By Paul Canning
Blogger GayUganda reports receiving an email stating that the station read out the following threat:
"Homosexuals are not human beings and should be treated as such..... The KEMRI-UW research centre has been given 7 Days to close or we shall attack it on Friday next week [12 Feb]"The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) clinic in Mtwapa was the centre of the mob attacks, due to it providing HIV/AIDS services to men who have sex with men (MSM).
The author of the email said:
Considering that this is how it started last time, if you remember we raised an alarm a day earlier and the attacks happened the following day, I advise that we take precaution and consider informing all our contacts in Mombasa about the Lurking Danger.Police rescued a number of gay men from mob attacks, fueled by rumours of a 'gay wedding' and believed to have been organised, and released them without charge. Human rights activist Muthoni Wanyeki, a executive member of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, has praised the actions of the police.
There is negative talk that the Muslims in Mtwapa want to make an example of someone, they are vowing not to take anyone to the police this time. Keep us in your hearts and as earlier requested, anyone who can assist especially in the area of reaching out to the Muslim community or the security apparatus will be highly appreciated.
Attempts at dialogue
Following the mob attacks, Sheikh Ali Hussein, Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) Kikambala coordinator, and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK)'s Kilifi District representative, Bishop Laurence Chai, had continued to threaten the KEMRI clinic and rejected government attempts to calm the situation by joining a committee which aims to educate wananchi (the public) on the operations of the clinic.
Kenyan LGBT Christian organisation Other Sheep supported by the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (EASHRI) reached out, facilitating three seminars for Christian religious leaders, LGBTI and Muslim religious leaders in the Mombasa region to address religious homophobia and transphobia.
Leader Michael Kimindu said:
The association had decided to use the two major religions to create awareness on issues of human sexuality and religion. We went to Mtwapa and talked to Christians and they asked for more time and education to discuss issues of sexual orientation and the bible.They held a seminar for 32 Christian pastors drawn from various denominational backgrounds 5 March in Mtwapa. The chairman of the Mtwapa Pastors’ interdenominational Fellowship, secretary and treasurer participated in the workshop.
They aim to organise further workshops aiming to reach out to about 350 clergy in Mtwapa.
These will provide:
- more resource materials on LGBTI and Christianity for further reference and study
- seminars on the bible and sexuality.
They were trained in the areas of sexual orientation, religious homophobia and transphobia, culture and LGBTI, counseling of LGBTI and PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) and MSM HIV/AIDS initiatives.
The following day the group met with 30 top Muslim religious leaders in a Mombasa hotel. They included the leader of Muslim men in Kenya, the leader of Muslim women in Kenya and the leader of Muslim youth in Kenya, Chairman of Kenya Muslims Advisory and director of NACADA, which deals with substance abuse.
Similar to the outcome of the meeting with the Christian pastors the leaders wanted more dialogue on religious interpretations of dealings with homosexuality: "counseling of LGBTI instead of stoning to death of homosexuals".
One Muslim observation was:
Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed killing everybody in these cities but strange enough homosexuality is still in existence, so by stoning homosexuals to death isn’t the solution, but understanding them.Women at the meeting complained that Sheikhs and Imams ask for anal sex from their wives and sleep with young boys in the community/mosques. This puts them at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Other Sheep Kenya also met with local LGBT in Mombasa who reported great ignorance on HIV/AIDS as well as discrimination based on skin colour, with darker skinned gays being more harassed than lighter skinned ones. One outcome was to do outreach to the local media.
As well KEMRI took part in a media clinic at a Mombasa hotel 4 March. They told journalists that 15.2 per cent of all new HIV infections in Kenya were through men having sex with men.
Dr Mary Mwang’ombe, KEMRI researcher based at Mtwapa, said that it was difficult for researchers to gain access to homosexuals and investigate their HIV risk behaviour and prevalence rates.
Most of these men live a secluded lifestyle to avoid being discriminated against by the police and the health care personnel.In addition to the clinic, a gay-friendly Mombasa bar, Club California, is facing closure following the imposition of 'impossible demands' by local authorities. The Department of Public Health visited the club 12 February, the day of the riot, and issued a notice demanding undefined improvements to the club's "sanitary conditions".
The victims speak out
South African LGBT website Behind the Mask has interviewed some of the men caught up in the February mob attacks. All preferred to use only their first names.
Ali, speaking through Javine Ochieng of Gay Kenya, said:
There was no wedding planned at all. I heard the news from the mosque as a sermon was being passed that there was a wedding to take place.
The Imam said that they can not condone a homosexual marriage to take place by any chance since the person to be married is a Muslim and that we have to protect the Islamic norms and shed blood to stop the wedding.After the sermon at the Mosque Ali says he went to a barber and was questioned about the rumours of a gay wedding, supposed to take place 12 February. The barber accused Ali of being one of those getting married and told him to get ready for "a hunt" that day for "those getting married and that they will be killed". On Ali's departure the barber told him never to set foot in his barber shop again.
Ali was beaten up by a mob and taken to Mtwapa Police Station where he was rescued by activists from Kenyan Human Rights Commission, then immediately taken to hospital since he relies on an inhaler for his asthmatic condition.
George was also attacked by the mob and taken to the cells while Nicholas was arrested from the KEMRI research centre where he works.
Lameck was arrested from his home, Yvonne from KEMRI, where he works, and Hanza was rescued by activists and taken to a place of safety before the mob could confront him.
All are now in a place of safety coordinated by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) but they say they now live in fear, not knowing what will happen next.
People can still recognise us even in our hiding place and there are rumours of demonstrations that will be held against homosexuality to strategise on how to search for the remaining gay people in Mtwapa and Mombasa.Nicholas warned:
If the society does not accept this [existence of homosexuals], people will continue practicing unsafe sex, due to lack of information and hence the spread of HIV and AIDS.Kenyan press debate
Some of the people in the mob who were beating us are always gay in the dark and very heterosexual in light.
Debate on LGBT issues has continued in the Kenyan press.
Writing for The Zeleza Post, Wandia Njoya calls for greater understanding of "the African political landscape in which the violence now is taking place". She argues that violence against LGBT has been unknown until recently "particularly since the issue of marriage was brought into the equation by .. religious groups, the media and the politicians".
Many Kenyans have always known people of homosexual orientation or areas frequented by them, but there was little persecution with violence targeted at them. In fact, same-sex relations were visible and well known especially in areas frequented by tourists, which is why the episode in the tourist town of Mombasa becomes all the more ironical.But Njoya also attacks western criticism of Africans as 'homophobic' when 'homosexuality' was not a concept in African societies, neither 'heterosexuality', saying that:
And even now with the church and media whipping up emotions about a purported homosexual invasion, readers' comments in the local dailies show that many Kenyans wonder why there is so much fuss. For them, the relationship between two adults is none of their business if that relationship is consensual, and they wish that that energy was put into pursuing pedophiles and rapists.
Granted, disinterest is still not acceptance of same-sex couples, and is probably aided by gays remaining in the closet, but it is far much better than dragging people out of their homes, beating and arresting them.
Western human rights activists, for instance, erroneously assume that African societies traditionally share the same hostility towards homosexuals as that in the West, which is not true.Njoya says that the media:
Revels in the whole drama and often tries to push the issue to incite a reaction from the public. For instance, when Archbishop Tutu visited Kenya a few years ago to discuss South Africa's experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he was met at the airport by reporters who wanted to know his take on the Anglican church's position of ordination of gay clergy. It is embarrassing that young reporters excited by their recent acquisition of microphones and cameras would subject such an esteemed person in Africa to such treatment, which Tutu deflected by saying that he was coming to Kenya for another purpose.For politicians:
At another instance last year, the Kenyan media repeatedly reported of the likelihood of a showdown between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Kenyan clergy over the ordination of gay clergy for at least two weeks before the Archbishop arrived for his visit. They sought interviews from various clergy in Kenya, but the excitement and furor they sought was not forthcoming, and to their disappointment, the Archbishop's visit went on without any drama.
Perhaps the worst incident of media carelessness was the report of a Kenyan gay couple that got married in the UK. The story was carried on the front page of the dailies but did not solicit the outrage that was apparently expected. So the media sank to even lower depths when they visited the families of the men in rural Kenya and not only shocked the families with the news, but also asked for comments. Kenyans were outraged by the bad manners of the journalists. This led the couple to appeal to the media to leave their parents alone.
It was the collaboration between the media and the clergy that resulted in the episode in Mombasa ... given that this is not a community that is unfamiliar with LGBTI communities, it was important a wedding to be brought into the picture for the public to be sufficiently irked to commit the violence. And not surprisingly, the Western media did not print these revelations because they were not as interesting.
[The local press, BBC and AFP reported the 'wedding' as fact, failing to properly investigate the rumours. They have all failed to correct the error despite multiple sources showing the 'wedding' was a rumour.]
[The Standard further demonstrated Njoya's point by misquoting the leader of Other Sheep Kenya in their report about their meetings with Christian pastors in Mtwapa. He said the Christians wanted "more time and education to discuss issues of sexual orientation and the bible", The Standard replaced 'Bible' with 'the mess in the society over gay marriages'.]
Homophobia is part of the tradition of using hatred to entrench political power.Kenyan TV continues to carry reports, such as this one on 'gayism' from K24TV. It also discusses a clause in the draft revised Constitution - a different proposed clause has also been the focus of anti-gay attacks by religious leaders who claim that it would allow gay marriage.
GALCK has responded to a anti-gay piece by a Kenyan Catholic priest published in The Daily Nation (which was responding to a positive opinion piece in the same newspaper by Cabral Pinto). In a piece titled 'You can't wish away African gays' David Kuria, General Manager, wrote:
An article by Fr Dominic Waweru (Nation, March 8) says of the ongoing crisis in Mtwapa — where the youth are beating up people on suspicion of being gay — that this is “only too comprehensible”.American evangelical incitement
He further says that punishment often reserved for gays is lynching; presumably he also thinks such treatment is acceptable.
Let’s assume one of the six young men rescued by the police — we’ll call him Omondi — a 23-year-old watchman, was alighting from a matatu to go to the Kemri centre where he is a volunteer in the HIV Vaccine Research when he saw a mob moving towards him. A woman on the street told him to run away.
Not knowing what was going on, he took to his heels, but the mob caught up with him and beat him senseless. As they doused him with kerosene, the woman, a prostitute, fell on him to protect him from the mob. Omondi owes his life to the prostitute; police came just in time.
If indeed Omondi is gay, as the crowd suspected, then there was no visible gain to her in saving his life. It was not like he was ever going to buy sex from her, let alone ask for her hand in marriage.
Her action was motivated by absolute and pure altruism — some would refer that to Christian love, the kind that Jesus meant in telling the Good Samaritan story.
While it is all fine to write an academic discourse on whether homosexuality is as old as Ngong Hills or as alien as the Goat Island in the Niagara Falls, it is very saddening when religious leaders begin to explain away mob attempts to kill fellow human beings on any account in a country that has a functioning government.
In a statement marking World Aids Day last December 1, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general urged for an end to the criminalisation of homosexuality, which he argued made it more difficult to fight Aids.
The AIDS pandemic finds a breeding ground where the closet door meets the stiff arm of government oppression.
“I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the Aids response,” the secretary-general said in reference to laws that criminalise homosexuality. Because they are criminalised, people assume it acceptable to visit on gays untold forms of violence.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Michael Sidibe, the director of UNAids who said: “As a social movement, the gay community changed Aids from simply another disease to an issue of justice, dignity, security and human rights.”
The gays in Kenya have placed Kenya in an enviable position of a global leader in HIV vaccine research.
It should be noted that compulsory heterosexuality has never converted any one from homosexuality, but in the context of modern diseases, the African community continues to place itself in a curiously unintelligent position.
By affirming what is globally known to be an alternative and legitimate form of sexual expression for a minority within any population to be unAfrican, they are saying that the African falls beyond the ambit of what is human.
Instead of giving tacit approval to violence against gays, churches should be in the forefront preaching reconciliation and love to even those who they regard as “sinners”.
Gay rights activism has reached a point of no return even in Africa, events in Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia and Mtwapa notwithstanding.
It’s unfortunate that the Church stands at the vanguard for this extremely unjust violation of rights of gays, lesbians, transgender and intersex Kenyans.
It has come to light that an American evangelical anti-abortion group is targetting David Kuria and GALCK.
ProjectSee.com, which is based in Kansas City, is raising funds to 'equip our Kenyan Brothers with Cameras, Banners, Fliers, Posters, Bus Fare; the Tools they Need to STOP Exporting Evil'.
An example of a poster distributed in Kenya:
TruthWinsOut.org has written about the efforts of American 'ex-gay' groups in Kenya.