Riruta United Women Empowerment Programme (RUWEPO) held a one day LGBTI human rights and sexual orientation awareness seminar for 38 participants in Migori (Nyanza Province) on April 24th 2010. Majority of the participants were women-29 in number because this time round the organization targeted mothers. Five women said they have an LGBTI in their family line and around 10 said they have come across them. Some said family friends and neighbors have children or siblings from this queer group. Six participants said they have neither heard of Queer group nor come across them.
Anne Baraza said,’ as parents, educators and concerned friends of the homosexuals we should engage in research and find out why the homosexuals and heterosexuals? We should look at the anatomy, physiology, and experiences of straight and gay persons. Why the variation?
She paused the question, Is Sexual orientation a choice or a given disposition? Sexuality is a natural part of a person and telling them to change is like commanding them to change their race, or change the color of their eyes? For instance you might wear glasses to camouflage but this does not mean you as a person has changed. Wearing of the glasses does not change the making of your eyes.
She said that education on sexual orientation is badly needed in all spheres of life for the African woman to address ignorance on human sexuality.
She also argued that environment doesn’t influence Sexual Orientation as many people ignorantly tend to argue rather sexual behavior.
She argued, studies have long indicated that homosexuals have a substantially greater risk of suffering from psychiatric problems (suicide, depression, antisocial personality disorder, and substance abuse) because society has rejected them.
She concluded by saying that homophobia and stigma are the cause of increased psychiatric illness among gays and lesbians. She said that we need a lot of research and serious education instead of basing our arguments on heresy.
Rebecca Masibayi PFLAG coordinator for RUWEPO said that women in Africa should know that they have an ethical and moral obligation to address the issues of homosexuality in an affirmative manner. The parents and especially the mothers should not join the masses in condemning LGBTI but instead show acceptance, tolerance, mercy, love and empathize with them. The parents should be eager to learn why the different sexual orientation? For sure these children are just looking out for acceptance and someone to assure them that they are normal human beings and that they just happen to fall in the “other”. “We have to embrace and celebrate human diversity and mothers have the key to unlocking the stalemate on homophobia”, she said.
Jane Nabangi, the Programs officer of RUWEPO implored women in Kenya to take up their responsibility as mothers, to take the steps necessary to eliminate all forms of oppression and discrimination of our children based on sexual orientation. “Remember just as you didn’t choose to be born in that particular family is the same way, your child didn’t choose to be born a homosexual.” she said. She added, ‘Just as we don’t choose our races, so our children don’t choose their sexual orientation and I don’t think someone’s child can be abnormal enough to choose what the whole society is condemning.’
Mrs. Nabangi added, it is disheartening to see our children facing discrimination from the medical fraternity. The medical personnel are so homophobic and what annoys us as parents is that some medical practitioners refuse to attend to the gay community. Remember the story of Mtwapa in Mombasa just recently when a clinic offering services to the gay community was threatened with closure by our religious leaders due to religious homophobia and transphobia. This is a high level of discrimination and isolation in a country that claims to be democratic.
She said women should correct the society’s faulty assumptions & homophobia towards the homosexuals. African women must confront their personal prejudices, myths, fears, and stereotypes regarding homosexuality. “Educating women on human sexuality is educating the whole nation and as mothers let us take it our burden to educate the society what homosexuality really is and what it isn’t”.
Rev. John Makokha, Other Sheep Kenya Country Coordinator and Board member of RUWEPO said that this is the time for parents and friends of LGBTI to say no to the animosity expressed by society and especially by people of faith towards the LGBTI. He said “Women of Africa arise and shine and remove sexual orientation education awareness ignorance and replace with motherly love and acceptance of our LGBTI children. God is not homophobic”.
He said no religion in the world talks about sexual orientation as we understand it today scientifically from well researched sources and experience. It is high time religious leaders stopped being judgmental and respected science as an option for further sources of knowledge. The mothers of Africa should be the mother hen to LGBTI fearful and frightened and persecuted sexual minorities.
He said “I know persons who have accepted their sexual orientation as a gift from God and live productive and spiritual lives better than some homophobic heterosexuals”. He also cautioned the participants against using the six clobber passages from the bible blindly to ‘judge’ homosexuals without proper exegesis. He said many religious leaders are homophobic and not well versed with the clobber verses.
During the discussion, it was observed that usually when a child is born and discovered later to be LGBTI, the family faces a lot of persecution both from the church and the community. This is done out of ignorance and limited education. Many a times we are in a hurry to please the society at the expense of the hurting individual.
The seminar participants were issued with photocopied literature on LGBTI and human rights issues.
The following Recommendations were made by the Participants;
1. They requested more of these seminars in the rural areas because many a times people associate LGBTI with the rich and cities or the western world and assume the poor ones/rural areas /Africans are not affected yet they are there.
2. The members observed that many youths have decided to go the homosexual way as a fashion. This makes it difficult to tell who are genuine LGBTI and impostors. They requested for more non homophobic counselors to sensitize the nation through media on how to identify genuine LGBTI and those who need to change their behavior.
3. They felt the bisexuals should come out in the open and let their partners know who they really are and be let to lead their lives because what they are pretending to be is really not them. Given that HIV/Aids is high among MSM, thus has escalated high rates of HIV infections among women.
4. The ministry of Education should revise their Christian Education course book because it has entered Homosexuality as a vice and this is what the children are taught. Also schools should come up with plays and verses educating the mass on what homosexuality really is.
5. They requested for counseling programs for PFLAG /guidance and counseling teachers since there is a lot of confusion and stigma in our society.
6. They requested for inter religious seminars for religious leaders since they are the ones who perpetuate homophobia and hatred through their sermons and teachings.
These LGBTI Human rights awareness seminars were successful with the grant support from X-Minusy Solidarity Foundation (The Netherlands).
By Anne Baraza, CEO
Riruta United Women Empowerment Programme NGO