Will Kenya be the last to pass an anti-gay law?

A member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement seen reacting after Kenya's High Court decided to uphold the British-era criminal code which criminalizes gay sex (Picture: May 24, 2019)

A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) member reacts after Kenya’s High Court ruled to uphold the British-era criminal code which criminalizes gay sex (Picture: May 24, 2019)

In the latest sign of rising homophobia in different African countries, a Kenyan opposition MP is leading a campaign for parliament to further criminalize the country’s small LGBTQ community.

George Peter Kaluma’s decision comes after neighboring Uganda passed a tough new anti-gay law, rejecting US President Joe Biden’s threats to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on ‘anyone involved in serious violations’. human rights”.

When I met Mr Kaluma – a member of Raila Odinga’s Orange Democracy Movement, a former Kenyan opposition politician – he was sitting behind his desk in his office in the capital Nairobi, editing and correcting a bill that he intends to table in parliament soon. .

“We want to ban anything that has to do with homosexuality,” Kaluma tells me, adding that his bill will be much broader than legislation passed by Uganda’s parliament and approved by President Yoweri Museveni in May.

Uganda’s law is considered one of the toughest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world.

It proposes life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of homosexuality and the death penalty for so-called aggravated cases, which include homosexual intercourse with someone under the age of 18 or when a person is infected with a life such as HIV.

Across the continent, Ghanaian MPs earlier this month voted unanimously in favor of amendments to the country’s anti-gay legislation, bringing it closer to enactment. Although less harsh than Uganda’s new law, the Promotion of Appropriate Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values ​​Bill proposes a three-year prison sentence for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ and a 10-year sentence for anyone who promotes homosexuality.

So why are different African countries proposing anti-LGBTQ measures at the same time? Some believe that American evangelical groups could play a role in advancing their agenda on the continent.

During a trip that Kaluma said was funded by the Kenyan parliament, he attended a meeting of the newly established African Inter-Parliamentary Forum on Family Values ​​and Sovereignty held in Uganda in March.

Lawmakers, religious leaders and activists from more than 20 African states participated, sharing ideas on how to tackle what they see as threats to conservative religious and social values.

“The bill will propose a total ban on what the West calls sex reassignment prescriptions and procedures, and will prohibit all activities that promote homosexuality, in terms of…gay parades, drag shows, wearing of colors, flags, emblems of the LGBTQ group,” says Mr. Kaluma.

Gay sex is already illegal in Kenya, but the government can also be tolerant of gay people – for example, it has granted asylum to people from other African countries, including Uganda, who have been persecuted in their country origin because of their sexual orientation.

Mr. Kaluma tells me that he wants their asylum revoked and they leave Kenya.

At a small hidden church set up to offer comfort and support to LGBTQ people in central Nairobi, the pastor says Mr Kaluma’s bill is causing “a lot of panic, anxiety and fear”. The pastor and church members ask that we keep them anonymous as they say they have faced numerous security threats since its inception about 10 years ago.

She thinks the bill will increase violence against them. “It empowers anyone who wants to do something to gay people. It fuels a kind of violence that now people are planning but holding back,” she tells me.

Members of the Christian community seen holding signs in celebration after Kenya's High Court ruled to uphold the British-era penal code which criminalizes gay sex (2019)

Many Kenyans believe that gay rights go against their religion – whether Christian or Muslim

Although the meeting in Uganda was presented as an attempt to protect the “sovereignty” of African states, it was in fact co-sponsored by a right-wing American Christian organization, Family Watch International (FWI).

Dr Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian Anglican priest and scholar at Boston University in the US, says African countries are being targeted by FWI and similar US-based organizations, and the impact of its lobbying has been “horrible and inhuman”. in parts of Africa, fueling what he calls “militant homophobia”.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I don’t agree with you being gay’, but we didn’t have the activist, where politicians now say, ‘You’re going to jail for life, you go to jail for talking about being gay, you go to jail for living with another woman,” says Dr Kaoma.

FWI’s Mormon founder Sharon Slater denies the group is promoting anti-gay laws in Africa.

“Family Watch opposes legislation that penalizes a person for having sexual attractions or for the way they identify themselves,” she said in an email response to the BBC.

Ms Slater addressed African lawmakers, clerics and activists at their forum in the Ugandan lakeside town of Entebbe in March, then later appeared in a group photo with President Museveni at his official residence.

For more than 20 years, Ms Slater has lobbied governments on what she calls ‘family values’ and has made it her mission to campaign against children and young people receiving comprehensive sex education (CSE) , a sex education program based on the curriculum and championed by the UN and other organizations.

She cites a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) manual for out-of-school youth in eastern and southern Africa, saying it promotes homosexuality and is too explicit.

“It desensitizes children to sex,” she says.

Ms Slater also cites the manual, including lines that say course leaders should have “a neutral and tolerant attitude towards homosexuality”.

When I contact Maria Bakaroudis, UNFPA’s CSE Specialist for Eastern and Southern Africa, for comment, she says she is not keen on talking about “the opposition”, as she is referring to FWI .

She adds that the manual is only a guideline and that each country can adapt it to its context.

Ms Bakaroudis defends the CST, saying it provides “life-saving information” to reduce high rates of unwanted pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community listen to a verdict on the abolition of laws criminalizing homosexuality outside the Milimani High Court in Nairobi, Kenya on May 24, 2019.

Kenya’s LGBTQ community is on a long campaign to demand equal rights

Although Mr Kaluma attended the meeting in Uganda co-sponsored by FWI, he denies working with the group on their bill, which he says will propose a ban on teaching CSE, saying she is part of it. of the “LGBTQ agenda”.

“It’s being pushed very hard by the West, including in Kenya. We’re going to ban it completely in the bill, to allow us to have sex education, which is age-appropriate, developmentally-appropriate and culturally appropriate in our context,” he says.

Mr Kaluma argues that the “LGBTQ agenda” has become a “big industry, especially in the West” and, despite opposition from some of their own citizens, Western governments want to promote it in Africa.

The majority leader of Kenya’s lower house of parliament, Kimani Ichung’wah, told the BBC that the ruling Kenya Kwanza alliance has no position on Mr Kaluma’s bill, but that he will give his deputies a free vote if he is tabled.

Kenyan President William Ruto did not comment on Mr Kaluma’s plans, but said earlier this year that “our culture and our religion do not allow same-sex marriages”.

Mr Kaluma is confident that the bill will become law, causing deep concern among Kenya’s LGBTQ community.

Some of the dozen people at the church in Nairobi tell me that Mr. Kaluma’s proposals are not just part of a political debate, but go to the heart of their fight, simply to exist.

“I can’t reverse who I am. It’s me. We’re human beings too. We do our jobs. We pay the bills. We pay taxes, so they have to accept us,” says a transgender woman.

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