Hate crimes against gays and
lesbians, including beatings, do not emerge from nowhere. They are intimately
connected to the political, social and legal environment in which homosexuals
live. It is completely incompatible for religious and political groups to talk
about morals and simultaneously stir hatred that directly leads to violence
against homosexuals. Criminalized in the law, homosexuals are further left with
no protection against, and no redress for, any violence perpetrated against
them by members of the public or police.
This virtual disregard
by some political and religious leaders of the risk of inciting further violence against gays and lesbians is no better illustrated than with the examples of Uganda,
Malawi and Kenya. I was shocked to hear that Malawi’s and Uganda’s chilling
response to homosexuality had spread to Kenya, with the arrest of five men at
an alleged gay wedding at the Kikambala beach resort near Mombasa last week. Kenyan
police arrested two of the men, having found them with wedding rings, on the
assumption they were trying to get married. The other three men were actually reported to the police by
members of the public. Two of them had reportedly been beaten, but nothing has
been said by Kenyan authorities about making anyone accountable for those acts
According to the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of
Africa, following the arrests on February 12, more police have been deployed
to Mombasa while facilities suspected of “hosting homosexuals” will be closed
down. In a country with a shortage of medical doctors, medical professionals
have been relocated to the area to “help the police with quick identification
of the homosexuals through medical examinations” despite being a discredited
test and unquestionably a grave violation of human rights. According to the Penal Code of Kenya, men accused of actual or
attempted “homosexual behaviour” (carnal knowledge of any person or gross
indecency) can be penalised with between 5 to 14 years’ imprisonment.
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What started as a
homophobic and ill-informed decision in Uganda by an MP who proposed an anti-homosexuality bill in Parliament late last
year has effectively turned into an alarming multi-country anti-gay assault that
has and may continue to spread to other African nations. The proposed Ugandan bill,
which has been temporarily “tabled,” includes a provision that places an
obligation on the public to report a homosexual within 24 hours of knowing
someone’s sexual orientation. This is the very sort of provision which sends
the message that the public can turn their homophobic sentiments and take what
they see as the law into their own hands, leading to the type of beatings that
are currently alleged in Kenya.
homophobic legislative proposal, we saw Malawi
follow their lead, with the arrest on December 28 of two men accused of
conducting a traditional engagement ceremony two days before their arrest,
deemed by the authorities as evidence of behavior contrary to the Malawi Penal
Code. According to Amnesty International, these two men were also
allegedly beaten, this time by the police. With the two men remanded in custody
pending the outcome of the case, arrests continue in Malawi, and gays rights
groups are being forced further underground. If the cases of Malawi and Kenya
do not provide evidence of how anti-homosexual laws and sentiments, voiced by
government or police, incite hate crimes against gays, I am not sure what
further evidence we would need.
In the case of Uganda,
Phumi Mtetwa, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project based
in South Africa, like others, argues that there is a clear link between the
work of US evangelical Christian groups and the homophobic response: "It’s
very well calculated. It’s exploding at the moment but it’s been happening for
a year and a half. We have proof of American evangelical churches driving the
religious fundamentalism in Uganda." Meanwhile, in Kenya, homosexuality
has been labeled a “vice” by Sheikh Ali Hussein of the Council of
Imams and Preachers while Bishop Lawrence Chai, of the National Council of
Churches of Kenya has similarly spoken out against this so-called immorality.
To me, the most
disturbing aspect of the situation is the apparent support from a significant
proportion of the population on the ground, whether driven by religious groups,
police behavior or their own ignorance. Over 4000 protesters conducted a street
demonstration in Jinja in Uganda, about 40 miles east of the capital, Kampala, on
Monday February 15. The demonstration was organized by pastor, Martin
Ssempa to show the world that “homosexuality has no place in Uganda”.
There has been,
unsurprisingly, strong and growing opposition to Uganda’s bill and the vilification
of homosexuals in other Africa countries, from around the globe. At this point
in time, the entire international community needs to unite against the
incitement of violence that we are witnessing. For this reason, among others,
it is also important not to label all religious groups as responsible,
particularly since some religious groups, including Christian leaders in the
US, have released a statement
condemning the Ugandan bill and resulting violence. What is undeniable, however,
is that any political or religious statement that is made condemning
homosexuality is equivalent to condoning violence and encouraging lawlessness.
Any individual or group making vilifying statements is as responsible for the
violence that results as if committed by their own hands.