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December 14, 2018

Gay rights matter, we’re all equal

Executive director Gay and Lesbian Collision of Kenya, Lonah Dias and Gay Kenya Trust executive director, Anthony Oluoch during a press conference in Nairobi, July 8./BRIAN SIMIYU
Executive director Gay and Lesbian Collision of Kenya, Lonah Dias and Gay Kenya Trust executive director, Anthony Oluoch during a press conference in Nairobi, July 8./BRIAN SIMIYU

I was forever blessed when my eldest daughter came into my life 27 years ago. Like many women, I have raised my three children alone, which has not always been easy. As a mother, watching your children find their feet in the world can be both rewarding and difficult. As much as we try to teach them, they must discover their own ways to overcome the challenges that face so many Kenyans today.

Thankfully my daughter has grown to be a funny and hardworking person. She cares deeply for her family, but also for others around her. Growing up, our family’s hardships gave her first-hand experience of the disparities that many poor people still face. This had such a lasting effect on her that she now dedicates herself to giving a voice to the voiceless, including those affected by HIV-Aids and drug addiction.

Yet despite being such a generous, articulate and determined young woman, who spends so much time helping others, Kenyan law dictates that my daughter is a second-class citizen. That is because she happens to love women and not men.

When my daughter first told me that she is gay, my initial reaction was fear and panic. Like many parents I asked myself: Was this a reaction to something I did wrong? Could I have prevented this? Although I had never been opposed to gay people, I knew of the discrimination and violence they face. Suddenly, these stigmas were going to impact my family directly. I was worried.

Thankfully I soon realised that nothing had changed and my daughter was still the same person as she was before. But as a mother, my worries for her safety and security continue to this day. Currently our country’s Penal Code is used to allow for and enable discrimination and violence towards people like my daughter.

Kenyans who are thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender experience prejudice in all areas of life, such as health, employment and housing. They are also frequently blackmailed, beaten, raped and, in the worst cases, murdered. Because the law is used against them, LGBT people have no access to protection from this abuse. As a parent, I lie awake at night worrying that tomorrow’s victim will be my daughter.

The Constitutional Court last week heard a joint case asking it to repeal sections of the Penal Code used to discriminate against people like my daughter. The case reminds the court that these laws, Sections 162 and 165, are incompatible with our Constitution’s commitment to freedom, privacy and dignity for all Kenyans.

Our country’s values call upon us all to be law abiding, respectful, hardworking and responsible. Yet as a result of these laws, the majority of gay people have trouble accessing education, shelter and security. Instead of continuing with this state-sanctioned discrimination, we must take this opportunity to prove once and for all that all Kenyans deserve equal rights and freedoms.

I understand that religious people may be unsure of whether supporting equal rights for LGBT people can coincide with their faith. But as a churchgoer who has always believed in and relied on God, I know that the true calling of Christianity is to love one another and leave judgement to Him. I am not alone in this belief. The Vatican has stated that it opposes violations of human rights against homosexuals, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that he would not worship a God who is homophobic.

Since learning that my daughter is a lesbian, I have discovered that the vast majority of gay people are nothing like the stereotypes. I would encourage anyone who feels comfortable to learn more about LGBT people and see for themselves that, far from being troubled sinners, they are just like us.

The case is bigger than any one person or even one group. It invites another opportunity to contemplate the kind of country that we want Kenya to be. Do we continue to fuel prejudice and use the law to target a group of people we do not agree with? Or do we begin to treat everyone, even people who seem different from us or with whom we disagree, with the same level of dignity and respect?

Our Constitution promotes diversity, inclusion and tolerance on paper. Now more than ever is the time to put these words into action. As a mother who loves her child more than anything in the world, I ask the judges presiding over this case to uphold the Constitution and bring us one step closer to a Kenya that keeps my daughter and people like her safe and free from discrimination.

National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Parent of the Year

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