By Fauzia Nia Mohamed, 2017
Our social cultural context has wired society to pre determine what is morally upright and what is not. With the passage of time however, one wonders whether we ought to be tied down by these conventional ways of engagement. In the 19th century there was a global fight for independence among the African states, the 20th century brought with it a fight for equal treatment of different races. The past decade has seen tremendous fights for gender equality. Each of these eras represents a struggle for a marginalized community to change a traditionally implied societal norm. One is then forced to question when the fight for LGBTIQ+ community will be mainstreamed.
The unpleasant truth is that many people who identify as LGBTIQ+ are forced to live in secret. Forced by society’s exclusive single story which preaches the immorality of same sex relationships. Society is quick to curse, condemn and pass judgment on this marginalized community. As Chimamanda Adichie says, “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”. The danger of a single story of LGBTIQ+ people is a judgmental society that instinctively links this people to sin and eternal fire. They are labeled as cursed or possessed by demons. By so doing, we subject them to self imprisonment and social stigma, thereby limiting their freedom of association and inhibiting their freedom of expression. We forget that as human beings they are entitled to pursue happiness as they deem fit. Socrates was executed in Athens for having the nerve to challenge people’s most deeply held beliefs. Wouldn’t it be shameful to have a repeat execution? Why then do we cling to outdated convictions which limit individual identity? To measure attitude of participants, at the beginning of the DoL, we took a written pre test. A good number of participants admitted a limited understanding of same sex relationships, most admitted to not having encountered a tras felt LGBTIQ+ society is discriminated upon and agreed it is important to have safe spaces for the community.
The teacher on the DoL, posed a question” If you were the president of Kenya, what would you do for the LGBTIQ+ community?” The question sparked varied responses from the audience that I would summarize as, as presidents they would ensure objective implementation of human rights and inclusivity of all people. With a Kenyan penal code that criminalizes same sex relations with up to 14years imprisonment, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face numerous barriers in the human rights space. Ranging from; reluctance by health service providers in providing health services to same-sex partners, blackmail and extortion from law enforcers, discriminatory attitudes and at times violence from the community, social stigmatization in communal affairs to cruel, inhumane and degrading anal medical examinations as evidence to determine their sexual orientation. To date there are no openly gay clubs; the gay community is still cloistered in social affairs. Even as multitudes of refugees across the region, run to Kenya as a safe haven most are welcomed by further violence and stigmatization. Society delimits the ability and potential of such a community to a point they are surprised by their entitlement to careers. All citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and afforded their basic rights regardless of their sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation is not a choice. Science agrees. It suggests that homosexuality is genetic. In other words, you are born gay, just like you are born with a certain eye colour. Whatever weird and wonderful force that creates a straight, gay or bisexual person happens in the womb. Most mental health professionals believe that homosexuality is a naturally occurring type if sexual orientation and cannot be altered through therapy or by any other means. Society tends to have a misguided belief that a gay person can be “cured” of homosexuality through prayer, counseling and reparative — or ‘conversion’- therapy. Effects of conversion therapy can be dangerous to a person’s mental health, causing depression, low self esteem, subsequence substance abuse, and even suicide. The heart wants what it wants. The same applies to sexual attraction. One cannot dictate to their sexual desires the gender or person they are attracted to. A gay person can certainly choose to undermine their sexuality, just like a heterosexual person can choose not to have sex, but he or she does not have the power of choice over their sexual orientation. Again, neither do heterosexual people.
We watched “Out and About” a documentary ( www.vimeo.com/hrip/outandabout ) about the struggles LGBTIQ+ persons and their families face. The society usually is more tolerating to LGBTIQ+ persons who choose not to act on their same sex attraction, but for most that would mean being lonely, unfulfilled and sexually frustrated: a high price to pay for admittance and tolerance. Of course it’s possible to choose not to have sex with people of the same gender or to avoid any sort of same sex stimulus like looking at gay pornography or spending time with a gay person you find attractive, but that’s not the same thing as changing sexual orientation. Many who undergo reparative therapy report failure in their ability to change their sexuality and either feel worse about their situation or move on to accept themselves as they are.
Voices of LGBTI activists, organizations and networks, as well as their allies (like Hivos), are often ignored or side-lined. For this session, there is need to engage with unusual actors and establish new alliances outside of ‘our own’ circles to stand strong for LGBTI rights. By engaging in this discussion, we hope to change mindsets and to influence the creation of a more open and accepting society for LGBTI people, we tap into an unexplored potential for social change, particularly in a context that counts with legal barriers for LGBTI rights and a highly discriminatory socio-economic environment for LGBTI-persons.
In line with the 2017 AIDS Days theme, this learning session was aimed at reducing marginalization of the LGBTIQ+ community by increasing Impact of their social inclusion through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships. For this session, Hivos will work closely with Ishtar to reduce marginalization by providing a platform to unpack conversations and change attitudes on stigmatization of LGBTIQ+ community. The session aspired to stir discussions for controversy with civility, where safe spaces for LGBTIQ+ community are not considered taboo, hence to create a more open and accepting society.
The DoL was enjoyable, interactive and informative. Participants agreed to preach the gospel of equality and inclusion of LGBTIQ+ persons to their circles of influence.