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Homosexuality in Africa Interview

The date is 21st of January 2014. In a morning TV show on Kenya Television Network (KTN) the topic of discussion is Homosexuality in Africa. In studio with Sophia Wanuna (the host) are two lawyers; Eric Gitari and Antony Oluoch. Both men are gay. Antony is the acting Director Gay Kenya Trust. Sophia asks Eric why for a long time there has not been any conversation around homosexuality. Eric respond in this documentary by saying that sex and sexuality are very intimate and personal things and many people feel like when they talk about them their personal space is intruded. Antony agrees.
Sophia sought to know from Eric why more people are now coming out to talk about how they have felt for a long time. Eric opines in this documentary that this has been stirred by the fact that across Africa there are attempts to criminalize the personal and intimate matter of sex and how individual express love. Eric adds that when a sexual orientation is treated in a manner that attracts criminal sanctions and stigma the matter must be put to discussion. This conversation is happening at a time when Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina has posted a letter on his social media declaring his identity as homosexual. Eric informs this documentary that he had a conversation with Binyavanga recently. One of the reasons that motivated Binyavanga’s coming out was the need to put a human face behind the name ‘homosexual’. Eric adds that for a long time people have created and perpetuated a stereotype around homosexuals and talked about them as if they didn’t exist. Even media outlets are in the habit of painting homosexuals as effeminate men who dress like women. These have created room for propaganda to be spread in Africa where allegations of a ‘gay agenda’ where people are paid to be recruited have been propagated. Eric adds this need for simple Kenyans born and brought up in the country to put a face behind it is meant to tell the true story of homosexuals.
Binyavanga in his letter says he knew he was gay since about 5. Antony tells Sophia in this documentary that being gay is not a choice one makes. Anthony just like Binyavanga knew he was gay at a tender age. He had to keep it from everyone else for a long time. Eric says there is no definite answer to questions of sexuality. He informs this documentary that there is science that argues no one is 100% straight; it theorizes that all people are predisposed to be queer thanks to their genetic make-up. As to whether homosexuality is a mental disease Eric informs this documentary that the WHO removed homosexuality form the list of mental disorders. He also submits it’s not a demonic possession. 200 years ago among the Zande of Sudan homosexual women were treated as very powerful priests because people could not understand homosexuality. Among the Kikuyu of Kenya, the Oneki who were religious leaders would keep boy wives. Still among the Meru in Kenya, Eric informs this documentary. The Mugawe, who were traditional healers, would keep male lovers. These people were all revered and respected in their communities. In a recent visit to Turkana Eric tells this documentary that he asked the elders how men who loved other men were treated. The elders said they would simply be sent to the fields to look after cattle. What is evident is that throughout Africa homosexuals always existed. Also not a strand of violence was visited upon them and clearly they were not excluded from the universe of moral equals.
This same week Uganda’s President Museveni was presented with an anti-homosexuality bill for assent. He rejected it citing similar reasons outlined by Eric. Anthony says he was held back from coming out in fear of the stigma from his family and friends. Eric refutes the stereotypes that all gay men are effeminate and that if one is gay then they are in a cult. He shares with this documentary how he came out to his colleagues at the Kenya Human Rights Commission. They argued he did not look like a homosexual. But Eric submits there is no such thing as being gay enough; it’s an innate character just like being black or white. Eric admits he had sexual relations with individuals of both gender after puberty. But he adds his love found best expression within the same gender. Eric tells this documentary that his struggle helped him to appreciate that not all men are the same. He adds just like heterosexual men are attracted to particular types of girls and are not obliged to explain why, homosexuals should be obliged to explain why the love another man.
Eric tells this documentary more about his coming out. He sat down his mum and dad and broke the news to them. His parents concern was they wanted him to have children. Eric’s father asked him why he was wasting his degree working in a gay rights movement which he termed unrespectable. Among many African communities respectability depends on masculinity and the expression of it. Eric’s brother and sister were very supportive though. His grandmother had a very interesting story to tell. She told Eric about this bad disease she suffered form in the past. She would faint every now and then. A muntu muga-one who removes spells- (today known as mugawe among the Meru) was called and he cured her of the disease. Eric’s grandmother told him the muntu muga just like him also kept male lovers. Eric says this is evidence that there were other men in African societies of a similar orientation from time immemorial. He wonders why people would use religions such as Christianity and Islam (which were only introduced recently) to justify hate on homosexuals.
Anthony shares his coming out story with this documentary as well. For him his brother already knew and was easy about it. His best friend told him he was only waiting for him to say it. His mother just left it in God’s hands. Eric recalls that a friend from law school unfriended him on Facebook saying his wife had forbidden him from being friends with him. He tells this documentary about another incident when he went to a barber shop in town. He was in the company of a friend Denis Nzioka who is also in the gay rights movement. The barbers refused to give them a haircut saying other clients were not comfortable sharing the equipment with them. This happened despite the fact that they had been regular clients.
At this point Sophia reads some of the viewer’s comments. Most of them gravitate around the issues of homosexuality being unnatural, un-African and against God. To these arguments Eric asks if it’s unnatural to have oral sex when the natural use of the mouth is to eat and speak. To the claim of homosexuality being ungodly he asks if God himself created homosexuals and has allowed them to live who else can judge them. Eric says in this documentary that what gays are seeking is not acceptance. All they are against is the attempt to criminalize homosexuality by people who cannot understand them.
Anthony says the lack of understanding of who homosexuals are within and outside the gay community is what has motivated him to start the Gay Kenya Trust. He does media advocacy and writes newspaper articles. He also works to educate homosexuals on their rights. In this documentary Eric refutes the Christian reasons for justifying homophobia. He says missionaries used the same scripture to justify slavery and sold Africans as slaves to whites in dehumanizing conditions. He also points out that the same prejudices were applied 60 years ago in the US to criminalize bi-racial marriages between whites and blacks. Eric is optimistic that the message will reach home even if it will take long. He observes that the gender equality struggle in Kenya took 40 years before the One-Third Gender rule was adopted. This inspires him to soldier on. Eric celebrates the promulgation of the 2010 constitution which he observes was largely informed by the 20007/08 post-election violence. He adds that the lessons Kenyans should learn is that they can be different but should not let those differences be the reason they visit violence on each other.
Sophia asks why all organizations working with gays cannot be merged into one to forge one united front. Anthony observes that there are several organizations working with homosexuals with different and specific missions. He heads the Gay Kenya Trust which does media advocacy. He mentions Ishtar MSM which focuses on the health of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). They all complement one another. There is the Gay and Lesbians Coalition which brings all gay organizations together. Eric says the multiplicity of gay organizations demonstrates maturity in democratic space where people can be independent to think and organize the programming of their missions. Eric notes that even children’s right movement exist in a plurality but they complement one another.
Eric hails Museveni’s rejection of the anti-homosexuality bill of Uganda as proof that leaders are beginning to engage in a reflection on the matter. Eric adds that in his letter to parliament, President Museveni noted a number of things which he outlines in this documentary. He says Museveni told parliament that homosexuality existed even before Christianity or Islam. He pointed out to the national assembly famous kings in Uganda’s history who are celebrated leaders but had sexual preference for men.
Eric speaks to President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent assent to an anti-homosexuality bill. He argues the man has terribly failed on his election promises and is selling his homophobia to buy the vote of the conservative Christians and Muslims who make up a significant majority in Nigeria. Eric informs this documentary that in Nigeria today, people cannot appear on media houses to speak their independent thought on same sex relations. One should not even be seen holding another man’s hand longer than eight minutes. Eric asks how an anti-gay bill can advance the social welfare of a nation’s citizens. He opines in this documentary that it is a step that is only taking the continent back to repression and diverting attention from the poverty, hunger, corruption and disease which are the real issues affecting Africans. A day after the bill was signed a state in northern Nigeria drew up a list of 167 gays and lesbians who they marked for witch-hunt. 20 are already in police custody. Eric wonders in this documentary how these 167 individuals have disturbed the peace and security of the Nigerian state.
As this documentary draws to a close both Eric and Anthony observe that Kenyans should draw serious lessons from the violence in 2007/08 to help them embrace diversity and live in harmony. Eric insists people and the state should allow individuals the space to express their love whichever way they do with freedom. Anthony has a word for parents and friends who notice that their loved ones are different. He advises they should embrace and show love until such time that the individual will be comfortable to come out and tell their story.
Eric has a number of observations in his final submissions in the documentary. He dismisses the biblical analogy of Sodom and Gomorrah frequently drawn alongside the homosexuality debate. He notes that in Sodom and Gomorrah men; both old and young gathered and wanted to forcefully have sex with angels (rape). He distinguishes homosexuality from rape and wickedness; the reason for which Sodom and Gomorrah was burnt by God. Eric tells this documentary that sex is not solely for procreation. Further, the procreation argument against homosexuals is misplaced since being homosexual does not mean one is impotent. Eric posits that there are people who have chosen celibacy like priests and nuns but society does not demonize them yet they too do not continue human species through procreation. Eric says moving forward people should realize human are not all the same. We should accept our differences and allow those who feel different to express themselves freely without persecution and exclusion such as are invited on homosexuals by the passage of anti-gay laws.

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