LGBTQ+ rights certainly not a 'non-issue' in Kenya

mombasa anti-gay protest

Mombasa County residents, led by Anti- LGBTQ+ Movement chairman Salim Karama (C), hold a protest march from Moi Avenue, condemning the Supreme Court ruling that permitted the registration of lobbies. 

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

LGBTIQ+ people in Kenya are most definitely an issue – even if Kenyans wish that this were not the case. Even if LGBTIQ+ people also possibly wish that that were not the case. You see, if people are a ‘non-issue,’ then they are left alone, right? They are ‘allowed’ to live, and go about their daily lives in a way that doesn’t interfere with or harm anyone else’s personal rights.

No one is making long speeches about them instead of corruption, drought and a disgustingly inflated national budget. No one is uniting with their brethren to preach holy fire against them. And somehow, perhaps the most important, no one is actively trying to seek them out to kill them. Being a non-issue would almost be…preferable.

Using words like non-issue, however, runs the risk of people thinking that there isn’t a problem here, when there very much is. The amount of hatred online against LGBTIQ people in the past week has been exhausting, and disheartening. Especially because, it is only serving to generate more hate – which may, or may not, be the intention of hate speech, after all.

Many portions of the media have not been helpful in their coverage, for the most part. It has been largely inflammatory, with journalists and media houses who I would assume went to school for their jobs or learnt something small through a training choosing to make everything worse by inviting guest speakers or amplifying voices that know nothing about the debate.

For example, I watched a discussion on Citizen TV with an Anglican pastor (Rev T Otieno) and the lawyer who is representing the case recently decided by the Supreme Court. I was confused as to why there needed to be a representative from the church, talking about something that is not a religious issue.

Don’t get me wrong – religions are allowed, and supposed, to have their beliefs and principles – even the ones we insist on continuing to import from the West (which is exactly the argument I hear ad nauseam. Gays are from the West! So is Christianity. And paper money, and iPhones.). But if we do not live in a religious state, or a theocracy, or a country in which the constitution is made up of the Bible, then the reverend shouldn’t have been there. Religion is separate from state – and has always been.

Our first president didn’t ascribe to anything that could have been described as a consistent faith. The fact that we are now using faith diplomacy as a pillar to go to foreign countries and decry morals is – well, it’s an article for another day.

And that’s the thing I think people don’t understand. If there wasn’t so much hate against LGBTIQ+ people, for whatever reasons – religious, preference, intolerance, ignorance – then there wouldn’t need to be an association advocating for those rights that are being ignored in the first place. It would appear that Kenyans only think that the people who ‘deserve’ rights are the people who they agree with. And that is simply, constitutionally, not true.

The constitution is for everyone, whether you agree with them or not. The constitution protects us all. The vitriol is appalling, particularly because it is unfounded: legally, any and all Kenyans are allowed to form associations, as long as no rights of anyone else are being infringed. The formation of a non-governmental organization breaks no laws, and changes no laws either.

NGLHRC, who won the case, are absolutely within the bounds of their country’s laws to form an organization that looks out and fights for the rights of a group of Kenyans – which is all the ruling is emphasizing. In fact, considering all of the treaties, conventions and agreements Kenya has signed, you would think this would be a…you know…non-issue. It confuses me why this is such a big deal…

Until I consider the bright red flag – or rainbow coloured flag, if you will, that is clearly being used to distract us all from the issues we all know are happening. Our economy isn’t doing great. The first couple of months of this dispensation have been a bit rocky, so there needs to be something else that people can unite against and attack, that isn’t the abysmal living state of the average Kenyan. What’s the lowest hanging fruit?

Whatever the reason for the furore, on the plus side, I suppose, it has been good to see who is actually hopefully genuinely interested in the rights of the people, and the protection of minorities. I applauded Senator Edwin Sifuna when he called out the gross hypocrisy of his panel mate.

All oppression is interlinked, after all – as soon as they start taking away the right to associate, what’s next? The press will no longer be free (this cartel calling took all of a week). Next women will be locked in houses and the Handmaid’s Tale will be in full effect. It isn’t that far a cry from what happens in hyper religious states that started out just like ours.

All this to say: the very same Supreme Court that was hailed for being independent and fair when the election was recalled is the same court that deemed this association accepted, allowed, and legal. We can’t have it both ways. Either we have a rule of law, or we don’t.

Either we think that the freedoms enshrined in our constitution – freedom from discrimination, freedom from torture, the right to associate and the right to assembly, the right to worship, and more – are for all of us – OR they are for NONE. That is what this is about. Not your Lord and Saviour, and certainly not mine.

Ask your churches, please, and your friends, your enemies, and your watchman, why this is the (extremely personal and specific) fight they are lending themselves to.