She said ‘I’ve had a huge crush on you’ and kissed me. She was beaten to death

Beryl Ohas: ‘in Kenya, they tried to reform me from gayness. In Ireland I can be myself’

When Beryl Ohas was in her final year of primary school her life changed forever. The 13-year-old had just completed her final exam before the summer break when she was approached by a girl from the local area.

“She told me ‘I’ve had a huge crush on you’ and just kissed me. She was a quiet person, it was the first time I’d seen her act on her emotions in this way. I froze, in our traditional village this was the worst thing you could do. I didn’t even have a moment to react because suddenly the teachers were there and students were hitting her black and blue. She was beaten to death, she was the same age as me.”

Ohas's grandmother quickly made arrangements for her granddaughter to leave the village and join her mother in Nairobi where she worked.

I had crushes on girls but maybe I believed all girls felt the same way

"Kenya criminalises same-sex relationships and people use that law to act as supposed heroes who use beating as punishment, or to rectify your sexuality. But that event in my life psychologically prepared me for certain situations, far more than other people."


Born in a small village in Kenya's Siaya county, in the west of the country, Ohas's mother was just 16 when she was born. "My mum was raped and making that choice to carry me for nine months was the hardest ordeal for her. Village rules stated that if you are not a virgin before marriage, you're automatically outcast so leaving was the only option for her."

As a child, Ohas felt attracted to other girls but never acted on these emotions. “I was a loner, I chose not to have friends. I had crushes on girls but maybe I believed all girls felt the same way. I figured those emotions came with being a woman.”

After she left the village, she stayed briefly with her mother in Nairobi before being sent to a Catholic boarding school for secondary education. She was surprised to discover some classmates came from families who accepted their daughters’ sexuality. Ohas started engaging with more experienced lesbians and bisexuals and built the confidence to speak out about her own sexuality on social media.

However, when her extended family learned she was dating a girl from the school, they became angry. “They tried to reform me from gayness, to protect the family name. They tried conversion therapies, I was forced to go to religious people who would pray for me and to get rid of my demons of homosexuality.

“Then they decided I would have an arranged marriage. That was the last conversion therapy for them because in their eyes marriage solves everything. It was all planned before I was even made aware of it. I was 18 and the guy they found was 43.”

Ohas had no choice and, shortly after graduating from high school, she met and was forced to marry the man they had chosen. “He had a more open mind than I expected, he had travelled a lot and lived abroad. I was honest and told him who I was and how I felt. He said he knew all about me, everyone knew about my sexuality, and said he could help me. He was getting land from the arranged marriage, it was more of a political trade for him.

“We had to act as a couple in public and I didn’t trust him at first but he gave me a safe place to stay and protected me from family harassment.”

Ohas moved to her new husband's home in the city of Nakuru northwest of Nairobi and began her college studies in mass communication and journalism. Soon after, he travelled back to Croatia where he spent most of his time. Ohas became increasingly involved in LGBT+ advocacy groups and then joined Kenya's 'No Hate' campaigns. However, being openly gay in Nairobi was still dangerous. "Most of the time you couldn't report attacks to the police and there were always attacks. If you want to make a report you had to come out as gay which basically means you're admitting to being a felon."

In December 2018, Ohas was hospitalised after she was attacked by a group of men who recognised her from her online advocacy work. She travelled to Uganda to recover in a friend's home but shortly after she returned, her mother's home was raided by the police. "I saw the fear on her face and I realised in that moment, if I stay here I'm putting her at risk."

Her husband, who had returned to Kenya, suggested she move to Europe temporarily and offered to help with visa applications. Eventually, after three failed attempts, Ohas secured permission to come to Ireland, a country her husband had visited before and felt would be a safe place for a gay African woman.

It was breathtaking, it was the most excited I've ever been. It felt like something from the movies

Ohas arrived in Dublin in April 2019. Two months later, she attended the city’s Pride celebrations. “It was breathtaking, it was the most excited I’ve ever been. It felt like something from the movies. I was smiling all the time but the moment also came with trauma. I saw couples holding hands and thought, if those people were in Kenya their hands would no longer be attached to their bodies.”

Ohas only planned to spend three months in Ireland and missed her mum and friends. However, she was becoming accustomed to the freedom she enjoyed in Dublin and knew if she returned home, she could face violence again for her sexuality. She found a short-term role as a flow operator with a pharmaceutical company in Cork and after six months, was promoted to to process technician. Meanwhile, she became involved in Irish LGBT+ groups and built up an Instagram following of more than 40,000 people through posts about diversity and equality.

Ohas was conscious that her visa would eventually run out and in December 2021 she sought legal advice and decided to claim asylum in Ireland. She had read about direct provision and understands her application may take some time but feels relief knowing she may finally have found a place where she can live long-term as an openly gay woman. She is now working and studying part time and recently graduated from the Immigrant Council of Ireland's Migrant Leadership Academy.

“What grounds me in Ireland is the fact that I can freely be myself and express myself with my peers. I’ve met people who push me to do better so Ireland is like a saviour that has moulded me into somebody who is better. I’ve met people who treat me like their daughter so I’ve found family too. And not to forget my beautiful partner and girlfriend, Esther.

“To be in a country that actually encourages you, gives you motivation, to just coexist freely, that’s a lifetime opportunity and you have to seize it.”