Monday, May 21, 2012

LGBTI SEMINAR HELD FOR NAIROBI CLERGY by Rev. John Makokha as posted in Other Sheep Africka-Kenya, Facebook on May 21

Other Sheep Afrika-Kenya held a one-day seminar for 30 Nairobi clergy drawn from diverse denominational backgrounds. The dialogue and engagement seminar on human sexuality and faith was held on May 5, 2012. The purpose of the seminar was to reduce religious homophobia that has caused a lot of suffering, persecution and stigmatization of the LGBTI persons in our respective communities in Kenya.

At the opening of the dialogue, the pastors had come with the background believe that the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is sinful and an abomination. One participant argued that gays must be healed and transformed because God created man and woman.

Rev. Michael Kimindu. President of Other Sheep Africa guided the participants on the importance
Rev. Kimindu
of proper interpretation of the Scripture within any given context. He said surface value interpretation of scriptures has caused a lot of suffering to minorities throughout history.

Kimindu said that the passage that is most frequently cited in book of Romans, speaks of men
committing indecent acts and inflamed with lust for one another. The correct hermeneutical view of this passage is the idolaters who worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.

The participants were engaged dialogically that the Bible rightfully condemns homosexual rape, sexual promiscuity, sexual slavery, and temple prostitution and the sexual exploitation of young boys that was the prevalent practice in the Greco-Roman culture at the time. There is nowhere in the scripture that condemns gays who faithfully commit themselves to long term loving relationships.

The reality of the clergy is a call to be wounded by the reality of the threat and suffering, and make present the unconditional love of God. “Stop, think and pray before you start fighting, pastors should not be lions but Daniels in the lion’s den”, he advised.

Rev. John Makokha, Chief Executive Officer of Other Sheep Afrika-Kenya said that throughout the
Rev.. Makokha
history of the church, gays have always been perceived as outcasts and sinners. By contrast, the most striking part of Jesus’ ministry was love for outcasts. ‘ Dear brothers and sisters, I think Jesus would rebuke the church today for rejecting and stigmatizing gay persons”, he said.

He said that the world is full of bad news when it comes to the human dignity, rights and spiritual nurturing and mentorship of LGBTI persons due to religious homophobia. This has caused great and unjust injury and suffering to the LGBTI community.
Many men involved in prostitution are almost poor, it may be their poverty, rather than their sexual orientation that puts them at risk of HIV infection.

Research has shown that many adolescent men, who are involved in homosexual prostitution, do not necessarily identify themselves as gay men. It is unfortunate that crimes against gay men and women are felt mostly among the poor. Structural social forces have created extreme suffering and structural violence for the minorities in our communities. Indeed our society enjoys an equality that in fact does not exist.

There is no doubt that the only correct way to love the LGBTI will be to struggle for their liberation. It will be worthy to fight for change. What is at sake for many LGBTI is physical, emotional and spiritual survival.

The clergy were required to preach against sinful practices, but not against people whose practices exhibit love, peace and kindness. There are gay persons who are compassionate, caring and faithful Christians and law -abiding good citizens of our beloved country Kenya.

Wendy Wanja, a lawyer from Law and Social development Trust said that we all have equal human rights irrespective of our sexuality and gender identity. “We are equally entitled to our human rights without any form of discrimination. All means all”, she stressed.

She said that God is not a book, God is not the law and God is justice.

Soraya Wanjiru, a psychologist from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology facilitated on the psychological position of gay persons. She said that various credible researches have shown that being gay is not illness or madness. “Sexual orientation like the color of our skin is innate”, she affirmed.

The participants were given more reference materials on human sexuality and Christianity for further reading and knowledge.

This seminar was made possible with support from Foundation of Open Society Institute.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

KENYA: Religious Violence against Gays will Promote HIV Spread

This Article is by Rev. John Makokha, Kenya
Submitted on March 13, 2012

The situation of people living with HIV and AIDS in Kenya is getting more critical everyday. And our inaction and negative response to this pandemic puts into question the direction of our compass on health and sexuality issues.
What happened recently in Likoni in the coastal town of Mombasa in Kenya in regard to physical violence on the gay persons who were attending the HIV /AIDS workshop is disturbing. Again religious leaders led a mob to stone the gay persons who were attending a seminar on HIV/AIDS organized by the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium.
Homosexual activity was widespread in medieval monasteries; Greek literature describes homosexual relationships between youth and older men. The Roman world also acknowledged homosexual behavior. We have also had homosexuals in the African culture. Throughout history political and religious tolerance and acceptance of homosexual behavior has varied depending on religious dogmas and political persuasions. 
The social sciences indicate that anywhere from two to four percent of the population is predominantly homosexual. This means that we cannot deny the existence of homosexuals in our respective localities. Most clients of MSM are married men with families or homosexuals who have been forced to marry wives due to social and family pressure.

According to sero-prevalence studies among small groups of MSM in Nairobi and Mombasa, done by International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), Kenya has documented up to 40 per cent HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men.  Men who have sex with men in Kenya have been identified as one of the driving forces of HIV infections, therefore the risk of wider spread of HIV beyond the men who have sex with men (MSM) community. We cannot have total war against HIV if we are discriminating a section of the population on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The MSM have been known to suffer from stigma, isolation and discrimination when visiting health providers. Religious leaders and main stream organizations reject and condemn gay persons wholesale that they are sinners and expressly going to hell. MSM people face gigantic oppressions by society, religion, and the law.

Socio-cultural factors, such as perceptions and experiences of stigma and discrimination, homophobia and internalized oppression may also lead to increased risk of HIV infection in MSM. These factors may play a significant role in increasing unprotected anal sex, multiple sexual partners, and inconsistent use of condoms.
In Kenya we have laws that criminalize homosexuality that end up making MSM more vulnerable to HIV infection. The criminal law excludes MSM from sexual health programmes out of fear of being arrested and prosecuted. Some health care providers may worry that they will also be arrested for delivering services to MSM. As a result the MSM prefer to operate underground exposing themselves further to higher risk of HIV infections.

Relentless harassment, ridicule, rejection and violence lead many MSM to actively hide their relationships. This disconnects them from social support and other resources that could improve their general health. People living with HIV and AIDS, health care providers and the community must be part of an informed and empowered community for health care without any discrimination.
Religious organizations in Kenya have been reported to have intolerant attitudes to MSM. Non-conforming sexual orientations are a challenge to the Abrahamic faiths that states that humans are created as man and woman. In most cases these scriptures are interpreted literally.

When gay men succumb to social pressure and enter into heterosexual marriage, they will often maintain sexual relationships with male partners. This can result in unseen sexual networks, multiplying opportunities for HIV transmission and making it difficult to reach sexual partners with health information and interventions.
Hostile conditions can push MSM underground, making them virtually “invisible” in the epidemic and extremely difficult to reach with the HIV information and services they may need.  Healthcare providers may intentionally and unintentionally express disapproval and prejudice, driving MSM a way from health care settings. Homophobia impedes an effective Aids response.

MSM are at higher increased risk of HIV/AIDS infections due to hostile social/cultural and religious environment. Behavior identity often hidden and health services not responded to MSM needs. Gay people have been under-served.
Religious leaders must be trained and sensitized on the need to handle MSM community with dignity they deserve and reduce homophobia. They should be made aware that without addressing MSM as a vulnerable group to HIV/AIDS then there will be no end to this pandemic.

The religious institution should be a peaceable community that mediates justice and grace of God. Everyone should be drawn into the safe and inclusive space that does not discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity. There should be restoration of human rights and establishment of justice that is acceptable to all people.
One of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) calls for halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases like tuberculosis, by 2015. These cannot be achieved without improvements in the access to educational awareness and protection of human rights and dignity for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

It is evident that HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the challenges of human health and prospects of achieving socio-economic and political development. Silence and violence is not an option for religious leaders. Injustice and suffering of the gay community compel religious institutions to advocate for change. They should speak with one voice against unjust violence and attitudes that deprive human beings of any dignity and peace.

We need sustained programs from an informed position by all stakeholders at micro or macro level to fight total war against AIDS in Kenya. We must break the silence about HIV and sexual orientation.HIV and AIDS affect all of God’s children, and thus, all must have a stake and a voice in its eradication.

Indeed, AIDS represents one of the greatest challenges to God’s will for creation, and one of the greatest threats to our common humanity.