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Kenyan LGBT rights activist visits D.C.

Anti-LGBT violence remains pervasive in African nation

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Eric Gitari, National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, Global Rights, gay news, Washington Blade
Eric Gitari, National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, Office of Global Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Eric Gitari of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, center, speaks at Global Rights in D.C. on Oct. 11, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A leading Kenyan LGBT rights activist told the Washington Blade during a recent interview he feels his fellow advocates can learn a lot from their U.S. counterparts.

“They own their agenda and they drive it,” said Eric Gitari, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya. “I want to draw lessons on how we can get more people to own this equality agenda.”

Gitari spoke with the Blade after he appeared on a panel with Pastor Joseph Tolton of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries at Global Rights in Northwest D.C. on Oct. 11. The activist also visited the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Watch and spoke at the Howard University School of Law and Columbia University in New York before he left the U.S.

Kenya’s colonial government in 1897 adopted India’s penal code that included the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations.

Those convicted under the law could face up to 14 years in prison, but Gitari noted there has never been what he described as “a successful prosecution” under it. He said during the panel that a coalition of groups that hope to repeal the pre-independence statute hope to implement a strategy similar to that used by those who challenged India’s sodomy law – judges on the Delhi High Court in 2009 found the country’s colonial-era statute unconstitutional.

“They are using parallels from the New Delhi case in India to engage their strategies,” Gitari said.

Gitari also noted homophobia, transphobia and anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain pervasive in Kenya in spite of a new constitution the country adopted in 2010 that acknowledges human rights, equality and other universal values.

He said “ex-gay” programs remain common in Kenyan schools, and students as early as fifth grade are taught homosexuality is a “social deviance” that is comparable to drug activity and criminality. Gitari further noted a 2012 secondary education certification exam asked high school students to give 10 reasons why Kenyan Christians are “united against homosexuals.”

“This law is informing a lot of public policy positions and attitudes,” he said.

A mob in Mtwapa near the coastal city of Mombasa in 2010 doused four gay men whom they thought were about to attend a same-sex wedding with kerosene.

“This was instigated by religious leaders; religious leaders to the present walk scot free,” Gitari said. “[They] have never, ever been investigated in spite of efforts to push for such an investigation for such hate crimes.”

Kenya is among the 76 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain illegal. Sudan, Mauritania and a handful of other nations continue to impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of homosexuality.

Lawmakers in Uganda, which borders Kenya, have faced widespread criticism over a bill Parliamentarian David Bahati introduced in 2009 that sought to execute those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

President Obama in June spoke out against the criminalization of homosexuality during a press conference in Senegal, which is among the 38 African countries in which consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal.

Gitari noted the majority of Kenyans respect Obama because the president’s father was born in the country, but they criticized him over the comments he made while in Senegal.

“There were attempts by people, by propaganda machines within the conservatives to rob him of his African identity,” Gitari said. “They see Obama as a player in the spreading of that Western agenda of homosexuality.”

Advocates look to courts to expand LGBT rights

Gitari and his group hope to use the courts to gain legal protections for LGBT Kenyans that include the eventual repeal of the country’s sodomy law.

A three-judge panel on the High Court of Kenya in 2010 refused to legally recognize Richard Muasya, an intersex person who suffered abuse inside a maximum security prison. Muasya received 500,000 Kenyan shillings (or nearly $5,900) for the mistreatment inside the facility, but the judges said they found no evidence of anti-LGBT discrimination and human rights violations in the country.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission in 2011 published a report that documented anti-LGBT discrimination. The Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights the following year released a second report that found widespread anti-LGBT discrimination in the country’s health care system.

The High Court of Kenya in June ruled in favor of a transgender woman who claimed police officers in a town outside of Nairobi, the country’s capital, stripped her naked in front of local reporters to determine her gender after they arrested her for assault in 2011. She also accused the officers of groping her breasts during the incident.

Gitari’s group also continues to seek formal recognition in the country.

“Our roadmap is informed by incremental litigation,” Gitari said.

Gitari traveled to D.C. less than a month after members of the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabab killed more than 60 people at a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

The East Africa Center for Law and Justice, which the American Center for Law and Justice that anti-gay televangelist Pat Robertson founded in 1990, is among the groups that continue to pose significant barriers to LGBT-specific advances in Kenya. In spite of this resistance, Gitari told the Blade he has not seen any homophobic rhetoric as a result of last month’s attack.

“The good thing that has emerged from it is that Kenyans are beginning to see that teaching extremism and using religion to justify hatred is no longer the way,” Gitari said. “It’s costing innocent lives and it’s not rational in a civilized world anymore.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Audrey Mbugua

    December 2, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Eric Gitari does not represent transgender people. This article is poorly done and does not give a clear picture about transgender issues. It is done through a gay lens and it is totally unacceptable. Let Eric talk about his issues as a gay man; but it is wrong to assume he knows anything about us transgender people.

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World

Jamaica man attacked after using gay dating app

Victim’s penis partially severed before he was set on fire

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A Jamaican and Pride flag fly on the beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Oct. 15, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson's Facebook page)

An 18-year-old man in Jamaica remains hospitalized in critical condition after he was targeted on a gay dating app.

The Jamaica Gleaner reports the victim on Oct. 11 went to a neighborhood in Montego Bay, a resort city that is the capital of Jamaica’s St. James Parish, to meet the man with whom he was speaking.

The newspaper reports the man and two other men abducted the victim, robbed him and partially severed his penis before they set him on fire. Officials said the three men took his cell phone and used his bank card to withdraw money from his account.

“He is a very lucky young man because although they left him in a critical condition, he managed to make his way to a security checkpoint in the community where they assisted him to the hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition,” a local police officer told the Jamaica Gleaner.

The Jamaica Gleaner reported a 43-year-old man in St. James Parish disappeared in January 2020 after he went to meet someone with whom he had spoken on a gay dating website. Authorities later found the man’s body, and two men have been charged with his murder.

Violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans remains commonplace. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in the country.

J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ rights group, has condemned the latest attack.

“Like all well-thinking Jamaicans at this time, JFLAG is outraged at the recent attack on an 18-year-old man in St. James,” tweeted J-FLAG on Sunday. “His attackers must be brought to justice.”

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National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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World

Botswana attorney general seeks to recriminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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