In late February, Kenya’s supreme court ruled in favour of a long -running legal battle to uphold its citizens right to association, in a decisive supreme court ruling that affirmed that LGBTQ+ Kenyans had as much right as anyone else to register an association. This was a much welcome ruling, and one that was expected to spur what some of us felt was a long overdue debate about the rights and inclusion of gender diverse and minority groups in Kenya. While the debate ensued, it was hardly done in sober or sensible tones but rather kickstarted a harmful campaign on the impending doom and moral degradation that would engulf us, were we to formally denounce the discrimination of our fellow citizens based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
We witnessed the rare unification of religious institutions, political factions, cultural leaders, learning institutions, conservative activist groups and the public alike all coming together to denounce the ruling, declare harm, hate and to some extreme extents calling for the jailing and killing of anyone who identifies or supports those who identify as LGBTQ +. Some religious leaders have called for their excommunication from their congregations while others who are a bit lenient have welcomed them, but only to pray away the supposed evil inside them. Our political leaders forgot their differences and rallied together to declare that LGBT+ Kenyans could never be accepted in Kenya, never mind that most of them only saw the whole debate as an opportunity to increase their following and to not have to answer questions about their failure to act on economic and social hardships that are affecting us all.
True to any moral panic in history, the media joined in the frenzy. Granted, it’s their job to keep the public informed on any issue of public interest, but there is a difference between broadcasting the truth and enabling a platform for people and lawmakers to orchestrate harm, violence and spread misinformation and bias against a minority community that has repeatedly faced violence and discrimination. Perhaps though, the most worrying act is the ensuing attempt to make harmful and discriminative laws against gender minorities, often guised as an attempt to protect families and uphold our morals as Africans.
Homabay Town member of parliament Hon. Kaluma has tabled the family protection bill in parliament which apart from being very similar to Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, is a gross violation of the constitutional rights of all Kenyans, not just those who identify as LGBTQ+. It proposes to limit the rights to privacy, the right to assemble, right to education and the right to access information and health services alongside limiting constitutional freedoms of association, expression, religion and even that of the media.
The proposed bill criminalizes the provision of sexual reproductive health services and is an attack on the reproductive rights of individuals. It bans anyone from teaching any kind of sex education, be it in or out of school. In representative’s Kaluma constituency, the rate of HIV new cases has skyrocketed, particularly among young people and key populations. Kenya is also dealing with unprecedented levels of teenage pregnancy and so it’s puzzling that lawmakers continue to propose laws that not only deny young people comprehensive sexuality education but that they are also doing so in the guise of protecting families. Even more perplexing, Hon. Kaluma wants to jail anyone with a dissenting opinion or anyone who shows support to LGBTQ+ Kenyans. This bill is drafted on the fact-less claim that minorities are actively recruiting people into their movements. If homosexuality was a choice, no one would choose the hate, violence, stigma and discrimination that often accompanies that identity. Sexuality is innate and no one should be criminalized or discriminated against for choosing to love or identify beyond the confines of what another thinks is acceptable, as long as it’s consensual and not causing any harm to another.
If you have been paying attention, conservatives and western evangelicals have been propagating harmful campaigns and sponsoring harmful laws against homosexuality in Africa, with Ghana, Zambia, Uganda and now Kenya as the battlefields. What they ignore is that African values mean love and tolerance and not hate and division. This harmful bill is also repetitive and unnecessary. Kenya already has existing laws such as the penal code, in article 162 and 165, that criminalizes homosexuality with up to 14 years in prison. We also have the recently passed children’s act that outlines rules on the protection of children that Honorable Kaluma’s bill purports to do. To counter this targeted hateful campaigns in Africa, we must all rally together in solidarity with queer people in Africa and elsewhere. We must speak up and dispel the notion that LGBTQ+ individuals are unwanted and unsupported on the continent.
LGBTQ+ Kenyans are part of families that deserve respect and protection. What this bill intends to do is break up those families and direct harm and violence to minorities who are not harming anyone. They are members of our society who deserve protection and respect just as anyone else. Parliament and lawmakers have a duty to reject it and uphold the constitutional rights of all Kenyans.