Thoughts on Queer Space and IDAHOT 2012

I attended the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event in Nairobi, held at the GoDown Arts Centre and was there before it even started at 2 PM! On of the main reasons I was so excited about going was that I look forward to any opportunity where I might get the chance to be around queer people and I was very lucky: there must have been at least 200 people in attendance! Outside the main hall where the event was taking place, I heard people say time and time again, “so many kuchus/shogas/gays/lesbians/queers in one place” and I had to agree with them, this was the biggest assembly of queers I had ever been in.

All through the event, I had this feeling that the space I was in was a queer space and it is a feeling I still have after having so much fun there. The artistic expression in the form of music, dance, poetry, cat walks, jokes and witticisms by the MC melded well with the gendered and sexual (queer) expressions by both artists and audience. I enjoyed this more than I could have enjoyed the speeches or the panel that addressed human rights, non discrimination and religion. I stayed outside the main event hall when the panel was on and when the consulate from the American Embassy was giving his address (but I stayed around for Eric Maqc Gitau’s speech about his “coming to” in support of LGBTIQ rights). Outside in what could be called a “lobby” on your way into the main hall I had double vodkas served at the set up bar and had wide ranging conversation with the participants. I took some around the “Kenya Burning” photo exhibition that was taking place in an adjacent room and talked about the 2007/08 violence sometimes extending it to the culture of violence that constrains queers then as it does today.

Earlier in the week, I had been uncertain as to whether I should go to the event or not. I knew the media would be there and I didn’t want to be filmed not because I have a problem with that but, as I explained in my last post, if there is a relationship between the media and queers in this country, then that relationship is problematic and I do not want my image to be portrayed in such a manner as to cause more hate and misrecognition of queers as already is. Thankfully, the media came and went without getting the opportunity of filming queers without consent and that the organisers of the event warned those in attendance to take extra precautions while talking with the media.

On this last bit, I would like to explain how, for me, this concept of queer space unfolded itself in the event. With all the people I talked to, drank with, laughed with and chatted up, I felt a sense of pleasantness that is hard for queers to find in this country. We are sometimes very lonely, without friends we can talk to or people who know about what we go through and though we may have sex sometimes, there is always a yearning to occupy a public (or is it counterpublic?). That is why coming out is so valued within the LGB community though it is merely a marginal event informed by other superseding ones which are not as visible*. What I mean to say is that we sometimes come out to people in an effort to make known our existence. In coming out, as it is understood today, we not only come out to the straight community in which our family and some of our friends are part of but we are also entering into a LGBTIQ community. The queer space I was in yesterday did not need all of its participants to come out before coming in the main hall or the lobby or even the gate to the GoDown Arts Centre and because coming out is sometimes very distressing to queer people, I feel this was a powerful aspect that made the event so successful. A queer space is a space of possibility within which those who participate in it do not have to do so in relation to the mainstream largely heteronormative community (you don’t have to come out to come in). Though the queer space is elsewhere defined as “the cracks in the social system where new styles of dressing and living become possible”, I, like the author of the blog I just hyperlinked in this sentence believes in the “empowering” space that these cracks are, simply because interactions with violent forces that constrain queer bodies are virtually non existent. But in today’s world, to make these cracks and to sustain them in a way that ensures that we do not become extinct or unheard, we must also help sometimes in the remodelling of this social system. This means that we have to help in any way we can, in ensuring a stable and favourable legal and political environment for the existence of queers, in the least.

I am thankful to the people who organised the Kenya IDAHOT 2012, those who performed and expressed themselves artistically, those who discussed various issues regarding rights and entitlements and especially those who participated in it.

*Though I haven’t read it Samuel R. Delany’s “Coming/Out” makes a finer, well written and well thought out claim but with the same central claim as I have tried to elaborate in this and the following sentences.

hypocrisy and its conveniences

A few days ago John Cardinal Njue raised concerns over the morality of the Willy Mutunga and Nancy Baraza and urged the Parliamentary Committee vetting the two to raise the issue when questioning the two nominees. Capital FM, as if on cue, reports on two cases of abuse by Catholic priests on two boys in Kenya while just last week the Vatican released new guidelines that would seek to effectively address child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. The aim of this post is to think these events together and in relation to the unsaid other in this mix: the victims of abuse by priests, the queered bodies that routinely fail tests of morality and moral order and the priests themselves though un-othered and occupying the primary scope of discourses around these events.

That questions over the morality of Willy Mutunga and Nancy Baraza would be asked was apparent ever since their nominations were made public and as I have stated in my last post, this is nothing new as all bodies awaiting to fill positions that would deeply intersect with the publics and, hence, “the norm”, have to be completely sanitised and, no matter how unrealistically, seek espouse the said “norms” and “values”. From an article on the KBC website which, I’m assuming, directly quoted Cardinal Njue, Archbishop Korir and Archbishop Kairo:

“… We need people with judicial philosophy that reflects natural law, the Kenya religious and African cultural values, including our universal respects for life, our recognition of the importance and family well being and our role of religion in public and private life.”

The rest of the article which quotes extensively from what was said in the press conference is filled with invocations of “morality” and “moral order” which, it is claimed though not explained, is fundamentally constitutive of justice. One can say, from the above excerpt, without much thinking, that the Episcopal Conference, under which the three archbishops were speaking, is engaging in its usual anti-LGBTI and anti-abortion stance in post-referendum Kenya. In about 40 words, anti-LGBTI and anti-abortion rhetoric has been established and justified as per “Kenya religious and African cultural values”.

Enter Capital FM and its exposé on the abuse of two boys by Catholic priests in Kenya and, just this morning, the arrest of Father Kizito over fresh sexual harassment charges. This changes the line of discussion altogether. The Catholic Church in Kenya loses any grounding on discussion on morality over this (not my words, most of the comments I’m reading on the Capital FM story are questioning the morality of the church). The discourse on hypocrisy takes over and over the next few days; talk will be firmly centred on what right the church has in commenting on the morality of judicial nominations when they cover up sex abuse cases and in the end aid sexual offenders by never reporting them to the authorities. I am here to argue against the discourse on hypocrisy.

The “discourse on hypocrisy” forecloses on a lot; it does not sufficiently address the huge influence the Catholic Church has over government, society and individuals. How does this influence affect the way cases of sexual abuse in the church are handled? In the many stories on Kenyan TV on priests who sexually abused an under-aged girl, we don’t have follow ups on what took place, no court cases nor arrests, the best we get to is a transfer to another area where there is a risk that the said priests will do the same thing. We can then rightly adduce that little action is taken or the action that is taken only goes to serve the interests of the church – the victim is relegated to the shadows, to pixelated and blurry images. The discourse on hypocrisy seldom has solutions or the solutions offered do not seek to shake profoundly what has come to be considered the norm. For instance, one of the more popular solutions offered to combat sexual abuse in the church, especially that perpetrated by celibate priests, is that they should get married. Marriage, heterosexual marriage, which has its own problems, is presented as a safety net against deviant sexualities even though we know that domestic abuse and marital rape are some of the problems women need to contend with when married. The fact that the Catholic Church, whose leadership is composed of celibate men, is one of the most avid supporters of heterosexual marriage and the biggest aggressor against queer rights. Even more interestingly, it is common in Latin America for celibate priests to be queered by means of jokes. I read somewhere that a common joke is that priests lack cojones (Google that) and that they wear dresses. Discourses on hypocrisy, in this case, pass over the queered nature of Catholic priests. I am also wary on the developing story because people are already co-opting the abuse of boys by male priests as homosexuality – very two distinct things. The situation doesn’t help in more sober discussion, unfortunately; the white-male-priests-sexually-abusing-boys meme can comfortably accommodate appropriations such “homosexuality is a foreign import” or ‘homosexuality is abusive, especially towards children”. This is convenient scapegoating and I hope that we will have more people coming out and calling this vile appropriation out.

The new guidelines by the Vatican over how sexual abuse accusations should be handled by the RCH are not enough or, to put it more bluntly, will do nothing to stop the culture of impunity by religious leaders heavily tied to their abuse of not only children but women, fellow priests and male parishioners. Pressure should be put on the Catholic Church to address the problem of sexual abuse with the seriousness it deserves. In Kenya, like in may other instances all over the world, cases of child abuse go unreported because of the victimised and demonised nature of the people who go through such abuse.

We need “better” modes of approaching sexual abuse within the church without othering its victims. We need to think about how power and influence within the church aids and abets criminal behaviour within its confines. We need to go beyond the convenience on scapegoating and really look at the various correlating cultural imperatives that have enabled this behaviour. Finally, we need to reason beyond hypocrisy to try to see how the church maintains its double standard – anti-queer rhetoric on one side and enabling sexual abuse on the other.

Queering Earrings and Doctoral Theses

Once upon a time, sagging of pants and wearing earrings were thought to signify deviant sexualities and sexualized identities outside what was considered the norm. Though the stereotyping of gay men as being earring wearing pant sagging deviants has certainly lost its urgency over the years, it can still be potent if invoked at the right place, at the right time and over certain bodies. It is with this thinking that I perceive the kerfuffle that has erupted after the appointment of Willy Mutunga and Nancy Baraza for the position of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice respectively.

I don’t know what earrings and other modes of interpreting queered bodies in the recent past mean today, possibly because they haven’t remained as statically stereotypically representative of one group of people as before. The young population in urban areas like Nairobi and Mombasa is increasingly exploring with different modes of expression especially through dress: I’m seeing more skinny jeans, lots more tattoos, multiple earrings beyond the facial territory and hair styles which would be unthinkable wearing a decade ago. Considering that this population is one of the most visible in country, do they represent the queering of bodies? In the US where sagging pants has become de rigueur in affirming masculinity amongst men in some areas (I emphasise “some”), what does this mean for the effeminate (hence emasculated) conceptualisation of homosexuality in relation to “manliness” here? With this in mind, it becomes pretty easy to denounce the grounds on which that Dr. Mutunga shouldn’t be given the post of the Chief Justice because it is difficult for them to hold water under objective questioning.

The only main explanation that would somehow stick is that the offices of the Chief Justice and others which interrupt publics profoundly have to somehow be sanitised to represent some conceptualisation of the values such publics esteem. The very term “values” is nebulous and we can’t all definitely move to esteem uniform values in who we choose, nor can these values be a standard on which to measure up certain leaders. The bodies to occupy these positions have to hold up certain standards (age, biological sex, marital status, modes of dress etc) to the last marking in the body, no matter what. The earring, with its neo-historical attachments and its dynamisms then becomes a big deal when it shouldn’t. The fact that Willy Mutunga has stated that he wears it for spiritual reasons other than the pre-ordained Christian/Muslim specific becomes grounds to dismiss his nomination, it clashes with the “values”.

Nancy Baraza’s nomination should be rejected because she is one of the founding members of FIDA, the women’s lawyers organisation, and that she is writing a doctoral thesis on sexual minority rights (most news articles that have actually paid attention to this are writing it down, or off, as “gay rights” something that I’m not really sure about). The fact that her activism has been primarily on the rights of women and that she is willing to use her knowledge to pursue societal figures whom most argue should be deprived of even the basic right to life is, to some, a major course of concern. Feminism is a bad thing in this country and should be undercut at every turn. FIDA is an organisation ran by divorced women, women who broke their marriages to pursue some conception of freedom or living that did not have men in it. In the messages that I have read concerning Miss Baraza, the fact that she is divorced, is in an organisation that is run by divorced women carries its own potency.

I blame this whole FIDA bashing over the fact that feminism has become such a bad word in Africa that it has become less associated with trying to gain equality of women in all aspects of life and has become simplified to fit into patriarchal aspersions of feminists being “men haters” and lesbians. Politics in Kenya, which is patriarchal in every sense of the word, thus weds (heterosexual/hetero-productive) men with the public political sphere while women are relegated to the private, to unpaid domestic work and child rearing to becomes bodies that produce to the extent that they are non bodies themselves. Of course, the world is changing and having such a mind set in 2011 is offensive not only to women but to the patrilineal kinship ties that are esteemed so much. Women have done great jobs being our mothers, sisters and wives they can sure handle political and public office so long as they keep off feminism or the pursuit of equal rights for all women. Rejecting Miss Baraza’s nomination because of the pursuit of knowledge that might involve the chronicling of lives that have been and continue to be destroyed, the fact that discriminative laws have been used to imprison people, to deny them the most basic of human needs and have relegated these people to the darkest corners of our minds and societies sounds like the kind of policing that impedes academic freedom. It becomes much worse because the said person is a woman; it invokes a rich history of subjugation and immoral control over the lives of others.

That Mutunga’s earring ‘might’ be representative or demonstrative of queerness and that Baraza’s doctoral thesis ‘might’ be questioning of laws, stereotypes and beliefs that have been used to discriminate against queers shows just how much we need fresh faces that combat these myths and that challenge us to think beyond what we have come to view as ‘necessary’ or ‘normal’.

As I write this now, we have people who are saying, on social networks and list serves, that Kenya rather have a non reformer than an LGBTI-friendly reformer. This is dangerous argument; it effaces and does not replace that which it effaces.

this post also featured here, check it: http://madikazemi.blogspot.com/2011/05/in-kenya-pro-gay-nominees-to-senior.html

“homosexuality” in Kenyan high schools and other stories

There are many narratives that surround the figure of the lesbian in Kenya’s society. There are the two girls who are always kissing and always willing to involve a heterosexual man into their trysts, a curious pointer to the objectification of women and male fantasy with equating masculinity with easy lay and satisfying “lesbian” women. This notion is perverse in places such as South Africa where the corrective raping of lesbians is an act aimed both at enforcing masculinity and instilling a sense of femininity in these women who “behave like men”. There are always the upward mobile lesbian women who are preferably celebs in Kenya who swoon over each other and are always leaving hints that may or may not hint at their homosexuality and there are the feminists who are by default lesbians since they “hate men”. (I mean, why would women really want to fight for their own liberation? Why do they want to fight patriarchy when it treats them so well, misogyny #nshit?) Finally there is the lesbian school girl who exists in a same sex institution. A complex figure, she has managed to avoid questions of how or why we don’t have “gay” schoolboys (they exist) or how she has slipped out of protectionist practice and thought or how she has managed to construct herself as “lesbian” given the difficulty in getting information concerning homosexuality. (I realise, in this, that the lesbian schoolgirl may be a formation of contemporary discourse that is still largely inchoate, except for Dorothy Kweyu’s article a while back. This may be my own formation, even, as I try to link out how sexual abuse and other forms of performing dominance are perverse in high schools and causes of such phenomena and how causes cause themselves.)

Dorothy Kweyu’s argument that older “lesbian” school girls somehow recruit younger students into homosexuality or “lesbianism” is a notion that has largely been unchallenged and perceived with recent reports about sexual abuse in high schools. The fact that Kweyu agreed that bullying played a large role in these inductions and “recruiting” should be scrutinised further. I have heard from friends about form 1 students being forced to strip naked and run around school early morning or the middle of the night. Bullying has a crucial aspect of dominance that should never be brushed away in order to point out “homosexuality” or “sexual deviance/abuse” in places where facultative homosexuality is likely. To call sexual abuse in same sex institutions homosexuality conveniently effaces the practices of dominance and/or forced submission in such spaces and refuses to address sexual abuse in schools by both heterosexual students and teachers and is never attributed to “heterosexuality”. Even as the media falls over itself to report on homosexuality in schools, I am fascinated by their ineptitude in ignoring basic facts about queer people. Traipsing along with naive notions that counselling and “airing dirty laundry in public” (the fuck?) will somehow lead to a decrease of “the vice” in schools; these journalists are in a business of sensationalising homosexuality to an extent that ignoring a large mass of information on homosexuality or the politics of dominance seems necessary. On the Citizen TV feature, Julie Gichuru started off this feature by reminding us that homosexuality is indeed considered unnatural and un-African (her restricting on screen colours to black, white, grey and an abominable shade/haze of pink and purple is unnatural and un-African and largely predictable).

Homosexuality is not caused by huge strides in “social-technology” or due to the fact that parents don’t counsel their kids or that the vice is increasingly present in our media and largely remains unaddressed. Homosexuality is not abuse and never can these be paralleled together. I think parents should just start using Google more and start counselling their children candidly about sex and sexuality so that they can realise that kids need to know that demarcating this and that as natural or not is not helpful. And most of all, that sexual abuse or abuse of any matter to signify dominance in all aspects of society is wrong. I don’t know how counselling, a commonly prescribed mode of action against “homosexuality” in teenagers, “combats the vice”. I don’t know how religious leaders can help in “decreasing the effects of homosexuality” in schools – I know for sure Bibles or prayers don’t work. These are baseless facts to combat non existent problems. I don’t think homosexuality is a big issue in high school but bullying of perceived gay/lesbian/queer teens is and so is sexual harassment by teachers, students and other school staff, scant education about sex/sexuality education, and this retarded notion that religious leaders hold the panacea to all ills in schools – maybe parents and school administrations can combat that first.


Fuck that shit, Daily Nation!

I have generally kept off the news about David Kato’s death, followed by a sham investigation, BS analysis and the fact that his murder is being used in a myriad of ways and to achieve wide ranging selfish gains. The analysis around David’s killing has kept off assessing activism in East Africa and has largely been about eulogizing him to what end, I don’t know. The patterns on anything ‘queer’ or ‘homophobic’ Uganda are the same: blaming the US evangelical right, Ssempa and giving undeserved power to the likes of Giles Muhame while incessantly complaining that the ‘west’ should do more. Quickly after that is some potent form of disillusionment that leads commentators – largely comfortable and/or inhabiting western(ized) spaces to conclude on the concept of ‘African homophobia’ and wait for the next installment of the African queer drama. Perhaps what has changed is the fervor that used to be attached to such reporting. Even though the news of Kato’s death reverberated above the din of the unrest in Egypt, the news was faced with a sadness that impeded reason – sadly. Condemnation abounded and now, as blogs and tweets and some kind of ‘analysis’ suggest – the preferred route in remembering David is anecdotes on his personal life.

What infuriates me more than what is going on now is what the Daily Nation, Kenya and the Monitor in Uganda – both sister newspapers to each other – have done to Kato’s legacy with their (to put it strongly) bullshit feature on him which I read on the DN2 on Monday. The two page article in the DN2 was based totally on anecdotes from a homophobe who accepted his money, an ex-lover who was ‘relieved’ on hearing the news of his death, an ex gay man who was ‘recruited’ by Kato and a ‘doctor’ who doesn’t respect doctor-patient confidentiality with excerpts from Val Kalende’s blogpost as the only truthful account in the whole thing (and probably added to ‘balance’ it and make it sound somewhat true). Uppity asshole – that is what came out of a two page article depicting an LGBTI activist who most readers did not know and who, after that article, will never realize the magnitude of his work or the influence of his activism in Uganda and elsewhere.

The article follows a line of shallow reporting on LGBTI topics in East Africa that just aim to attract a huge readership but nothing else after. Just like the Richard Muaysa intersex plea at the High Court last year, the paper has done its best to keep anything close to objectivity off the press and, in the end, opened the floodgates for all manner of hateful justification for his condition.

The journalists working on this piece stopped at nothing to make it sound as ‘balanced’ as possible even going as far as quoting a non existent blogpost by GayUganda where he outed Kato as being HIV positive. GayUganda has since come out with a very much needed commentary on the whole issue and even going on to point out other inconsistencies (ahem, lies) in the article and exposing it as a sham feature out on a smear campaign against the deceased activist.

I am particularly puzzled as to why the Daily Nation published the article, given that David was not that much known in Kenya and also because, in the past – though along other clearly prejudiced articles – it has come out in support of dialogue (if not anything else) on LGBTI equality. Why this all of a sudden? This was a good opportunity to open a discussion on activism and its dynamisms – no matter its end – in East Africa, or call for a much more sober articulation on the treatment of sexual minorities in the region (issues which would have come out on their own if the article was objective). What saddens me even more is how Kato’s legacy is being perceived in the ‘hetero mainstream’. He was a hero in my books but to DN, he was just a good opportunity to justify and engage in Giles Muhame like tabloid reporting. Comments on the article followed the same line of vitriolic rhetoric and bizarre justification for his death with social conservatives and religious zealots alike using it as an I-told-you-so moment for all liberals out there. It also reveals a more sinister plot to either discredit activism or just use it for comic relief after readers, and here am citing Kenyan readers, have had a good dose of political conspiracy theories going around the same topics of ‘Grand Coalition Constitutional Impunity Crisis’.

It’s about time queers started consciously nurturing their stories and those of their own so as not to be robbed of our dignity and integrity by the press, out to ‘tabloidize’ anything not directly related to politics. It’s a big challenge for a small community with few resources that can’t match such a huge journalistic enterprise as the DN but we must not watch as the well is poisoned.

The Uganda Homophobia Spectacle

In the west (and ‘western’ social enclaves in non-western spaces), a good number of people know Uganda as a homophobic country or have at least (recently) based their judgments (consciously or unconsciously) on news pieces and articles depicting Uganda as a country which abuses one of its most vulnerable minority, queers. The portrayal of Uganda within such spaces has primarily been stuck on two incidents, the introduction of anti-LGBT legislation to parliament and the recent outings of Ugandan queers by local tabloids in the country (never mind that such outing campaigns are not new in Uganda ever since the introduction of the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ in the country)

In the first incident, there were the (now usual) calls by international organizations & leaders for the scrapping of the bill, constant/incessant harping of the story by western media and bloggers and finally, (and this is where it gets good), much needed analysis (or you could call it ‘smart talk’) on what social/political/economic issues that could have lead to the introduction of such a bill to parliament and what its implication in long/short term future would be. in the second incident, murkier and more murk-inducing content has been brought to the fore and hence more susceptible to spectacularisation than in the first instance. the smart shit has been taken out leaving (a) bloggers and news agencies to do what they want with the story (b) me with nothing aesthetically ‘smart’ or ‘enlightened’ to read (c) me to disentangle wires from all the sensationalist madness around the Ugandan Rolling Stone.

While the western media came out as a strong supporter of imposed egalitarianism in Africa in the first place; the infusion of a Ugandan tabloid, mainstream silence on the issue by most African news agencies and the same western media heroism we saw in the first incident has led to a primetime/internet blog war in which who spectacularises most/best (standards slide) wins! its an all out war against Giles Muhame and the Ugandan Rolling Stone, one in which, even with all the internet space and prime time spaces resource that the pro-queer blogs and media have, the jury is still out on who will win. On one side we have a media-whoring Giles who spectacularises homophobia in Uganda (which has been given a special place in the hearts and minds of average Ugandans hell bent on ‘protecting the family’) and on the other side we have bloggers and western media spectacularising Giles and his poster boy representation of ignorance and hate when it comes to queer in his country. Who will win? Watch out for the next blog post!

In the midst of all this is someone living in a comfortable space (perhaps in the US or the UK or in a posh gated community in Nairobi or Jo’burg) who wants to contribute positively in helping queer Ugandans (or not) by reading a blog and feeling ‘rightly concerned’. The good thing about the new-age concept of infotainment is that we can be enlightened and entertained at the same time, how about that? In the comfort of living rooms, people can watch Giles Muhame make a fool of himself during a CNN interview and read GayUganda take a piss at homophobia and feel ‘rightly concerned’ at the same time. Spectacularisation makes it fun-and besides, we shouldn’t really care about the clock work that sits behind what we declare to be against. We are at a point where caring about an issue by not giving a shit about it is a viable strategy-at least we sleep at night.

in the DRC, activists and thinkers (I assume) are asking for ‘personal space’ from the outside world (methinks the western media) in order for them to articulate, with peace, the piece of legislation in parliament angling to criminalize homosexuality, something which Ugandan queers should have done the moment the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ made its way to the public domain.

Much of the limelight accorded to the Rolling Stone tabloid could have been given to finding the socio-political and economic situations that make homo/transphobia so rampant in Ugandan society. Instead, a crucial platform needed to address such is given to Giles who, as a journalism student, still falls on his face trying to make a grammatically correct sentence.

Infotainment and spectacularisation stand for little and result in nothing. In fact, looking at the Ugandan case, they are doing more harm than good when Ugandans become increasingly averse if not indifferent to what is (or perceived to being) imposed on them by the west through its media. Propaganda terms such as ‘gay militancy’ or ‘gay imperialism’ are making their rounds in blogs (GayUganda covered this recently) with potent threats attached to them.

It is now ok to share PDF copies of the outing Rolling Stone issue with the justification that one is helping fight homophobia (sigh, futility). It is fine to share youtube links to Martin Ssempa’s ‘eat da poo poo’ diatribe without feeling bad about it even though it is such utterances that lead to violence against queers in the first place.

Let’s move away from this.

Esther Murugi got balls!

The criticisms leveled against Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi by both Christian and Muslim religious leaders were expected and in this post, rather than go through the rigors of what the term ‘morality’ stands for in today’s evolving world or why religious leaders are using scripture and ideology to assemble the public against an innocent minority, I’d rather point out what such a statement and its repercussions mean for any other politician coming out to support LGBTI individuals in the future.

I am not a master in looking deeper into the statements politicians make (you really don’t have to be in a country such as ours) but in a statement as brazen as that of Honorable Murugi, I think it is safe to say she was candidly speaking about a group so maligned and marginalised that even access to healthcare was a problem.

At first, the comments made only by Muslim religious leaders made me want to write about their need to assert the Muslim-ness of the coastal area though it is frequently attacked by local and foreign foreigners in search of careless sexual delinquency. I was tempted during the few hours before Christian leaders came out firm in condemning the Minister’s statement to take their silence as indifference and point out that the freezing relations between the majority Christian and minority Muslim were actually helping sexual minorities to take the statements as some sort of double victory. Hours later when former president Toroitich arap Moi came out to condemn the statements followed by religious leaders from the ‘Christian side’- I realized that I had been too impatient and optimistic.

But what do these sharp criticisms really portend for other politicians who would want to recognize the needs of LGBTI persons in Kenya and go even further in making a stand in their support for them? I ask this question because politicians, especially from the mainstream have not come out to either condemn or endorse what the minister said and in a country where nothing like this has ever happened before I am taking this as a small victory (*small jig around the desk then back to work!*)
Religious leaders have come out strong in warning any other politician against making such a statement (my dear Murugi hasn’t been available for comments ever since). Consequences for such actions may warrant serious bitching from religious leaders which sadly- in a country like Kenya who’s government is grappling to assert to itself and to its citizens that it is a secular state (pre and post August 4th Referendum reference point), that’s a bad thing and hence we shouldn’t really expect any more pro-gay statements from political leaders any time soon (frowny faceL).
As I try to separate the victories and the non-victories in the whole Murugi saga (yes, saga. Sad that the media hasn’t taken the statement with sensationalist bravado and I say this because there is little that is negative about this situation. Again -win!) What remains clear is that, when subjecting the statement made by a minister to the rigors of morality, I stand firm in saying that the minister-as a special programmes minister, did the right thing! Standing up for the Kenyan LGBTI community took balls and I applaud her for acknowledging the fact that all people, MSMs, injecting drug users and commercial sex workers included, have the access to health care. I applaud her for having the courage to stand alone, away from religious leaders and some politicians who are united in their hate and ignorance against a people who the only mistake they’ve made is to live according to how they were born and identifying as such. Again, Murugi got balls.

Kenyan Media and the LGBTI Cause

The Kenyan LGBTI community credits much of its mentioning in the day to day conversations by the ordinary mwananchi to the media. Over the past few years there have been numerous news reports and newspaper articles on the Kenyan gay community even going as far as a short documentary feature on the lives of both outed and closeted gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people living and breathing in Kenya. As a member of this diverse sexual minority, I am thankful because the exposure leads to discourse among Kenyans about the gay issue. All in all, even though our dream for legal recognition of our rights and fundamental freedoms is far from coming true (as far as our lack of mention in the proposed draft constitution and the current repressive laws against consensual homosexual acts between adult men are concerned), we can take comfort in the fact that there are Kenyans out there who know that we exist and understand what we go through and the importance of our cause.

But what I want to take issue with in this blog post is not that we are getting media attention but what is being said about us in the news and what is being written about us in newspapers and internet news sites (from which a fairly large number of LGBTI people draw their news). This morning I came across an article on Capital FM site about the day to day lives of three gay prostitutes working in Mombasa. It told of a life of despair and suffering riddled with discrimination, risky sexual behavior and abuse by police officers. The comments on the site where diverse, some complained of the ‘gay agenda’ carried on by the media, others preached their message of condemnation against homosexuals while others sympathized with what the three men went through from day to day calling for at least decriminalization of homosexuality so that at risk LGBTI groups such as MSMs could seek medical attention without the fear of discrimination. As usual I stated that this is what human being were subjected to when they lost their dignity and took issue with those who preached their message of hate against gay people. Denis Nzioka’s comment fiddled wit something tat ad been ringing in my mind after reading so many gay related articles. It had a clear message, that unlike what many people think, the Kenyan LGBTI community was not after pity but recognition!

There is a certain trend when it comes to news pieces and articles that concern the Kenyan LGBTI community. They basically revolve around the same things

; A vibrant, highly secretive, mainly closeted, promiscuous community which will bargain for pity if legal recognition is out of the question. Just look closely at what you hear in the news or what you read in the newspapers. It mainly involves a male prostitute working the night in Mombasa (with the obvious ‘mzungu’ connection which further adds to the notion that homosexuality is a western import) or plans to hold a gay wedding in Mtwapa (a story I seriously doubt given the dubious nature of Kenyan journalists to turn any sentence into a page turning story). When two Kenyan men got married in the UK last year, the media handled the news ‘haphazardly’ in the most flattering of terms clearly unaware of the impact it would have on public opinion. The same can be said about almost every other piece of news concerning homosexuality in Kenya in recent terms. A worrying case is that of Richard Muasya, a life sentence inmate serving at the Kamiti Maximum Prison. A widely read newspaper in Kenya, has handled reporting on his plea for the inclusion of a third gender in the Kenya High Court in what could be described as what could be described as irresponsible and misinformed. By the end of the day it would seem that the article aimed at seeking some form of pity or sympathy toward Richard who is only out to seek legal recognition for his intersex condition (since the current constitution only recognizes two sexes, male and female). Unfortunately what the article (a series of them actually) elicited was a barrage of condemnation with most of them saying he got what he deserved (sad really, it seems the whole point of the article was to add on the ignorance that most readers and Kenyans in general have when it comes to issues concerning homosexuality)

It saddens me that we LGBTI Kenyans have been reduced into tabloid status by front page hungry journalists. I am aware of  many gay Kenyans who earn an honest living, pay their taxes, enjoy a good time and even find their way to church every Sunday and ARE NOT PROSTITUTES!! There are also various gay activist groups in Kenya which advocate for LBGTI rights but ask anyone on the street about this they’ll tell you that they are unaware of the existence of ISTAR MSM or GALCK both of which are involved in various forms of rights activism, awareness and provision of medical care for at risk groups such as MSMs. Kenyans still view LGBTI activism as a campaign in support of gay marriage, a western import which has been inculcated into a few people for the detriment of the majority. The Kenyan Media will be doing the Kenyan LBGTI community a big favor if they strived to erode such levels of ignorance and bigotry in its readership.

Fact is that the Kenyan LGBTI cause is being thrown in bad light for news worthiness’s sake. I will not point fingers at who is to blame for this but isn’t it obvious? I heard an argument once that the main reason that the main reason why the gay issue ever makes it to the news was because of its ability to inflame certain passions on  both pro and anti-gay people alike and now more than ever I am inclined to agree with that view.

As members of the Civil Society, news agencies are most of the time called upon to speak for the voiceless in society, to highlight the plight of those who feel infringed upon, to be the messengers of truth and objectivity. This rarely happens when it comes to LGBTI people. If news agencies really want to highlight the plight of gay people in Kenya, I suggest that they highlight what is really happening on the ground, that most gay people are normal people living normal lives and have hopes and dreams for an inclusive society and a government that does its best to protect the interests of minorities.

News agencies should know that what they report, what they write ultimately influences the opinion of the masses. I am in no way urging news agencies to write falsehoods about gay people, I am simply urging for an objective approach to handling of the gay issue, just like every other piece of news is handled.

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