Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You can't wish away African gays

By DAVID KURIA

An article by Fr Dominic Waweru (Nation, March 8) says of the ongoing crisis in Mtwapa — where the youth are beating up people on suspicion of being gay — that this is “only too comprehensible”.

He further says that punishment often reserved for gays is lynching; presumably he also thinks such treatment is acceptable.

Let’s assume one of the six young men rescued by the police — we’ll call him Omondi — a 23-year-old watchman, was alighting from a matatu to go to the Kemri centre where he is a volunteer in the HIV Vaccine Research when he saw a mob moving towards him. A woman on the street told him to run away.

Not knowing what was going on, he took to his heels, but the mob caught up with him and beat him senseless. As they doused him with kerosene, the woman, a prostitute, fell on him to protect him from the mob. Omondi owes his life to the prostitute; police came just in time.

If indeed Omondi is gay, as the crowd suspected, then there was no visible gain to her in saving his life. It was not like he was ever going to buy sex from her, let alone ask for her hand in marriage.

Her action was motivated by absolute and pure altruism — some would refer that to Christian love, the kind that Jesus meant in telling the Good Samaritan story.

While it is all fine to write an academic discourse on whether homosexuality is as old as Ngong Hills or as alien as the Goat Island in the Niagara Falls, it is very saddening when religious leaders begin to explain away mob attempts to kill fellow human beings on any account in a country that has a functioning government.

In a statement marking World Aids Day last December 1, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general urged for an end to the criminalisation of homosexuality, which he argued made it more difficult to fight Aids.

THE AIDS PANDEMIC, FINDS A BREEDing ground where the closet door meets the stiff arm of government oppression.

“I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the Aids response,” the secretary-general said in reference to laws that criminalise homosexuality. Because they are criminalised, people assume it acceptable to visit on gays untold forms of violence.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Michael Sidibe, the director of UNAids who said: “As a social movement, the gay community changed Aids from simply another disease to an issue of justice, dignity, security and human rights.”

The gays in Kenya have placed Kenya in an enviable position of a global leader in HIV vaccine research.

It should be noted that compulsory heterosexuality has never converted any one from homosexuality, but in the context of modern diseases, the African community continues to place itself in a curiously unintelligent position.

By affirming what is globally known to be an alternative and legitimate form of sexual expression for a minority within any population to be unAfrican, they are saying that the African falls beyond the ambit of what is human.

Instead of giving tacit approval to violence against gays, churches should be in the forefront preaching reconciliation and love to even those who they regard as “sinners”.

Gay rights activism has reached a point of no return even in Africa, events in Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia and Mtwapa notwithstanding.

It’s unfortunate that the Church stands at the vanguard for this extremely unjust violation of rights of gays, lesbians, transgender and intersex Kenyans.

Mr Kuria is manager, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (www.galck.org)