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Kenya cracks down on teenage books with gay-specific themes

Nairobi bookstore ordered to stop selling ‘What’s happening to me?’ from UK

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Kenya flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

The Kenyan government is cracking down on foreign books with gay content that it feels targets teenagers.

This crackdown follows a public outcry from parents with school-age children and religious officials who are demanding the government to do a thorough audit of books in the market and ban the ones with gay content.

Text Book Centre, one of Kenya’s leading bookstores in Nairobi, was ordered to stop selling a controversial teen book from a renowned British publisher that specializes in children’s books.

“What’s happening to me?” by Usborne publishers sparked outrage among those who feel it lures male teens into LGBTQ practices that are illegal.

“It is about a month since we removed the book from our shelves and returned it to the warehouse after the retail manager received an order from the U.K. manager,” a manager at Text Book Centre confirmed to the Washington Blade. 

Part of the book states “it isn’t unusual to fancy someone the same sex as you when you’re growing up.” It adds, “Usually people go on to have stronger feelings for the opposite sex, but this doesn’t always happen.”

The book further states that “it’s possible to fancy both boys and girls” and then it defines lesbian and gay dating.

A group of Christian, Muslim and Hindu clerics earlier this month issued a joint statement that asked President William Ruto and his government to protect teens from so-called same-sex doctrine through books from Western countries. 

“We will defend the defensible moral rectitude acceptable by the majority, and frown upon any socialization that raises a mortal threat,” reads part of the statement issued on Feb. 2. 

“We cannot close our eyes to the incontrovertible fact that this slice of Western liberalism is a Trojan horse which will lead to the destruction of the family unit,” it adds. “We cannot christen evil as LGBTQ rights so that it can be embraced.” 

The country’s penal code outlaws same-sex relations with a jail term of 14 years for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” under Section 162. Section 165 proscribes a five-year prison term for “indecent practices between males.” 

The clerics asked the police to install reporting desks in stations that would allow the public to report what they describe as suspected cases of minors “being recruited” to become LGBTQ and to have those responsible punished.

“If we freely and openly embrace LGBTQ as the diversity of sexuality and identity, we will soon find ourselves accepting bestiality on the same grounds,” reads the statement.

The clerics stated at the time the teachers’ employer fired six elementary school teachers who were captured on camera forcing male students to “engage in indecent/inappropriate acts depicting homosexuality within the school compound” as punishment. The teachers were subsequently charged with breaching the school’s code of conduct and ethics guidelines. 

A senior official from Kenya’s Education Ministry who was not authorized to speak to the press questioned how the children’s books with LGBTQ content were stocked in bookshops against the country’s norms and laws.  

“The person who ordered the books should have been arrested. Bookshops should strictly stick to the existing rules of operation,” the official said. 

He stated that Ruto’s government has already affirmed the position of his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, to not bow to pressure from Western countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Ruto during an interview with CNN last September as president-elect maintained that focusing on LGBTQ issues was like creating a “mountain out of a molehill” since it was not a big issue for Kenyans. 

KICD, Kenya’s agency that is responsible for approving curriculum books, noted the proliferation of foreign materials including children’s books into the country’s open market with poor control regulations putting buyers at risk of consuming restricted information. 

“We are not law enforcers instead it is only the police who can apprehend the culprits behind the LGBTQ materials to children after being reported by parents. Regulation of such foreign content is the weakness we are grappling with,” KICD Communications Manager Erick Omulo said.

Omulo noted there should be enough tough regulations to limit the flooding of book content that violates Kenyan laws into the market.      

Apart from Kenya cracking down on teen books with same-sex content, the government last September revealed it was in talks with Netflix to ban the streaming of LGBTQ movies. 

“Usborne is one of the world’s leading independent children’s book publishers,” Usborne Head of Publicity Fritha Lindqvist told the Blade in an emailed statement. “We have over 3,000 books available in the English language, aiming to cover all subjects for all ages, from which customers around the world select the titles that work best for their market. All Usborne books are written in an age-appropriate way by experts in writing for children.”

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Africa

Kenyan MPs approve resolution to ban public discussions of LGBTQ issues

Some lawmakers argue motion threatens freedom of expression

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Kenyan flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Kenya’s parliament has overwhelmingly passed a motion for the government to enforce an immediate ban on “public discussion, reporting and distribution” of LGBTQ content in the country. 

It passed on Wednesday, despite some legislators raising concerns that it is a threat to the freedom of expression, information and the media protected under the Kenyan Constitution. 

Owen Baya, an MP from the ruling United Democratic Alliance party who also serves as National Assembly’s deputy majority leader, termed the motion “controversial” and questioned why it was allowed for debate in the House, even though it violates the law.  

“The republic of Kenya is governed by the Constitution. How can we prohibit freedom of speech? Freedom of speech, reporting and distribution of information are constitutional rights even if same-sex relations are illegal in Kenya,” Baya said. 

The Article 33 of the Constitution under the freedom of expression requires every person to respect the rights and reputation of others. 

Section 2 of the same Article 33, however, curtails freedom of speech when it amounts to war propaganda, incitement to violence, hate speech and advocacy to hatred such as ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm.  

Article 32, which Baya also cited, provides the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion in addition to Article 34 which guarantees the freedom and independence of electronic, print, and all other types of media. 

The sponsor of the anti-gay motion, Mohamed Ali, an MP from the ruling party and a celebrated investigative journalist, in response argued that publicizing homosexuality, which is outlawed in the country, violates the constitution that only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. 

“The constitution gives us the freedom of expression, but not about gay and lesbianism which are unlawful practices in Kenya,” Ali said. 

The legislator stated that his motion banning LGBTQ publicity is motivated by an increase in homosexuality in the country because of LGBTQ-specific content in books and in print and broadcast media.

The government is already cracking down on foreign teenage books with LGBTQ content. 

The Education Ministry and the church have also formed a Chaplains Committee chaired by Kenya’s Anglican Bishop Jackson Ole Sapit to counter what he describes as the infiltration of homosexuality in schools. The committee’s mandate include counseling students who identify as LGBTQ. 

“We recognize that publishing and distributing homosexual content through the press has serious consequences to the family values and opposite-sex relations that should be protected since the increase in same-sex relations threatens the extinction of human beings in the country,” the motion reads.  

The move to curtail homosexuality is also in response to last month’s Supreme Court ruling that granted the LGBTQ community the right to register as non-governmental organization. 

The judges’ decision sparked anger and criticism from religious leaders and politicians, including President William Ruto, who has instructed the attorney general to have it overturned through an appeal.  

The motion that lawmakers approved on Wednesday calls for the police and judiciary to enforce it through the Section 162 of the Penal Code that criminalizes consensual same-sex relations with a 14-year jail term and sets the pace for the introduction of an anticipated anti-homosexuality bill that is being drafted.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma, who sponsored the bill that seeks to further criminalize and punish homosexuality and the promotion of LGBTQ activities in Kenya, last month notified the National Assembly Speaker about its introduction in the House.    

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman came under fire during the debate on the motion because of her recent remarks in defense of the LGBTQ and intersex community that she made after she met with a group of activists.

“She should respect our religious beliefs, African and Kenyan culture, and our constitution the way we respect the U.S. Constitution. We won’t allow the American culture of gay and lesbianism to rule in Kenya and I ask Whitman to practice the American in the U.S. and the Kenyan culture be left to Kenyans,” Ali said. 

The lawmakers also criticized the West, particularly the U.S., for championing LGBTQ and intersex rights in what they termed as engaging in serious reengineering of the world order to destroy other people’s cultures and humanity. 

The parliament’s move to curtail consensual same-sex rights in Kenya comes at a time when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is being pressured by the U.N., the U.S. and other Western nations not to sign into law a bill that bans people from identifying as LGBTQ or intersex. Kenyan lawmakers have applauded their Ugandan counterparts for passing the measure, while urging Museveni to assent to it without bowing to any pressure from the Western nations since his firm opposition to homosexuality has made him East Africa’s role model.

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Ugandan lawmakers approve new anti-homosexuality bill

Measure would ‘criminalize’ LGBTQ, intersex people

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Ugandan flag (Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Ugandan lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill that would further criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations and LGBTQ and intersex people in the country.

The Associated Press reported nearly all Ugandan MPs voted for the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” of LGBTQ-specific activities in the country with up to 10 years in prison. 

Human Rights Watch notes “any person who ‘holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer, or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female'” would face up to 10 years in prison.

President Yoweri Museveni has said he supports the bill.

“We shall continue to fight this injustice,” tweeted Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara, a Ugandan LGBTQ and intersex activist, after the bill’s passage. “This lesbian woman is Ugandan, even (though) this piece of paper will stop me from enjoying my country. (The) struggle (has) just begun.”

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Museveni in 2014 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.

The U.S. subsequently cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.

“One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda,” said Oryem Nyeko of Human Rights Watch in a press release that condemned the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act. “Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel on Wednesday both criticized the bill.

“The Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by the Ugandan Parliament yesterday would undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” tweeted Blinken. “We urge the Ugandan government to strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation.”

“We note with deep concern the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by the Ugandan Parliament,” echoed Patel. “This bill could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS, discourage foreign investment, threaten tourism, and decrease visits of technical experts helping to advance Ugandan prosperity.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk in a statement described the bill’s passage as “devastating and deeply disturbing.”

“The passing of this discriminatory bill — probably among the worst of its kind in the world — is a deeply troubling development,” said Türk. “If signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other.”

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LGBTQ, intersex Ghanaians in limbo as lawmakers consider harsh ‘family values’ bill

Soldiers earlier this month raided gay party in Accra

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Ghanaian flag (Public domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

Ghana’s LGBTQ and intersex community is currently in limbo over whether the government will impose more harsh penalties upon those who identify as LGBTQ or intersex.

Parliamentarians in 2021 introduced the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that would fully criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people, along with advocacy groups and anyone who comes out in support of them.

The measure would criminalize cross-dressing, public affection between two people of the same sex, marriage among same-sex couples or the intent to marry someone who is the same sex. The bill would also prohibit corrective therapy or surgery for intersex people.

Any person or group seen as promoting identities or prohibited acts in the bill or campaigning in support of LGBTQ and intersex people would face up to 10 years in prison. Any person who does not report consensual same-sex sexual acts could also face charges.

A parliamentary committee is currently reviewing the measure, but LGBTQ and intersex Ghanaians continue to be victimized and assaulted under existing law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Ghanaian soldiers earlier this month stormed a gay party in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, and assaulted two people who were attending it.

“Military men stormed and disrupted a birthday party of alleged gay men in James Town, Accra. According to reports, some of the partygoers were injured and bled, following the military attack on the alleged LGBTQ+ persons at the party,” said Rightify Ghana, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, in a statement. “We urge the authorities to investigate these incidents and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. The use of excessive force against civilians is never justifiable and only serves to create further division and mistrust.

“We stand in solidarity with the victims of these attacks and call on all Ghanaians to come together in support of peace and tolerance,” added Rightify Ghana. “Discrimination and violence have no place in our society, and we must all work together to create a safe and inclusive environment for all.” 

Kwame Afrifa, CEO of Reflex Ghana, another LGBTQ and intersex rights group, said the Accra raid was not the first time such an event has happened. Afrifa said making the country’s armed forces more sensitive to LGBTQ and intersex rights would help curtal such incidents. 

“There have been a few cases I have heard of this year and in previous years such as the closing of the LGBT+ Rights Ghana safe space, the destroying of billboards belonging to LGBT+ Rights Ghana, the arrest of human rights activists which also happened somewhere last year amongst others I haven’t come across,” said Afrifa. “Nevertheless, sensitizing LGBT+ issues would help in abating the victimization as most people are ignorant of the laws of the land and try to abuse the rights of queer persons.”

Rightify Ghana said categorizing the existence of LGBTQ and intersex people and labeling consensual intimacy between people of the same sex as deviant is a legacy of colonialism.

“The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021 will continue to be a pattern of dehumanizing and silencing LGBTQ+ people, isolating them from support networks. It will also minimize, and even cover up, human rights violations,” said Rightify Ghana. “We therefore, recommend that the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs recommend that the Parliament of Ghana reject the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill in its entirety.”  

Ghana is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The country is one of the 10 non-permanent U.N. Security Council members. A representative from Ghana on Monday during a meeting that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted said the Security Council is not an appropriate venue to discuss LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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