Written by Ben Maina Friday, 18 May 2012 11:08
Speech by GALCK’s General Manager, MaqC Eric Gitau, At the Celebrations of IDAHO, At the Go-Down Arts Centre, May 17th 2012
I am most pleased to join members of the LGBTI community in Kenya and the rest of the world as we celebrate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. This day is marked since 2004 to create awareness on Homophobia and Transphobia, which in turn provides an opportunity to take action and engage in dialogue with the media, policymakers, public opinion, other civil societies, or religious groups around sexual and gender diversity.
Just like tribalism, racism, religious bigotry, chauvinism and others, homophobia, too, is a form of hurtful discrimination. Homophobia comes from inadequate information and biased attitudes on sexual minority issues and may often manifest unconsciously. It's all those negative attitudes that can lead to rejection and to direct or indirect discrimination towards gay men, lesbians, and bisexual, transsexual or transgender people or toward anyone whose physical appearance or behaviour does not fit masculine or feminine stereotypes. Often pervasive and hidden, homophobia surfaces in numerous ways. Depending on the circumstances, displays of homophobia can range from simple jokes to verbal and physical violence.
I'm particularly interested to pass on a personal take home message from my heart today. Growing up in a very conventional and religiously inclined family and surrounded by a cultural centred urban community, it wasn’t remotely possible to have discussions about sexuality and any of its components (sex, sensuality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and even sexual behaviour) either at home or in the church, that…despite the fact that sexuality is at the very core of human life. Obviously, my curiosity around this taboo subject grew with age. Home science and CRE subjects discussed it in upper primary schools and addressed it from the limited perspectives of genetics, procreation and morality.
These first and most impressionable scribbling on me, an empty book, shaped my discussions, jokes and associations on sexuality matters. I grew up convinced that sexuality could only be looked at and appreciated from the narrow lenses of genetics, procreation and morality. I believed that only a man and woman would love each other completely, have children and raise a family together. It was made worse when in my junior years in high school, the very first mention of the term homosexuality was in absolute condemnation on moral high grounds during the CRE and social Ethics lesson. There was no room opened up for sexual and gender diversity.
I became both seriously confused and anxiously angry when later I started observing through limited literature, the media, internet, interactions and stories, that there was indeed a possibility of diversity in the context of sexuality. Even then, the sources and people willing, able and available to have candid conversations about this matter were few and far in between, or at the very best, very harshly subjective. The most common stand on sexuality obviously capsuled everyone under the heterosexual description of sexuality, love and relations.
As Nigerian author ChimamandaAdichie says in her legendary piece: The danger of a single story, "create a single story, show it to a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become." That is how subjective religion, culture and education dented my perception and brainwashed me and many others I grew up with.
There was always an innate desire in me to understand sexuality issues beyond just the periphery. But even then, regardless of my best attempts, my default position towards sexual and gender diversity, as an African man from a deeply religious background, was still patronizing.
Change gradually came from the moment I observed in total disbelief one of my close male friends frog marched by bullies in school due to his perceived sexuality simply because he was effeminate. When I went to his defense, I was beaten up amidst vitroils being hurled at us both. They claimed that a “sissy” boy cannot be allowed to be in the social and learning space that was our school. This affected me a lot because I had never viewed my friend as any less deserving regardless of his perceived sexual orientation. There is nothing he had done to warrant the unfair and inhumane and degrading treatment he received. I would, from that point onwards be more cautious of any forms of discrimination against not just my friend, but of others like him also.
Through the years, I have been appalled by discrimination levelled against LGBTI persons.You may know, like I do,that the continuing existence of provisions in the Penal Code criminalizing consenting sexual activity between adults of the same sex, discriminatory legislations and policies, coupled with societal and religious misconceptions continue to spawn gross violations of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity. of students who have been arbitrarily expelled from schools, persons who have been thrown out from homes and neighbourhoods without recourse;
You may have witnessed angry mobs raiding organized LGBT meetings and assaulting participants and vandalizing facilities offering services to LGBT persons;
There are many sad stories of LGBTI persons being victims of blackmail and extortion by police; despite attempts to report and pursue justice, little investigation and no prosecution has been undertaken, and in some cases the police even decline to record complaints from LGBTI persons.
Stigma and discrimination continues to hamper access to health care services by LGBTI persons as has also been lately attested by the recently launched report on the “public inquiry into violation of sexual and reproductive health rights in Kenya” by the Kenyan National Commission of Human Rights.
Discriminatory legal provisions and policies prevent transgender and intersex persons from accessing the necessary documentation and services.
The list of human rights violations against the LGBTI goes on and on, and frankly, it saddens me. But there are efforts and gains made in the push for equality and non-discrimination that make my heart leap for joy.
One thing I know, I was once blind, but I now I see, even though just in part. To truly realize a safe and enabling environment for sexual and gender diversity, we must be ready to have conversations that not many are willing to have; we must open up the podiums at our churches and mosques ans well as political rallies, in the press, in radio and TV programs, at our schools, social joints and homes, and everywhere else we live, work, play and pray to encourage objective dialogue on sex, sexual and gender diversity.
This year, as we “Speak Up, Speak Out,” I’d like to challenge the different ones of us who have a platform to tell the story of sexual and gender diversity to encompass diversity in approach. Quite often the single stories from the news articles, movie characters, jokes made in schools, religiously and politically instigated opinions, become the definitive story of a Lesbian lady, Gay man, Bisexual person, or a Transgender person somewhere. A single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
Conversations on sexual and gender issues in the 21st century must be multi- faceted and balanced. There are numerous stories that should be told that have remained just that: untold. There are a lot of positive stories from sexual and gender minorities in Kenya that are still unheard.
Visibility matters. Many stories that enhance visibility of the LGBTI community and diverse issues around sexuality should be encouraged in an effort to achieve equality and non-discrimination. Visibility has been used to dispossess and to malign, but we want it now to empower and to humanize. We know that visibility can break the dignity of a people, but we are saying today that speaking up and speaking out can also repair that broken dignity. I call upon all of us, to reject a single-narrative on sexuality and regain a kind of paradise flavoured with equal opportunity, non-discrimination, and a safe and enabling environment.
We remind Kenyans that Article 27 of the acclaimed constitution of Kenya guarantees every Kenyan, whether Straight, Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgender or Intersex, equality and the full and equal enjoyment of all the fundamental freedoms set out in the bill of rights. We call on the state, state organs and officials, and all citizens to observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights and freedoms of EVERY Kenyan, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Specifically, we call upon the state to:
As we mark this day, my one message to all and sundry is: “SPEAK. Speak Up, Speak Out.” Try to keep the dialog alive. Point to the shared experiences, to the good that outweighs whatever bad there is. Let us be more generous with our love rather than hatred and fear for and among LGBTI persons and communities.
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