Displaced and Potentially Homeless

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Somewhere in Ongata Rongai, Nairobi, stands this house. A 3-bedroom house that is a much needed shelter for 10 individuals who were forced to flee Uganda for fear of, and for most of them, actual persecution because they happened to be different. They happened to be of a sexual orientation that the Ugandan government and society deems unnatural, evil, abominable and deserving of being eradicated. These ten people left their homes because they feared for their lives. They now live in this house. Somewhere in Ongata Rongai, Nairobi.

Michael and I were received by our hosts today with a hearty meal. Matoke, ugali, g-nut sauce and a piece of chicken. A meal I am sure is not had daily in this house. But we were their guests and as Africans, we do everything we can to ensure that our guests feel the utmost hospitality. I ate what Michael said was more than he had ever seen me eat. It was absolutely delicious.

I was then given a tour of the house. As you walk into the house, you see what is obviously a workshop.

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Beads, bags, table mats scarves and many other odds and ends. All made by the residents of this house. The talent they have is amazing. The drive they have to be able to sit for hours on end to make these items and attempt to sell them online is inspiring. Especially while having a fear in their minds that the workshop may not be available for too long. Thinking about family and friends left behind. Thinking about the stigma and discrimination and violence they faced back home and continue to face in Kenya as they await to be relocated. Inspiring.

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They attempt to sell their craft online through their social media page but it has been tough seeing as they don’t have the reach they need to break even. I have committed to setting up a little online store for them which shall have all the information about the safe house.

I was then taken to where they sleep. It broke my heart. For a 3-bedroom house with one bed to house 10 people, the individuals have to make a lot of compromise. More than two people sharing a paper thin mattress on the floor.

When Michael was in Kampala, it became evident that there is a need for lubricant. He found out, while visiting Icebreakers Uganda that one of the most successful methods of getting people to test for HIV is by offering lube and condoms. With the crackdown on homosexuality in the country, distribution of lube is seen as promotion of homosexuality. This meant that lube was so difficult to find and is an incredibly expensive product. In the US, they hand them out for free. He therefore spoke to some of his friends in a sexual health organization and they shipped them to him.

Today, we took a package of lube with us to the safe house for delivery to Uganda. Michael had to carry them on his head feeling like a right African lass.

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The relevance of this delivery is the fact that some of the individuals in the safe house are HIV positive. They have a level of access to their medication but due to the fact that they belong to a different sexual orientation and are not from Kenya, the stigma they face in some hospitals in Nairobi dissuades them from seeking health services when they need it. The nearest LGBTQ friendly health center is way too far for them to access. There is however a possible reprieve for them on this with some organizations stepping in to assist.

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They are Team No Sleep Foundation. I have seen their files and they are intricate. Every single receipt is filed. Every single doctor’s appointment is documented. Every single purchase is recorded. They clearly don’t sleep. They are however in need of your help. Their rent needs to be paid. Water and electric bills need to be paid. They need to be fed. They need medical assistance. I do understand that their plight may be similar to others out there. I know that the world is a tough place to live in. But they are human beings. Being in that space gives you a sense of hope. It shows a side of humanity that lights a fire in your heart. And they do need your help.

Follow them on Facebook.

Donate to their GoFundMe.

But most of all…as they ask. Stand in solidarity for all.

 

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Men: As You Check Your Privilege, Remember, You ARE Trash!

It is about time that people in power who take advantage of those who look up to them have their actions questioned. They have gone unchecked far too long and that is wrong. Harvey Weinstein has been accused. He tried to quash the stories but they came out. Speaking of coming out, Kevin Spacey did just that when he was accused. Effectively coming up with something completely new to the LGBT world; a wrong time to come out. All these stories are, in my books, success stories. Someone who had been violated found the strength to say what happened to them. Say it and make an impact. Say it and allow others who had had the same happen to them find the strength to say what had happened to them. It is sad. It is beautiful. It is empowering.

But no. This is not that kind of post as you may have guessed from the title.

If I had to name them, the women who have accused men, powerful or otherwise, of sexual abuse and had their narratives dismissed as a call for attention or a search for fame or a quest for a big cheque or the myriad of other excuses that we come up with, I would be listing names for a very long time. A very very long time. It took Kevin Spacey’s very problematic coming out for me to say this. The reaction we collectively have when a man says he has been violated is completely different from the reaction that we collectively have when a woman says she has been violated in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way condoning what the man allegedly did. It was horrible. It should not ever happen to anyone. Yet it is happening. To men who just want to get a foot on the ground. To men who are simply seeking to be loved. To men who are trying to ensure that the love they are made to believe exists is reciprocated. It is happening. I am not condoning this at all. All I am saying is that we need to check our privilege. As ugly as this is, we need to see it as it is. That a woman will be violated and we will say, “Well, she shouldn’t have placed herself in that situation.” And when a man is violated, we instantly ostracize the accused.

We need to check our privilege. And while we are checking that privilege, we need to acknowledge the fact that we are all trash. Now I know that this will not go down well with my fellow penis havers, but the fact that it took one of my kind, in more ways than one, being accused to have me say this makes me trash as well.

Men are trash

It is not equality I am speaking for here. It is basic humanity. When no consent is given or when consent is coerced or when consent is withdrawn, none of us has a right over the body of the other person. THAT is basic humanity.

So yes. Men are trash. And please don’t say, “Not all men!” That just makes you trash. Be a man. Acknowledge your privilege. And then stand up for what is right. Speak up for the woman in your life who is being treated oh so differently because of the fact that she is a woman. Understand that she really doesn’t need you to speak up because she can very well do that for herself only problem being that you and your privileged self, shut her down. Note that while you may not personally play a part in shutting her down, you do nothing about those who do. Admit that by your very existence, you are one of the oppressors. Accept that you are hating me so much right now for calling you out.

Once you are done being trash, do something to make a difference!

£1 a Month = 1 Month of Light

Dear Kenyans,

This is a family in Romford, United Kingdom. They have been in darkness for 15 minutes. The trauma of having to use the light on their iPhone7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 is debilitating. They are not alone. They need your help!

£1 a month will go directly into their electricity bills.

Send your donations via PayPal (yes! We have PayPal in Kenya) to:

anthony.n.oluoch@gmail.com

As a thank you, I will say “Thank You!” out loud.

Please help this poor family and others!

Love!

A Kenyan.

I Will Listen…

When I post updates like, “If you watch Godzilla backwards its about a dinosaur who passionately pieces a city back together before moonwalking into the sea.” you smile. And that makes me​ happy. But only for a moment. When I bake and post a picture of the cookies I made. You like the pictures and ask me to bake you some. It makes me happy. But only for a moment. When I post about my new job and you congratulate me, genuinely happy for me. It makes me happy. But only for a moment. 

For a very long time, I have been dealing with depression. It is a horrible thing. It eats away at you. Makes you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. Makes you distance yourself from those who love you. Makes you the worst version of yourself. But some of us are able to mask it. Live for those moments when we are made to feel good about ourselves…while dying inside. We have to keep pushing on though. We do have a purpose in life. To make a difference in people’s lives. To put a smile on a sad person’s face. To do the things that make us feel good. 

I realise that that is easier said than done, but if you are dealing with depression like I have been, please seek help. Know that you are not alone. 

I have been lucky. I have found someone who understands me. Who understands my moments. Who understands my way of communication. I have found Mark. The man I will soon be married to. The man I am in love with. He has helped me know me better. 

You do have someone who loves you. Who would do anything for you. Who would move mountains for you. Who will always listen…
“But I don’t.” I hear you thinking…
I am right here. I will listen. 

And to everyone else…be kind. You really have no idea what demons the person walking beside you is dealing with. 

The Politics of Sex Work

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I’ll quote Bitange Ndemo’s piece on Taiwan’s Link between Personal Conduct and Economic Success, “Asian countries emphasise six key values that can be introduced to young children as well as older people. These include Respect (acknowledging others with simple greetings), Responsibility (taking care of your mess), Resilience (accepting failure and never giving up), Integrity (honesty), Care (helping those around you) and Harmony (accept others who may be different or do things differently), and re-emphasising all the time the living by these values in every decision or action that we take.” This does not make what follows an analysis of Taiwan, or Asian countries for that matter. It is however very much about the linkages that exist between personal conduct, public conduct, morality, crime (and the lack of it), exploitation, choice, class and economic success. At this point, I will emphasise on “harmony” as one of the key values. Keep that in mind as you read this.

Sex work. Prostitution. Intimacy for compensation. Umalaya. Hustling. The sex trade. The sex industry. Hooking. Arguably the oldest profession known has been in the headlines a lot. Amnesty International sparked international debate mid last year when the organization’s International decision making forum voted to adopt a policy to protect the human rights of sex workers. The resolution recommended that the highly influential international organization develop a policy that supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work and called on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence. This recommendation came after a two year research concluding that this is the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights and lessen the risk of abuse and violations they face. One thing that seems to have escaped most commentators’ attention is the fact that the policy would also recommend that any act related to the sexual exploitation of a child must be criminalized. Recognizing that a child involved in a commercial sex act is a victim of sexual exploitation, entitled to support, reparations, and remedies, in line with international human rights law, and that states must take all appropriate measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

Amnesty International was not  the first international organization to recommend the decriminalization of sex work. The World Health Organization in its 2013 publication, “Implementing Comprehensive HIV/STI Programmes with Sex Workers: Practical Approaches from Collaborative Interventions” stated that community empowerment includes working towards the decriminalization of sex work and the elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers, and recognizing and respecting sex work as a legitimate occupation or livelihood.

Last year, the United States Department of Justice arrested the CEO and six employees behind the online male escort service rentboy.com calling said site the largest “internet brothel”. While there may be legal justification for taking down the website in the United States as prostitution is illegal in that country, this move has sparked quite some debate all over the world about criminalization and what that means not only for the providers of the internet service but also for the users of the same, especially due to the fact that RentBoy has operated openly for the last twenty years.

The op-ed “Buying Sex Should Not Be Legal” by Rachel Moran in the New York Times, (coincidentally published on my birthday) and an interview with a friend, colleague and sex worker activist John Mathenge from the Global Network for Sex Workers raise an incredibly complicated set of issues that I wish to analyse on this incredibly complicated topic.

Mathenge says that the reasons for becoming a sex worker are incredibly broad. For some sex workers, poverty pushes them to it. Poverty and the fact that the individual does not have other professional options. He notes that indeed, there are individuals who are coerced into sex work through human trafficking and challenges at home while incredibly young. Ms. Moran’s story is quite tragically one of those. Forced to sell sex at 14 years of age. This is a story that has been heard countless times the world over. On this point, I agree wholeheartedly with her. Our children need to be protected. Our young girls and boys need to be protected from those who wish to sexually exploit them. Mathenge says however that sex work is different from human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, both of which the sex workers in Kenya are completely against. In fact, he says, his organization, in conjunction with the Africa Sex Worker Alliance and the Kenya Sex Worker Alliance have conducted a project to link young people selling sex (children under the age of 18) in various countries in Africa with organizations working with children and encourage those willing to go back to school. Most of those reached did indeed go back to school.

There are sex workers however who actually choose the profession. For some, according to Mathenge, due to the fact that there is nothing else they are capable of doing. For others, like Mr. Rob Yeager, for convenience; so that he can have the ability and time to take care of his disabled partner. Even others actually enjoy the profession for various reasons including the sex and perhaps the fact that it makes more money than anything else they could have done. For these people, for these adults, it becomes a matter of choice. The freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies. The freedom to choose to get into a willing buyer, willing seller situation where the product in question may include a sexual act.

Which brings me to the question of commoditising the body. Commoditizing sex itself. Reasons for not doing this vary greatly. They are often influenced by the society’s understanding of morality and religion. They are often a product of having been brought up believing that sex is something so intimate that it cannot be spoken about in polite company. That the only reason sex can be had is when two people need to procreate (is it really?). That it is something about oneself that one needs to keep hidden. These reasons are a product of not nearly enough talk about gender and sexuality. Because if we did actually open up, and I have been successful in getting random groups of people to open up about gender and sexuality, we would uncover so many aspects of the same that we didn’t even know existed. We would get to a point where we understood that components of our gender and sexuality are so broad that understanding them would probably be near impossible. A conversation about gender and sexuality needs to happen when we are talking about sex work because that is exactly what it is about. Gender and sexuality. Our maleness, our femaleness, our cisgenderness, our transgenderness, our heterosexuality, our homosexuality, our bisexuality and all the other possible continuums in existence. It is about all that and the human need to exist in their space without prejudice, stigma or discrimination. To be allowed to make choices as long as these choices do not harm the next person.

The bottom line is this, sex work has existed in our society from time immemorial. Fun fact, it even exists in animals (although I’m yet to figure out when animals became our moral compass)! Sex work is going nowhere. We may continue to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that by increasing punitive measures that in some countries target persons under the age of 18 who sell sex, we will get rid of it. We may try creative punitive measures like the Nordic model where only the buyer is criminalized which in essence does an injustice to the sex worker. As much as some studies have claimed that this model has had some success, it still doesn’t make logical sense to make the buying of a product illegal and selling of the same legal. With due respect to Ms. Moran, our children are getting into the sale of sex at an incredibly young age. But that is not sex work. That is exploitation of children. That is paedophilia. That is wrong and the perpetrators of the same need to face the full extent of the law. Women are being unwillingly used for the sexual gratification of other men and women. Some men are being unwillingly used for the sexual gratification of other men and women. That is not sex work. That is sexual exploitation of human beings. That is wrong and the perpetrators of the same, just like the paedophiles need to face the full extent of the law.

Existing resources (meagre for most countries) need not be used to target adult consensual sex workers and the buyers of their services. They need to be utilized in eradicating human trafficking. In ensuring that our children are protected. In ensuring that women and men are not being exploited sexually or otherwise. In my opinion, sex work needs to be decriminalized. It then needs to be regulated. Regulated in such a way that people are not exploited. That everyone gets their due wage. That sex workers are able to report the violence they face to the authorities without the fear that they will be arrested. That sex workers are empowered enough to negotiate condom use with their clients thus reducing the rates of transmission HIV and other STIs. That sex workers get to contribute meaningfully to the society by having the trade taxed. I intentionally did not use statistics here because while numbers do wonders in giving us an outline of a situation, this conversation is not about numbers. It is about human beings who simply want to be allowed to live and do what they do. It’s about people. In the beginning I asked that you keep “harmony” in mind. It’s about just that. Accepting others who may be different or do things differently.

Redundantly Pregnant: A Mother’s Story 

pregnancySince the dawn of time, giving birth has been celebrated as a joyous occasion synonymous with new beginnings and pride for the parents. It is no surprise that maternal rights are enshrined in one of the most profound articles in the Constitution of Kenya, Article 27, which states that every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. The article further states that the state and a person shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against another person on any ground including, among other grounds, pregnancy. In line with this article, Section 5(3) of the Employment Act of 2007 prohibits discrimination against an employee or prospective employee on grounds of pregnancy. Section 46(a) of the same Act states that a female employee’s pregnancy, or any reason connected with her pregnancy does not constitute fair reason for dismissal or from the imposition of a disciplinary penalty. Article 8 of the Maternity Protection Convention of 2000 which is yet to be ratified by Kenya, prohibits the termination of employment of a woman during her pregnancy or maternity leave where the termination is related to the pregnancy or birth and its consequences or nursing. In spite of all these measures, the experience of many a Kenyan woman who gets pregnant while in employment or is pregnant while seeking employment has been far from ideal.

While a number of employers treat the women in their employ, pregnant or otherwise fairly, some have found devious ways to subvert their obligations under the law. Some of the women I have spoken to have told me that as soon as it became evident that they were pregnant, their employers would do everything in their power to frustrate them. These employers would get rid of staff members whose job was to make things easier for their pregnant colleague or reassign her from a desk job to one which requires a lot of physical exertion. They would make the working conditions incredibly difficult for the women, and some, when possible, had to quit. Some had no option but to carry on working causing them severe complications in their pregnancy. Employers do this in order to avoid any culpability that might befall them were they to terminate a pregnant woman’s employment.

Judy’s is one such story. In June 2014, having just been admitted to the bar, she was employed as an associate advocate at a law firm whose head offices are in Nairobi. She was then informed that she would be sent to work at the Eldoret branch. As a freshly admitted advocate in dire need of practice experience, she had no problem with that. She packed her bags and left her family including her four-year-old son and moved to Eldoret. This was a brand new office and she was tasked with the duties of setting up the office, and engaging new staff. She was the managing associate and the sole advocate in the firm at the Eldoret office and would liaise directly with the partners in Nairobi on the various instructions that they would get. She handled all the marketing, billing and all the litigation work there. The clerk they hired would do all the ground-work. By the end of the year 2015, the firm had almost doubled her salary.

In January 2016, at 3 months pregnant, Judy’s pregnancy became visible. It is worth noting that an employee is under no obligation to reveal their pregnancy to the employer. Article 31 of the Constitution provides that every person has the right to privacy which includes the right not to have information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed. At this point she disclosed to one of the partners, who frequently visited the Eldoret office, that she was pregnant and would need the appropriate help required to run the firm. Soon after this disclosure, the clerk who did most of the work that involved moving around town, Lands Offices and court was fired. Judy was left to do all the ground-work and attend to all the office matters. When she informed her employers that she was having some health issues as her blood pressure was getting quite high, the employers told her that her family matters were to be dealt with at home with her husband. At the end of that month, Judy did not receive her salary.

The reason the management gave for not paying Judy’s salary was that the firm had not collected enough funds to pay the same. Throughout the period of her pregnancy, Judy did not receive a salary. She had no money coming in to her account and had to attend hospital for pre-natal care aside from everything else she needed as a pregnant woman. This whole time, she was still working under the employ of the law firm. She needed to do something about it. All her calls for help and for the management to fulfil their contractual obligations since she was still entitled to her normal salary were responded to unsatisfactorily. One of the partners once told Judy that she should not complain because he had heard that she has a very rich husband.

In June, Judy decided to go to Nairobi in order for her and the partners to have a face to face conversation. At the meeting, one of the partners gave her a cheque of forty thousand shillings and told her to go give birth, after which they would discuss the issues she had with the firm. She took the cheque and for due diligence, went to NHIF to try and figure out how she would foot her maternity bill. It was then that she found out that her employer had not been remitting anything to NHIF. The firm had an insurance cover for its employees and she went to the insurance company to see if they would cover her cost. She then established that the package was supposed to cover maternity bills but the firm opted out of the same. It was then that she realized that she was on her own.

On the 22nd June, Judy was on record in court for the law firm. On 23rd June, she delivered, via caesarean section, a healthy baby boy and went on maternity leave. Three weeks into her leave, she was informed of a letter waiting for her at the office. She was excited thinking that the partners had finally decided to pay her dues. This was not the case. The letter told her that due to poor business, her position in the Eldoret office had been rendered redundant as of the 1st June 2016. At the same time, the firm was advertising through the Law Society of Kenya website for a position similar to hers. She was given a cheque that covered one month’s salary and let go. She immediately went to her advocates who then sent the firm a demand letter for her fees, severance payment and all her dues legally calculated. The firm responded that they would only admit to three months’ salary, April till June and nothing for the time she was on maternity leave.

Seeking redress for what she was going through, Judy sent an email to the Law Society of Kenya outlining her issues. They did not respond to her. She called the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya) who informed her that she had to report personally go to their office in Nairobi. She was in Eldoret, recovering from a surgery, with a newborn baby and no job. Having no other recourse, she went on a Facebook rant telling the world about the injustice she was facing because she got pregnant. The partners in the firm saw this rant and called her for a discussion. They then gave her a cheque which only covered a third of what she was owed. In an attempt to share her story, she went to Nation Media who told her that they would only share the same after she files a suit against the firm. As a legal professional, Judy knew that she would be barred from speaking about a matter that was in court. She then got contacts for the Kenya Human Rights Commission who said that they would not handle the matter as it was a gender issue and they referred her to the National Gender and Equality Commission. The Commission said that she needs to lodge a complaint which would then be vetted and heard the next time the commission was sitting which was after two quarters.

The Law Society of Kenya kept pushing her off telling her that the person who was meant to handle the complaint was in a seminar. When she eventually managed to get a hold of someone to assist, she was asked to send a handwritten letter which would then be attached to a demand letter on a Law Society of Kenya letterhead to the firm. At this point, Judy felt defeated. She felt like a forum shopper. The society which she and the partners in the firm were members of and is meant to tackle issues between advocates could not even summon her former employers for mediation or arbitration. They claimed that the matter was contractual and they really couldn’t get in the middle of it.

She was forced to relocate to Nairobi where she had her parents who would help take care of her baby and herself. She has not heard from the law firm since. She is trying to apply for another job, something that is proving to be incredibly difficult as the firm will not give her a certificate of service or a testimonial and she cannot very well use a termination letter to prove that she worked for them.

Judy’s story is just one of many stories of women treated atrociously just because they got pregnant. The systems that are meant to protect them don’t. Employers use these same systems to frustrate women to the extent that the women are completely defeated. Our society is incredibly patriarchal. But we often forget that the women contribute a great deal to it. The miracle of childbirth should be something to be celebrated. It should never be used to frustrate the woman. It should never be used to terminate employment. It is not an inconvenience. It is a beautiful thing.

A Plea to the African Group at the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly

Resolution 32/2 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 30th June 2016 was a huge victory for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. It called on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It stressed the need to maintain joint ownership of the international human rights agenda and to consider human rights issues in an objective and non-confrontational manner. It also undertook to support a broad and balanced agenda, and to strengthen the mechanisms addressing issues of importance including fighting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in all their forms. It reiterated the importance of respective regional, cultural and religious value systems as well as particularities in considering human rights issues.

This resolution deplored the use of external pressure and coercive measures against States particularly developing countries, including through the use and threat of use of economic sanctions and the application of conditionality to official development assistance, with the aim of influencing the relevant domestic debates and decision-making processes at the national level. It underlined that it should be implemented while ensuring respect for the sovereign right of each country as well as its national laws, development priorities, the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and should also be in full conformity with universally recognized international human rights.

This resolution then made history by, for the first time ever, creating the mandate of an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution was however heavily contested with Saudi Arabia requesting a no-action motion saying that motion was a last attempt to make co-sponsors understand the consequences of this deeply divisive proposal that failed to recognize cultural differences.  They said that the draft was contrary to international human rights law and would disregard the universality of human rights. Nigeria supported the no-action motion saying that the draft was divisive and was concerned that the lack of definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity and the attached human rights and fundamental freedoms carried certain responsibility for States. They said that the controversial views of those issues could not be imposed by some Member States and that the adoption of the resolution would ensure that the attention on sexual orientation and gender identity issues as seen by the Western States would take root in the United Nations, without taking into account the views of a large number of States.

A myriad of amendments that would have weakened the resolution were tabled most of which were rejected by The Council and those that were accepted, actually increased the scope of the resolution. This resolution not only faced opposition from within the Human Rights Council, but also from a section of civil society who were concerned, understandably so, that the creation of a mandate on sexual orientation and gender identity would undermine the intersectionalities of struggle that exist within our society. This matter was heavily debated and I do not believe that there will ever be a consensus on it, as with most civil rights issues. The resolution passed with 23 states voting in favor, 18 (including Kenya) voting against and 6 abstentions (most notable of the abstentions being South Africa, a State that was previously seen as a beacon of hope for LGBT people what with it having constitutional protection everyone regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity).

The reason why I give such a detailed background on Resolution 32/2 is because this historic resolution is under threat. I realize “threat” may be a rather strong word but that is essentially what the African Group is doing. The African Group has proposed a resolution that seeks to “…defer consideration of and action on Human Rights Council resolution 32/2…on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in order to allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis upon which the mandate of the special procedure established therein will be defined.”

Speaking on behalf of the African Group, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations for Botswana expressed deep concern over attempts to introduce and impose new notions and concepts that were not internationally agreed upon, particularly in areas where there was no legal foundation in any international human rights instruments. The African Group was even more disturbed at attempts to focus on certain persons on the grounds of their sexual interests and behaviors, while ignoring that other types of intolerance and discrimination regrettably still existed. While deploring all forms of stereotyping, exclusion, stigmatization, prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, hate speech and violence, the African Group stated that adoption of resolution 32/2 would be at the detriment of issues of paramount importance, such as the right to development. The African Group also believes that notions of sexual orientation and gender identity should not be linked to existing international human rights instruments. They then called for the suspension of the appointed Independent Expert’s activities, pending the determination of clarity on the issue.

While a call for deferment of consideration of and action on the resolution may not technically be a no-action motion, it effectively does exactly what a no-action motion would do. The resolution by the African Group as drafted does not give a time period for the deferment and what it does is indefinitely defer any action on resolution 32/2. One of the mandates of the Independent Expert is to address the multiple, intersecting and aggravated forms of violence and discrimination faced by persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Look at the hundreds of LGBT people who have died in violent attacks all over the world including in Cameroon, Kenya and South Africa. Some of these violent attacks go unreported because of the stigma that comes with being LGBT.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not new notions. They may be recent terms but people have had different sexual orientations and gender identities the world over, including in Africa since time immemorial. We have contributed to the society’s development, we are your brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, we are your friends and neighbors and we cannot change who we are. Yet we constantly face violence and threats of violence due to the fact that we are of a sexual orientation or gender identity that is different. The intolerance and discrimination that we face is just as real as any other intolerance and discrimination that exists in our society. We face those too. Resolution 32/2 as I mentioned earlier supports the strengthening of mechanisms that address these intolerance and discrimination.

Notions of sexual orientation and gender identity are linked to International Human Rights Instruments. There is a legal foundation for the mandate of Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As Arvind Narrain says in his blog post about South Africa, The principle of universality of rights and the principle of non-discrimination on any status are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the ICCPR. Further the Human Rights Council under OP2 of GA resolution 60/251 has the responsibility for “promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner.” We should not face violence or discrimination not because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, but because we are human beings, and any measure taken to address this violence and discrimination should not be opposed but supported in every way.

This is therefore a plea to the Africa Group. While you propose to defer action on resolution 32/2, hundreds of LGBT Africans are facing violence, discrimination and even death on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity. While you call for the suspension of the appointed Independent Expert’s activities, hundreds of citizens in your countries are being beaten in the streets, face mental anguish due to stigma and are even facing corrective rape. Resolution 32/2 respects the sovereign right of each country as well as its national laws, development priorities, the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people. It is rooted, in its entirety, under International Human Rights Instruments. Your proposed resolution not only ignores the lived reality of LGBT citizens of your countries but also undermines the mandate of the Human Rights Council. Please don’t let your citizens down.

Dear Dr. Kigwangalla,

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I write to you as a fellow proud African. A citizen of your neighbour country, Kenya. A person who has visited and loves the beauty that your country has to offer; the mountains, the lakes, the parks and most of all, the people. The unmistakably Tanzanian politeness makes me cringe every time I come back to Nairobi and see how we Kenyans relate to each other. And before any Kenyan reading this gets on the defensive, I should tell you, I am as Kenyan as we come. I am a gay man. At this point, you may want to stop reading this and dismiss it as western propaganda but I urge you to read on. It will only take a few minutes of your time and I assure you, this is far from any western propaganda.

The reason I write to you is because I have watched in awe how your government and a section of the Tanzanian population has been treating people of different sexual orientation and gender identity. From calling for their arrest to stopping the supply of lubricant to having sections of the society call for murder. This is a sad and scary trend and is no way for a society to treat a section of itself.

I’ll start by saying that the Tanzanian population (and in the same way, the Kenyan and Ugandan populations) has within it, people who are black, white, left handed, right handed, living with disabilities, living with albinism, gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex among many other identities. These people have existed in our society since time immemorial (except perhaps the white people who have also been a part of the human race). Homosexuality was not introduced by the west. Anthropological studies (which you may very well dismiss as western propaganda) have shown the existence of people of different sexual orientations and gender identities even before colonization. There are so many resources with this information and please feel free to contact me for links to them.

Having said that, you twitted yesterday, “I am a social justice activist. I am a professional. I know those stuffs. Same sex inclinations are not natural!” Allow me to tell you my story. A story that is the same for many, if not all, gay and lesbian people. At no point in my life did I make the choice to be attracted to people of the same sex as I am. As I grew up and began understanding myself and learnt about what sex is and what the feelings I had were, I realized that unlike the rest of the boys I grew up with, I was not attracted to girls. I am sure that the scenario is the same for people who are attracted to those of the opposite sex. You don’t decide to choose your attraction, you just have it. In my case, I tried to be different. I tried to fit in to what society wants me to be. It did not work. I prayed on it. I contemplated hurting myself. I finally got to the point of accepting that this is who I am. That was the only choice I made, not to be gay but to accept myself for who I am.

I was brought up in a Christian family. Most people in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya were brought up in families of a certain religion. Most religions in one way or another condemn homosexuality. If my sexual orientation was determined by how I was nurtured, I would not have turned out to be what I am. My parents brought me up in a society that vilified me for the feelings I have towards other men. Feelings I cannot control. To this day, my mother does not like that I have these feelings. But there is nothing I can do about them. There is nothing any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person can do about the person they are. We are all as we are.

If you ever sat down with members of the community and listened, and I mean really listened to their stories, you will realize that my story resonates with them. Unfortunately, some of us never got to the point of self-acceptance. Some of us hated themselves so much that they decided that it would be better if they didn’t exist in this world any more. A world that hates them for who they love. A world that discriminates against them in access to opportunities because of the gender they identify with. A world that has government officials declaring them worse than terrorists and calling for their arrest and murder due to something they have no control over. These people took their own lives. Lives that might have amounted to so much had society allowed them a chance to prove themselves worthy.

Banning of the supply of lubricants will not curb homosexuality in any way. What that does, and as a medical doctor I am sure you understand is increase the number of risky sexual practices. Use of condoms without lubricant or using condoms with oil based lubricant will increase the risk of the condom breaking and increase the risk of transmission of HIV and other STIs. Now you may say that banning distribution of lubricant will stop people from having sex but that would be burying your head in the sand. People will still have sex and unfortunately the sex will be risky sex. Let me quote some statistics. As of 2015, There were 1.4 million people living with HIV with the number of new infections being 54,000. That accounts for 5% of the Tanzanian population. HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men was 22.2% and heterosexual sex accounted for the vast majority (80%) of all HIV infections in your country with women being particularly affected. Now due to the crackdown on the LGBTI community, men who have sex with men will try, like I did, to fit in to the society. They will get into sexual relationships and marry women but that will not stop them from having sex with other men. With the risk brought on by the banning of lubricants, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is going to increase from the 22.2% and the attempt by this population to adhere to society’s norm will increase the risk of transmission to women and other heterosexual men and the vicious cycle continues.

In your tweets yesterday you kept repeating that Tanzania has not signed the “Kyogo Protocol”. I have searched all over and haven’t encountered a Kyogo Protocol. I did find a Kyoto Protocol which has nothing to do with homosexuality but all to do with climate change. What I have found however is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Tanzania is a state party to this Covenant. It says that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. Having said that, the protection of the rights of every citizen of Tanzania, Uganda or Kenya should not be hinged on the ratification of any international instrument. It should come from us as human beings. We will never all be the same. We do not all subscribe to the same religion, we are not all of the same skin colour, we are not all of the same sexual orientation or gender identity. The one thing that binds us all together is the fact that we are all human beings. Our differences are what makes our society beautiful. We should all strive to understand our differences and accept them as a part of what our society is. That way, in the spirit of Ubuntu, we shall all live in harmony.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at oluoch@gmail.com should you wish to engage in further conversations. I am sure there are many other Tanzanian individuals who would wish to tell you their story. Allow them to. Understand where they come from and the struggles they have to go through on a daily basis because of something they have absolutely no control over and think about what you as a leader, as a deputy minister for health and as a human being can do to improve the lives of not only the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in your country but the general population.

Sincerely,

Anthony Oluoch

There is a New Political Party in Town

I’m not one for political commentary. It’s the second time now that I say that. I think that means that I can call myself a novice political commentator…but I digress. Kenyan politics has for a long time been a thorn in my backside, a painful one at that. I listen to some of our politicians speak and cringe at some of their utterances. I watch bewildered as news article after news article is released telling us how we have lost hundreds of millions of tax payer money to corruption in the hands of our elected leaders. I watch as someone chosen to make our laws says that a section of the society is worse than dogs.

Ever since I could vote, I have seen political parties formed with incredible manifestos promising Kenyans unity and then get in power and do everything that would divide us. I have seen young men and women go on the campaign trail promising to eradicate corruption only to be elected and become the very perpetrators of this thing they were meant to get rid of.

All this is bound to make one give up. To make one think, “what is the point in all this?” To make one decide that politics will always remain the same. Promises, elections, complacency. But what does that then do? It keeps the status quo. It makes the situations for Kenyans even worse. It changes nothing!

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Well, there is a new Political Party in town. One whose vision is a country that faithfully affirms and religiously implements the constitutional values and principles of governance in the Constitution. One that seeks to provide and promote equitable economic development and good governance at all levels. One whose guiding principles include respect for human rights and freedoms.

Now, it is entirely possible that I may be caught in the promise loop mentioned earlier, but I am simply done with the old. Most people say, “better the devil you know.” I say that  that devil has hurt me and mine a few too many times. I am going to be a part of creating the change I need to see in my country.

Every Kenyan above 18 with an urge to make a difference in their country, join the Equity and Equality Party.

CLICK HERE to read the party’s Constitution

CLICK HERE to fill in the membership form

Dear Black Lives Matter – Toronto…

Earlier today, I posted a video on Facebook of a lady talking about being an immigrant in (I believe) the United States. In it she says something that I considered really profound. She said, “If you have not walked in my shoes then you have no say in my world.” Jesse Williams in his brilliant speech at the BET awards said, “If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.” Well, this is a critique of Black Lives Matter – Toronto. I have walked in your shoes. I shall not compare oppression because, context. I have an established record of critiquing OUR oppression. So this is I. Standing up and giving you a piece of my mind.

Toronto Pride

What you did at Toronto Pride definitely needed to be done. Black people have for a long time been oppressed in your country. Black queer folk even more for reasons we all know, understand and live. But what point did it make? You said that it began a conversation that needed to be had. But what conversation exactly did it begin? Your list of demands, the signing of which let the parade continue was quite inclusive. But was it really?

Now I speak as a proud black person. A proud gay person. A proud African person. A proud [insert all my diverse identities] person. I am going to answer all my questions above.

What point did you make?

Yes. Black queer folk are oppressed. You have said that Pride Toronto “has shown little honour to black queer/trans communities, and other marginalized communities. Over the years, Pride has threatened the existence of black spaces at Pride that have existed for years.” This is the point you wanted to make. Unfortunately, though, this is not the point you made. Black Lives Matter is an incredibly important movement. The spirit of it is systemically being watered down by those who say that it should be “All Lives Matter”. While I agree that all lives do matter, when a section of “all lives” is constantly being negatively targeted by the rest of society leading to grave injury and death, the plight of that section needs to be highlighted. Not by limiting the rights of another section, but by showing said plight and making sure that everyone else understands it.

Your sit in did not do that. By stopping a parade, political as it may be, to raise a political issue and make demands of the organizers, you made a point. That Black Lives Matter – Toronto is all about themselves and nobody else. That Black Lives Matter – Toronto exists in a bubble. One that is constantly poked and prodded by the rest of society but a bubble nonetheless. That no other person should be until Black Lives Matter – Toronto is heard. But this isn’t the case in reality, is it? We black queer folk exist in an incredibly diverse society. We have white neighbors, cousins who are police officers and homophobic parents. The moment we start making the points you made in the sit in, that is the moment we start alienating ourselves.

What conversation did it begin?

Your sit in began a very important conversation. Not one that you expected I believe (you have got hundreds of incredibly threatening hate mail due to it: a terrible thing unfortunately), but one about actually thinking through our actions. As a queer man living in a country that criminalizes homosexuality with a penalty of 14 years in prison, I constantly have to ask myself what impact something I do with the aim of helping those in my community will have on them. I have to think about society’s reactions to it. I have to think about the benefits it will have to my community. I have to constantly consult to figure out if that is the best way to go about the matter.

Judging from the reaction to your action, it was not very well thought through. It did have the best of intentions but all it did was alienate the black queer community. It tarnished the spirit of Black Lives Matter. I am all for radical thinking and radical action but radical’s limit is where its intentions get blurred, and in this action, they were. So this conversation has to go on. A conversation about the limiting of black queer spaces needs to begin however this was not it.

Were your demands really inclusive?

They absolutely were! Continued space, brilliant! Self-determination for community spaces, great! Adequate funding, can’t question that! Double funding for Blockorama, not sure what that is but I’m pretty certain it’s something fabulous. Reinstatement of the South Asian stage, why was it excluded in the first place? Prioritizing of hiring of black transwomen, indigenous people and others from vulnerable communities, affirmative action works! More hearing impaired interpreters for the festival, fantastic! Removal of police floats, Really? THAT is exclusion.

The police have been some of the biggest perpetrators of violence towards black people. The police have been some of the biggest perpetrators of violence towards black queer people. This is true even in my country. I however do not blame the entire police force for the actions of a few of them. If I were to exclude every section of society in my life, some of whom have shown some form of discrimination or hate towards me then I would live alone in an island which I would probably not even be allowed to own because my government considers me a criminal.

I read the letter from the gay cop to Toronto Pride with a heavy heart. When he said that he had seen his first pride only to be excluded from the next, I shed a tear. I shed that tear for all the other queer police officers who would be excluded from the next pride. Some of whom are black. I understand that we live in different contexts and our struggles are different. What I know is that as a community we queer folk are looking for acceptance. We are looking to be included in every facet of life. Being exclusionary and not accepting dialogue will never achieve us that. What this demand unfortunately did was reinforce the rhetoric that Black Lives Matter is anti-police which in my opinion, it isn’t. Some who subscribe to it might be, but in essence, Black Lives Matter seeks to show the violence faced by black folk in the hands of some police officers among others.

We are at a point in our lives as black folk where we can’t afford to alienate ourselves from the rest of society. We can’t afford to be exclusionary. We can’t afford to seem like we are looking to be treated better than everyone else. We have suffered. But we are not looking for any special treatment. We simply want equality. We simply do not want to be racially profiled in the streets or shot dead in cold blood or arrested for being black. We simply want to exist. The action at Toronto Pride will not do this for us.