The Bisons rallied to support their friend and team-mate, securing over 180,000 signatures on a petition to the Home Secretary and crowdfunding to pay for Macharia's legal fees," Sky Sports went on to say.

The Bisons' Twitter profile declares the team to be "inclusive and gay friendly."

The Home Office, however, was not nearly as welcoming, rejecting Macharia's claims of being gay and accusing him of lying, according to reports.

Macharia was set free in 2019, but the threat of deportation still hung over him. It would be another two years before his case would come to its eventual happy resolution.

Macharia spoke to the emotional toll of the ordeal, saying he wasn't yet able to experience the happiness that others have expressed on his behalf.

"I have had my hopes crushed too many times," said Macharia. "I can't help wondering what will go wrong. The sadness has not gone away. I used to be optimistic. It will be a while before I am again."

Still, the athlete said, "I will be celebrating this evening when I go for rugby training.

"Now that I have been successful in my refugee appeal I feel that I can live a full life."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.