In Kenya, and indeed in Africa, there exists a large number of gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons. We may be a minority but we do make up a percentage of the population. One does not choose to be part of any of the clusters mentioned above; one simply IS in the cluster they are in. However, this group of persons suffers greatly from various forms of injustice from every angle. Just because a man is different, he is beaten up by a mob. Just because a woman is different, she is raped so as to conform to the norm. Just because a person is intersex, they are placed in isolation in prison for months on end. The LGBTI community also makes up a section of the citizenry that pay taxes. It makes up a section of the citizenry that provides services. It makes up a section of the citizenry without which several industries will not survive. We are a people who have a function in society. We are a people who have families. We have people who depend on us. We have people who love us, not just because of our sexual orientation or gender identities, but because we are people. Because we are all that, because we are different, because we are a community, we are a part of this great country, we are Kenyans. Kenya may not constitutionally be a Christian nation but it does have a great number of Christians. Among the Christians are persons within the LGBTI community. The Bible contains parts, interpretations of which may create the impression that homosexuals are evil. The same Bible also says that we shouldn’t judge others lest we be judged ourselves. Christianity’s core principle is love. Christ taught mankind to love their neighbor as they love themselves. Christ taught that we should love each other because we know that we are forever loved by him. Christ taught that we should do to others what we would have them do to us. Saint Paul taught that love does no harm to its neighbor making love the fulfillment of the law. He taught that love is patient and kind and doesn’t envy nor boast nor is it proud. He taught that love is not self-seeking nor does it keep a record of wrongs. He taught that love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. The Bible teaches that above all, we should love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins. With all that in mind, let us remember that whatever position you take towards homosexuality, towards the intersex, towards the transgender community, hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs.
I just watched the Second Reading of the England and Wales Marriage Equality Bill. It was an interesting debate that brought about quite a number of questions. The one that really resonated with me is, does voting against the bill make one a homophobe? I don’t think it does. People have different opinions which they are completely entitled to. However, so many sentiments were brought out in the debate that got me thinking about homophobia…specifically in Kenya, and other places. By the way, everyone should read the speech by David Lemmy on Same Sex Marriage today. It was brilliant! “Thank goodness we solved that whole financial crisis unemployment recession thing and can now focus on important things like stopping love.” I read that quote on Twitter sometime back. Why stop love? Why hate gay people? Why hate anyone at all? These are questions I have asked myself countless times and they are questions I am sure many have asked themselves (except of course those people who go around hating others for no apparent reason whatsoever), the answers to which are not usually forthcoming. This is why I set about thinking critically about the issue. One of the common reasons why homophobes hate gay people is religion. Now religion has been attributed to some of the world’s worst atrocities. This, I should put out clearly, as much as that statement may appear as a vendetta against religion, it really isn’t. I am simply stating facts. The fact is that the homophobe will be quoted as saying something to the effect that God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. The homophobe will also be heard quoting Bible verses. The favorite of which can be found in the book of Ecclesiastes (something something) that talks about man lying with another man as with a woman (whatever that means). So why is religion such a hater of gay people? Why does the homophobe use the one book that says “Love thy neighbor as thou lovest thyself” (pardon the loose use of the “King James” tongue) to hate another person just because of who they are? I am also pretty sure that there is a surat(?) in the Quran that says something about loving everyone. But why pick out the one verse that says something about lying with another man and use it to hate on other people? Why not also consider the fact that the same book in the Bible talks about shellfish and eating it and hate on people who eat the same? Is this not a case of double standards? I think this particular class of homophobe has mastered the art of picking out from religion the one thing that he considers easiest for him to do and has spun it out of proportion. So much so that he doesn’t even have the capacity to see what else he is missing out on. Another argument that the homophobe uses to hate gay people is that homosexuality is against nature. This particular concept has even been encapsulated in legislation. The law talks about “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. Now this is a question that was asked in my Jurisprudence class and is a question that has been debated on by many. Who defines “nature”? Who has the authority to tell what is “in the order of nature” and what is not? I for one think that two people loving each other and caring for one another is one of the most natural things in the world. It doesn’t matter what age they are, what the color of their skin is, it doesn’t even matter what sex they are. I think that it is extremely natural for a man to love a woman. In the same light, it is extremely natural for a man to love a man and a woman to love a woman. But the question remains, who defines what is “natural” and what is not? Is it what is considered by the majority as “natural” that should be so? As a minority (of whatever caliber) do you think that what the majority say should always apply to you and that you do not have a say about it just because you do not belong to the “class” that is the majority? In the African context, the homophobe also talks about homosexuality being un-African. They say that it is a western import and that it did not exist in Africa before colonization. There have been countless studies whose details I shall not go into that show how rampant homosexuality was in Africa way before colonization. These studies with the proof they carry within them make this argument, to a very large extent, extremely moot. Calling homosexuality a western import and using religion to make your point is possibly the worst case of double standards one can think of. How one can use a western import to hate on another “western import” is beyond my understanding. Which brings us to the Kenyan context. The Kenya National Commission for Human Rights recently released a report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in which it recommended decriminalization of homosexuality so as to improve the sexual rights situation in the country. This report has been received by mixed reactions. It has stirred so much debate that the homophobe has woken up using the usual arguments to hate on homosexuals. The homophobe has even managed to steer the debate away from what it is exactly that the movement wants, which is equality and non-discrimination, to gay marriage. I personally applaud the National Commission for not only focusing on reproductive rights but also including sexual rights in its report. It was a bold move on its part considering the immensely homophobic environment we live in and it was a very necessary move. Africans need to understand that among them, there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people. These people are African by every sense of the word. The Kenyan constitution itself recognizes them as such when it states that every person should be treated equally before the law. Nowhere in the constitution does it say, “Every person except the gays”. It recognizes each and every Kenyan as a person. It is this lack of understanding that leads to Kenyans hating their fellow Kenyans. Much akin the ethnic differences that we have witnessed in the recent past. Until people are properly sensitized on the law and what it says about PEOPLE, until the homophobe learns that the arguments he uses to hate the gay person really are redundant in so many ways, until the gay person comes out and decides that he/she has had enough of the hate and is willing to speak up and speak out about himself/herself and against the hate, then we are going nowhere. Fast!