By Gerald Hayo
Today the Anti-LGBTQ Movement in Mombasa is holding a protest against the Supreme Court’s decision reaffirming the LGBTQ community’s right to associate. Populist politicians and religious leaders will use the occasion to foment hate and encourage acts of violence against sexual and gender minorities.
The Kenyan press has been dominated by voices opposing the human rights of LGBTQ people. As a lesbian and Human Rights Defender, I want to give my perspective on what is happening in our country.
I did not choose to be a lesbian. I believe I was born that way. I am not possessed by any demon, I am not mentally ill (apart from depression brought on by homophobia), and I do not intend anyone any harm. I simply want the freedom to live as God made me.
Rather than accept me for who I am. There is no way and no need to ‘correct’ being LGBTQ. Recently my story was made into a documentary film, Now You Are A Woman, which has moved audiences around the world but will not be shown in my native Kenya because my fellow citizens do not want to hear my truth.
The Kenyan Supreme Court’s decision affirms that LGBTQ people have the right to gather, support one another, and be visible. That is why I established Rainbow Women of Kenya (RWOK), a community-based organisation for lesbian, bisexual, intersex, and queer women. For over a decade I have been championing the legal, health, and socio-economic rights of women in Kenya’s coastal region.
However, when the Supreme Court first upheld our human right to associate in March this year, the Anti-LGBTQ Movement in Mombasa spread the message among themselves that I “recruit lesbians” and must be “eliminated”. Fearing for my life, I fled from Mombasa and have been living for the past six months in a safe house. Every day I fear that I will be killed, simply for being me.
I believe there are four things that underpin the rhetoric of hate we hear from groups like the Anti-LGBTQ Movement and those who support them.
Firstly, there is ignorance. Many people simply do not know the realities of what it is like to be LGBTQ. It is not possible to “recruit” people to be LGBTQ. That is simply the way a minority of people are, and we don’t try to coerce anyone. Some people ignorantly claim it is a “lifestyle choice”. To those people, I ask: “When did you decide to be heterosexual? You didn’t? So, it is simply who you are. The same with us.”
The second thing that inspires anti-LGBTQ people is fear. They fear what they do not understand, and instead of trying to learn about difference and diversity, they become angry and violent. Tragically we have seen this happening in Uganda in recent months.
Thirdly, some of those who shout the loudest against LGBTQ rights are probably covering up something in themselves they feel ashamed of. People who have a healthy and mature sense of themselves and their sexual orientation do not care about other people’s sexuality. Sadly, I suspect many of those leading anti-LGBTQ movements are living with internalised homophobia.
Fourthly, those who shout against the basic rights of LGBTQ people are often trying to distract people from their own problems. We see it often with political leaders. Accused of corruption and incompetence, they turn on a marginalised community and pin blame on them to distract people from the real problems in society.
Some campaigners against LGBTQ rights say that it is against their religious principles. I urge that they study their religious texts and traditions deeply, with the insights of modern scholarship. The language of community, hope, and love is central to the values of most religions and this is thoroughly ignored to incite dissent among worshippers. I am proudly lesbian and proudly Christian. Earlier this year Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church should be working to decriminalise homosexuality around the world, and pastors around the world are welcoming LGBTQ people, but when do we hear Kenyan bishops and priests preaching this message of inclusion? The Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) has said they are opposed to LGBTQ rights because “Kenya is a God-led country”. I believe in a God who is compassionate and loving of all, and who does not want his followers imposing their religious beliefs on others.
Many campaigners who oppose LGBTQ rights often label it as a “Western ideology” that Africans should resist. However, it’s crucial to delve deeper into our history to uncover the undeniable evidence. Across our continent, diverse sexual and gender identities were once common and embraced long before European colonizers enforced their Victorian values upon us. The roots of homophobia in Africa trace back to the legacy of imperialism, and this legacy continues to inflict profound damage on our communities and our people. It’s as if we are still enslaved by the trauma left behind by colonialism. The acceptance and celebration of LGBTQ rights in Europe and the Americas should not be viewed as moral decay; instead, our reluctance in Africa to embrace these rights serves as a stark reminder that we remain ensnared in the shadows of our colonial past.
Some campaigners against LGBTQ rights say that it is “destroying the family”. To this I say that family is very important to me, even though they are heterosexual, I am a mother, as well as a daughter. I am a sister, not only to my blood siblings but to all those I love and support. LGBTQ people are not an enemy of the family. We are your children. We are your siblings. We love and raise our own children, and other people’s. We do not try and make children LGBTQ, but we want a society where young people who are LGBTQ are free to live as God has made them.
Today, as the Anti-LGBTQ Movement marches through the streets of my home city spreading ignorance, fear, and hate, I am hiding in fear for my life. I may be a lesbian hiding in Kenya, but today it is Kenya that is living in shame.
- Gerald Hayo, 35 years old, is a founder, member and director of Rainbow Women of Kenya (www.galck.org/rainbow-women/) where her core focus areas are building a robust lesbian, bisexual and queer women’s movement in the Kenyan coast region aimed at promoting sexual and reproductive health rights, legal rights, and reconciling sexual minorities of faith with religion. Her experiences as a lesbian woman in Kenya have been documented in the film Now You Are A Woman. In 2017-18 Hayo was a Protected Fellow at the University of York, UK, as a Human Rights Defender. In 2020 the Rustin Times named her as one of the 10 activists whose work should be followed in the Pride season (http://therustintimes.com/2020/06/10/10-activists-whose-work-you-should-follow-this-pride/).
- Photo courtesy of https://www.metalmagazine.eu/en/post/interview/gerald-hayo-voice-of-hope
- For further information, Gerald can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org