I attend a Church called Mavuno and for the past month they were preaching about sex and how the Church should relate to the issue. One of those Sundays we got around talking about homosexuality. The tension in the Church was so thick that a two-edged sword would not have cut it (pardon the pun). It is then that I realized that many Kenyans are homophobic and the reasons are as varied as they are bizarre.
Since that Church session I have taken it upon myself to ask people what they felt about homosexuals. Most men do not mind lesbians but seem to have a big problem with gay men. One man said that the thought of a man having sex with another was absolutely un-African and unacceptable. Another man said he was afraid of gay men because they would hit on him and he would be disgusted. Another said that the Bible and Quran prohibit homosexuality and therefore it is wrong for any man or woman to engage in such acts.
Being Gay in Kenya is not explicitly outlawed thanks to a country that is constantly trying to be in the good books of the West, but that does not mean that it is openly accepted. The term “gay” in Swahili is still used as a deeply personal insult and gay men and women still get sidelined in almost all social settings. As a result, anyone who is gay in Kenya would do good to keep it on the down low because it is not far-fetched to think that they would be summarily murdered by any of the many homophobic Kenyans around. In Kenya, the biggest problem that gays face is that should they come out, they risk being harmed and the more they keep quiet society pushes them into living a lie, even marrying someone of the opposite sex in an attempt to cover up the real issue.
Homosexuality I believe is not a new thing even in Africa. However, thanks to the introduction of Christian and Islamic religions, homophobia has been reinforced in African societies. While reading historical African fiction I have often encountered tales of homosexuality which seemed to be acceptable in the society then. It is not particularly clear why homophobia has deepened over the years however I suspect that it has been reinforced by religious beliefs be it traditional Africa, Christian or Islamic.
There is a general belief passed on from one generation to the next that homosexuality is an aberration, an abomination especially in Africa. The process of changing this belief is very difficult because it goes against two main things that form one’s identity, culture and religion. It is therefore very difficult for us as Africans to understand, let alone embrace the idea of homosexuality. However that does not mean that it is impossible for us as Africans to take the step and understand homosexuality it only means that it will be difficult.
As I write this article, homosexuals are being hunted down in Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other African countries. In Kenya where there is more tolerance, they tend to hide, afraid of retribution. The truth is that there will always be homosexuals in Africa and the sooner we learn how to live with them the better. The more we ostracize them, the higher the rest of the society is facing risks, such as HIV/AIDS which spreads fast among gay men and also loss of manpower through suicides. When I introduce the topic of homosexuality in social settings many people tend to attack me personally when they run out of options on what to say to attack homosexuals. I like saying that apart from their sexual preference, homosexuals are just like you and me.
They are human beings, they need a friend, they need understanding, they need someone to hold their hand, they need advice about which house or car to buy. If we remember this every time we find ourselves seething with hate, we might take a step back and extend a helping hand. Regardless of what your religious or cultural beliefs are, I encourage you to extend a friendly hand to the LGBTI community this week.