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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

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Just how many lives need to be senselessly lost before we as human beings start treating each other better? How many families are we willing to destroy in the name of “morality”? What is “moral” about beating a person to death because of something he has absolutely no control over? Which are these African values that we so earnestly yearn to preserve that justify the level of violence that is faced by gay and lesbian people in this continent? Are we not all African regardless of the differences that we all have? Are we not a part of this incredibly diverse society? What gives you the right to take my life or deprive me of employment or evict me from my dwelling place just because I love differently?

We will now never know what Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi would have brought to this world. His life was taken by people who felt that he didn’t deserve to live a full life because he was gay. His life was taken in the cruellest of ways. I keep wondering what must have gone through his mind in his last moments. Was he grateful to have been taken out of a world where fellow human beings hate him and others like himself so? Was he forgiving of his attackers? Did he regret that he chose to live his life authentically? Did he curse his maker for having feelings he couldn’t control that caused him the pain he must have gone through?

I’d like to think that in his last moments, in all the pain he must have been going through, in all the psychological torture he must have been going through, I’d like to think that he forgave his attackers. That he prayed that what happened to him does not happen to any other person. I’d also like to ask those who are saying that he deserved to die to think about his last moments. To think about the fact that this person could have been your brother, your father, your uncle or your best friend. Just think about what would be going through that person’s mind.

We are all human beings. We are all different. It is that difference that makes this world a beautiful place. Let’s embrace it. Let’s not hate others simply for loving differently. No good ever comes of hate and violence. Love always wins.

Rest in Peace Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi. You are in a better place.


All my life, I have had a love/hate relationship with religion. On the one hand, it presents human beings with a sense of hope. Hope that there is more to their lives than what they see, feel and experience. On the other hand, interpretations of some of its teachings (and this is true for most if not all religious doctrines) condemn people for being who they are, advocate for violence against non-believers and preaches hate for some members of society. The key word there is “interpretations”. Religious teachings could be interpreted in so many ways which is why we also have religious factions that do not condemn people for being who they are, do not advocate for violence against non-believers and do not preach hate for some members of society. This is the reason for my love/hate relationship with religion.
Earlier today, I read an article that brought tears to my eye. A story about parents tragically learning to truly love their son. Their gay son who came out to them and due to their religious beliefs, they wouldn’t show him the love that parents should show their children. They inadvertently made their gay son hate his sexuality and himself by asking him to choose between Jesus and being gay. Their gay son who ended up dead from drug use. A habit most likely born of the self-loathing that we gay men and women are subject to when society treats us like we ought not to exist. Treats us like we should not be a part of it. Denies us basic human rights. Attacks and vilifies us for no other reason other than that we express love in a way that is different from what society perceives as “normal”. You can read the story here.
When I read this story, as much as I had tears in my eyes, I had such mixed reactions. I wanted to be angry at the parents. As a matter of fact, I was incredibly angry at the parents. I am not a parent but I do know a thing or two about parenthood. You bring a child into this world, you are expected to show them unconditional love. You are expected to always guide your child in the “right” way. I recognize just how relative “right” is. A parent is not expected to abandon their child at any cost. I say this with a heavy heart being a victim of abandonment by my father but that’s a story for another day. Yes. I was incredibly angry at the parents. I do not understand how a mother would choose religion over her own flesh and blood. One reader commented and said that what they couldn’t wrap their head around is how the parent could chose something intangible over their own flesh and blood. That there is absolutely nothing that should be more important than your child. This reader said that they will never understand how anyone can rationalize diminishing their child because of something they have no proof of. But this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? It is at the very heart of every human being’s belief in a supreme being or the lack of one. The question of faith or the lack of it. The question of the existence of a universal morality. The question of who defines what “normal” is. The question of love and hate and the many interpretations of religious doctrines. The question of life itself.
I would have been one of those readers who instantly reacted in anger and wrote something like “Anyone who would choose religion before family deserves no sympathy”. But I didn’t. I thought about it. The one thing that came to mind over and over again was that no one, no matter how ignorant and misinformed they are, deserves to lose a child. Losing a child is one of the most painful experiences in a parent’s life. Even though said loss may be of their doing, the parents still don’t deserve to lose a child. These particular parents saw the error of their ways. They learn to love their son. They live, every passing day with the knowledge that what they did caused their son’s death and from what I have read, from the heart breaking letterfrom the father to his dead son to the even more heart breaking responseto the people to hate them for what they did, these parents are torn. They are hurting. They are suffering the consequences of their actions. They are using their story to inform other parents out there, many of whom are making their gay sons and daughters hate their sexuality and themselves because of religion, learn that love is what these children need. I am angry at these parents. But aren’t we all human? Don’t we all make mistakes? Some of the mistakes we make have dire consequences. What will happen to us if we don’t learn from our mistakes? If our mistakes are not used as lessons for others in similar circumstances?

I do not believe in organized religion. There. I said it. However, that does not mean that I hate anyone that does. It does not mean that those who believe are inferior. As a matter of fact, the belief that others have in God makes me respect them more. The Bible in Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.I may not relate to that but I respect those who do. This world is a mix of differences. There are gay and straight people. There are believers and non-believers. There are black, white and many other races. This world is diverse in so many ways. The moment we all learn to accept the diversity, to respect the differences we have and live with and to spread love and not hate for our fellow human being, that is the moment when harmony in this society will prevail.

I respect everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Gay, Straight, male, female or other. I keep saying that the world is a collection of diversities and once we learn to respect these diversities, the world will be a much better place. That said, The Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been used time and time again to justify violence towards gay and lesbian people. I read comments on stories about sexual orientation and inevitably, someone will quote Sodom and Gomorrah. Here are two of the comments from various sources;

“In whose eye???my understanding.bible or GOD cursed gay when they wanted to rape tha angels in sodom and gomora and they were made blind so i dont think we r equal at all”

“that is a self answered question i will never support gayism my reason is simple GOD MADE THAT ABSULITELY CLEAR WHEN HE DESTROYED SODOM AND GOMORA”

I hate copying and pasting from Wikipedia but here are some excerpts from the article on Sodom and Gomorrah that I think people should know;

Rictor Norton views classical Jewish texts as stressing the cruelty and lack of hospitality of the inhabitants of Sodom to the “stranger”. The people of Sodom were seen as guilty of many other significant sins. Rabbinic writings affirm that the Sodomites also committed economic crimes, blasphemy and bloodshed. One of the worst was to give money or even gold ingots to beggars, after inscribing their names on them, and then subsequently refusing to sell them food. The unfortunate stranger would end up starving and after his death, the people who gave him the money would reclaim it.

A rabbinic tradition, described in the Mishnah, postulates that the sin of Sodom was related to property: Sodomites believed that “what is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine” (Abot), which is interpreted as a lack of compassion. Another rabbinic tradition is that these two wealthy cities treated visitors in a sadistic fashion. One major crime done to strangers was almost identical to that of Procrustes in Greek mythology. This would be the story of the “bed” that guests to Sodom were forced to sleep in: if they were too short they were stretched to fit it, and if they were too tall, they were cut up (indeed, in Hebrew and Yiddish, the corresponding term for a Procrustean bed is a “Sodom bed”).

In another incident, Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, went to visit Lot in Sodom and got in a dispute with a Sodomite over a beggar, and was hit in the forehead with a stone, making him bleed. The Sodomite demanded Eliezer pay him for the service of bloodletting, and a Sodomite judge sided with the Sodomite. Eliezer then struck the judge in the forehead with a stone and asked the judge to pay the Sodomite.

The Talmud and the Sefer haYashar (midrash) also recount two incidents of a young girl (one involved Lot’s daughter Paltith) who gave some bread to a poor man who had entered the city. When the townspeople discovered their acts of kindness, they burned Paltith and smeared the other girl’s body with honey and hung her from the city wall until she was eaten by bees.  It is this gruesome event, and her scream in particular, the Talmud concludes, that are alluded to in the verse that heralds the city’s destruction: “So said, ‘Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, I will descend and see…'” (Genesis 18:20-21)

A modern orthodox position is one that holds, “The paradigmatic instance of such aberrant behavior is found in the demand of the men of Sodom to ‘know’ the men visiting Lot, the nephew of Abraham, thus lending their name to the practice of ‘sodomy’.”

The scholar and activist Jay Michaelson proposes a reading of the story of Sodom that emphasizes the violation of hospitality as well as the violence of the Sodomites. “Homosexual rape is the way in which they violate hospitality—not the essence of their transgression. Reading the story of Sodom as being about homosexuality is like reading the story of an ax murderer as being about an ax.” Michaelson places the story of Sodom in context with other Genesis stories regarding Abraham’s hospitality to strangers, and argues that when other texts in the Hebrew Bible mention Sodom, they do so without commentary on homosexuality. The verses cited by Michaelson include Jeremiah 23:14, where the sins of Jerusalem are compared to Sodom and are listed as adultery, lying, and strengthening the hands of evildoers; Amos 4:1-11 (oppressing the poor and crushing the needy); and Ezekiel 16:49-50, which defines the sins of Sodom as “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and did toevah before me, and I took them away as I saw fit.” Michaelson uses toevah in place of abomination to emphasize the original Hebrew, which he explains as being more correctly translated as “taboo”.

Now this was the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. —Ezekiel 16:49-50

In the Gospel of Matthew (and corresponding verse) when Jesus warns of a worse judgment for some cities than Sodom, inhospitality is perceived by some as the sin, while others see it fundamentally being impenitence:

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. —Matthew 10:14-15

Within the Christian Churches that agree on the possible sexual interpretation of know (yada) in this context, there is still a difference of opinion on whether homosexuality is important. The Anglican Communion, on its website, presents the argument that the story is “not even vaguely about homosexual love or relationships”, but instead “about dominance and rape, by definition an act of violence, not of sex or love.” This argument that the violence and threat of violence to foreign visitors it the true ethical downfall of Sodom (and not homosexuality) observers the similarity between the Sodom and Gomorrah and the Battle of Gibeah Bible stories. In both stories, an inhospitable mob demands the homosexual rape of a foreigner or foreigners. As the mob instead settles for the rape and murder of the foreigner’s female concubine in the Battle of Gibeah story, the homosexual aspect is generally seen as inconsequential, and the ethical downfall is understood to be the violence and threat of violence to foreigners by the mob. This Exodus 22:21-24 lesson is viewed as a more historically accurate way to interpret the Sodom and Gomorrah story.

Now, as my friend and colleague Eric Gitari said in a TV interview, never have you seen a group of gay men both young and old gather outside your house wanting to forcefully know someone. As far as I’m concerned, the LGBT movement in Kenya is against all forms of rape. Let us not pick and choose parts of the Bible that we want to and leave out others. The Bible is against fornication, it is against adultery, divorce and many other things that we are all guilty of. Advocating for stoning of gay people just because you don’t like what they are is hardly Christian.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodom_and_Gomorrah

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.