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Monday, 15 August 2011

In Kenya, a grassroots religious movement against homophobia and ignorance

The Revd Michael Kimindu
By Paul Canning

Stories about religion and homosexuality from Africa are practically always negative. Apart from the example of Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, the efforts of religious people to counter homophobia are rarely reported.

One exception whose profile is rising is Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, formerly an Anglican Bishop until he was thrown out for his support for LGBT human rights. Over the past years he has toured the world to speak against the rising tide of violent anti-gay reaction in Uganda - last weekend he spoke at several events in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Senyonjo's approach changed after he became involved with counseling gay people. He told Jim Burroway:
"They were being told that God doesn’t even love you because of what you are. God doesn’t love homosexuals. And there are a number of people who have hated God because of this. But with my counseling, many of them realize that God loves them as they are."

"This is hard for some people, that God can love you as you are. As he loves somebody who may be heterosexual, he also loves LGBT people in the same way. For many people it is not easy who think they are religious. But I’ve been convinced that this is true. One doesn’t need to be converted first to another sexuality to be loved by God."
In Kenya, LGBT Asylum News has reported on how religious leaders have been consistently and strategically engaged with by other religious people (as well as civil society and organised LGBT). The Revd Michael Kimindu, a former Kenyan armed forces Major, is another Anglican who has been rejected by his church for his support for LGBT human rights. Because of this support, he, like Senyonjo who was included in the 'outing' campaign in Ugandan tabloid newspaper Rolling Stone, has also been labeled a 'gay priest'.
“Religious teachings are against homosexuality, and for us allies we are looked at as people promoting a gay movement in Africa,” says Kimindu.
“The truth of the matter is homosexuality is part of human history and since civilization started in Africa, therefore homosexuality started from Africa. We should not blame the West for introducing homosexuality.”
Recently Kimundi met with the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council.

After listening to the Council members talk about their knowledge of homosexuality and their ignorance, Michael says it is evident that one of the things they urgently need is correct information. They are not intent on killing homosexuals as some extreme reports have suggested but are willing to learn counselling skills in order to live in peace with homosexuals.

From the two meetings, the Committee wanted to know how they could develop a sensitivity to those who are homosexual without violating the teaching of the Quran and the Prophet.

Michael and KEMNAC [Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council] have agreed to organize a seminar for 40 Muslim Religious leaders to be co-sponsored by GALCK [Gay And Lesbian Coalition of Kenya] and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Michael says that Changing Attitude [Anglican LGBT human rights group] is taking an important initiative in helping Muslims in Kenya to learn about homosexuality as a first step in overcoming their prejudice and homophobia. He comments ruefully that this means Muslims will be ahead of the Christians in Kenya in changing their attitudes towards LGBT people.
Grassroots anti-homophobia work in Kenya
This is not a first and those doing this work report simple ignorance as the biggest problem.

Following mob attacks on gays in a town on Kenya's coast last year, 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.

The local Muslim leaders said they: 
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.
Rev Makokha at MCCNY
Last year we reported a seminar on LGBTI issues, human rights, HIV/AIDS and religion in Kisumu in western Kenya, attended by 45 participants drawn from diverse religious faith such as Christian, Muslim and African traditional religion and civil society. The purpose of the seminar was to address homophobia, reduce stigma, discrimination, and enhance tolerance towards the LGBTI community in Kenya. It was led by another prominent pro-gay Christian Kenyan leader, Rev. John Baraza Makokha.

Says Makokha:
“Homosexuality is not a sin but heterosexism is a serious sin since it violates justice, truth and love. Discrimination breaks the heart of God.”
Unfortunately there are religious leaders in Kenya who have incited violence, such as this Catholic priest and these Muslim clerics. But there are other areas in which religious leaders are being positively engaged with. Writes Peter Anaminyi:
The Kenya government is .. pursuing an evidence based policy in addressing the issue of HIV and sexual minorities through it’s National Aids Strategic Plan. This plan is a product of the Kenya National Aids Council whose corporate members include all the main Christian religious denominations in Kenya who are represented on its board by the National Council of Churches in Kenya, as well as the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, and the national associations representing all employers, NGO’s and women organisations. It is not possible to constitute a membership that is wider, stronger or more reflective of the state, civil society and religious interests.
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