Monday, April 23, 2018

Fear, misunderstanding and lies

Christian Amanpour: One of the major issues...and it's a sort of holdover from colonial-Victorian...is the issue of  sexual preference in many African countries. In Kenya, to be gay, the LGBT community, is illegal. They just want to have equal rights, the same privacy and equality as all other Kenyans do. Is that something that you aspire to for your country?
Uhuru Kenyatta: I want to be very clear, uh, Christian. I will not engage in a subject that is of no...it's of no major importance to the people and the Republic of Kenya. This is not an issue as you would want to put it of human rights. This is an issue of society, of our own base as a culture, as a people, irregardless of which community you come from. This is not acceptable, this is not agreeable, this is not about Uhuru Kenyatta saying "yes" or "no". This is an issue the people of Kenya themselves, who have bestowed upon themselves a constitution, right, after several years, have clearly stated that this is not a subject that they are willing to engage in, yeah, at this time and moment. In years to come, possibly long after I am president, who knows? maybe our society will have reached the stage where those are issues that people are willing, freely and openly, to discuss, I have to be honest with you. And that is the position we have always maintained, those are the laws that we have, and those are the laws that are 100% supported by 99% of the Kenyan people, irregardless of where they come from.
It is amazing how difficult it is to discuss this subject without it getting lost in the tall weeds of Victorian-era laws, constitutional freedoms, cultural shibboleths, accusations of foreign aka USA cultural wars, and the catchall phrase, "Kenya is a Christian nation." This "subject", for those late to the party, is about whether the men and women who identify as LGBT enjoy the same rights and fundamental freedoms as those who identify as heterosexual.

From Kenya's mainstream media, you'd think that the subject isn't raging in the nation. But the unregulated interwebs have opened a space for debate on this subject, something that the President and his Government would prefer not to be happening at all because their constituency, made up of powerful faith-based organisations, powerful political leaders, and powerful foreign powers, have yet to allow equality to define public policy despite their oft-claimed "tolerance".

Kenya's Penal Code provides for the punishment for "unnatural offences" and "indecent practices between males". These provisions have long been used to invade the privacy of many individuals on the pretext of protecting the "cultural and moral values" of the country. Belying the total media blackout by the news media, an organisation called the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission has challenged the constitutionality of these provisions in the High Court. If its petition is successful, the organisation hopes that members of the LGBT community will stop being targeted for their sexual acts, and will access medical services without being discriminated against (and, hopefully, without being stigmatised).

Since 2010 when Kenya promulgated another constitution, the LGBT community has advanced its cause by challenging the validity of received wisdom, but it faces great challenges in reversing a century of ingrained religious, cultural and government prejudices. The President's equivocation is typical of the official Government attitude towards the LGBT community.

Many Kenyans have an almost pre-programmed visceral reaction to being informed that someone they know is gay. More often than not, it is disgust that characterises their response and colours any future dealings. Often, violence is visited on the one coming out, whether or not they had provoked violence (assuming their coming out is not provocation enough). This violence comes from many quarters: family members, intimate friends, policemen, teachers and even ministers of faith. Even today, when we know and understand so much about humans and human sexuality, it is dangerous to come out about ones sexuality.

Yet, it does not diminish us in any way to admit that regardless of our personal revulsion, LGBTs are humans and that they also deserve the full protection and benefits of our constitutional rights and freedoms. It is not an offence to be LGBT and it should not be an offence for adults to engage in consensual sexual acts. It is wrong to set aside public resources for the express purpose of hounding adults engaged in consensual sexual acts simply because they go against an arbitrary moral code that is founded on fear, misunderstanding and lies.

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