AGONISING TABOO

Parents’ dilemma on accepting gay children

They are forced to choose between their religious and cultural beliefs and the child's sexual orientation

In Summary

• Families of persons who have come out have faced rejection and stigmatisation

• The parents are viewed as not having grown their children in line with religious beliefs

Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries
Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries
Image: AGENCIES

As a parent, what would you do when your child opens up and tells you he or she is gay?

Many would reel in shock. Some parents would support them but most parents, especially here in Kenya, would disown them and chase them away.

Nabilha* (not her real name) is one of the parents who had to make a decision on whether to support one of her sons, who opened up to her that he is gay.

 

Like any parent, the mother of six (four sons and two daughters) wished all her children would marry and bear her grandchildren.

But when her son told her he could not marry, the pain was too much for her. She developed high blood pressure.

“Mothers carry the positive and negative burden of their children. So my only thought was how would I even face my extended family or friends or even neighbours?” she said.

But all those fears were nothing compared to how her husband would react once he learnt of the same.

 

As expected, the father reacted negatively to the news and threatened to disown his lastborn.

The 23-year-old boy had the opportunity to redeem himself by getting married to a woman. However, he refused to adhere to his father’s demands and even threatened to leave the family.

But as a mother, she took it upon herself to resolve the standoff between her husband and the son.

 

“I had to talk to my son and convince him to marry a woman just for formalities and keep his gay affairs a secret. The secret is between us,” she said.

Nabilha said her son got married to his childhood friend but divorced a few months later.

Rumours started spreading about what might have caused the divorce. In fear of facing his father, Nabilha’s son ran away from their home.

“I still talk to my son. But his father and siblings do not want anything to do with him. But I do not care about that, as long as he is alive, that is enough for me,” she said.

MOTHER’S DILEMMA

Evans'* mother, Mama Helena, has learned to accept that her son is gay and that she will never change him, but she is yet to embrace him fully.

At first she fasted, prayed, engaged religious leaders and offered masses for her son, but nothing changed.

Evans, who now lives in the Netherlands, was in form three at a high school in the Coast region when he was expelled alongside seven other boys over suspicions of being involved in homosexual activities.

Even though the school was acting on suspicions, deep down his heart, he knew there was some truth in it.

“He was first suspended for two weeks and after we went for the meeting, the school management said they had to expel them so as not to ‘infect’ the other boys,” she said.

This infuriated her. “Being the family’s firstborn, how could he shame the family?” she said.

Mama Helena, who had been taking care of her children by herself ever since her husband died, blamed witchcraft.

Just like any mother, she tried to console herself that her son was straight and therefore searched for another school.

Mama Helena sent Evans to a school in Western region, thinking he needed a change of learning environment as well as being close to her extended family.

Evans joining the school was, however, short-lived when he was again suspended over suspicions of colluding with other students to burn dormitories.

“This time he was in form three. I gave up on him and chased him out of my house,” she said.

After much apologies and promises to change, Mama Helena agreed to take her son back and also sent him to school so he could clear form four.

She took her son to a day school so she could closely monitor him and his behaviours.

“For the remaining two years of school, Evans remained calm but very secretive and I thought he had abandoned his bad ways, only to discover later that he used to conceal his behaviours,” she said.

Mama Helena was forced to chase Evans away from her home after he finished his secondary education.

Evans, however, came back when he wanted to seek a passport and as a mother, she gave him her ID and his father’s death certificate.

Next time she came to see her son was on social media after one of his siblings spotted him.

She said even though she had chased him out of their home, her efforts to know the welfare of her son were futile as no one knew where he was living, only to discover he had moved abroad.

Mama Helena said her daughter was browsing on Facebook when he saw someone like her brother.

She later discovered her son got himself a white boyfriend and he moved abroad.

Even though she misses her son, Mama Helena is still in dilemma on whether to talk to him or not.

“Evans has tried to reach out, but I am not sure if I’m ready to open my arms and welcome him back. He shamed me before everyone,” she said.

Despite all this, Mama Helena accepts support coming from her prodigal son.

She said he just bought her land and further built her a house, which she is still pondering on whether to move in or not.

'LIKE SODOM AND GOMORRAH' 

Homosexuality being illegal in Kenya, many parents whose sons and daughters have come out have been forced to live a secret life in fear of being stigmatised by the community.

In 2019, the High Court declined to decriminalise section 162 and 165, which criminalise same-sex relationships.

This worsen the already bad situation of the gays in terms of their safety in the community, which is yet to embrace their sexual decisions.

A huge percentage of Kenyans are yet to accept this population group, despite them being our brothers and sisters or sons and daughters.

Religious beliefs have further deepened their troubles as families, especially parents, have been forced to choose whether to hold on to their religious beliefs or support their children.

Sheikh Juma Ngao of Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council (Kemnac) said even though gays are human, the holy books are very clear on their acts.

He said the scripture compares homosexuality to actions that led to the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, so no parent who believes in religion should embrace such actions.

“If my son or daughter tells me they are gay, I will chase them out of the house. My house does not have room for sinners, such as gays and lesbians,” Ngao said.

He said if the child was still under 18, then he or she should be taken for guidance and counselling.

Ngao said any parent who accepts a gay or lesbian is destroying the future of the community since it is highly possible the child would recruit others to their circle.

“Also, when a wife or husband discovers their partner is gay or lesbian, they should divorce them,” he said.

'FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS'

Kennedy Mwendwa, programme manager at civil society group Hapa Kenya, dismissed people who use religion or culture to discriminate against the LGBT community.

He said such thoughts are just excuses for not respecting everyone’s fundamental rights.

“Kenya is not a religious country, so using religion or African culture is wrong. These excuses have been used to deny our community even essential services, such as health service,” he said.

Mwendwa, who was also banished from home by his mother after he came out, said the discrimination causes more damage to the LGBT community, such as psychosocial problems.

He said most gays and lesbians who were banished by their families turn to drug use and prostitution.

The programme manager said society needs to change its attitude towards the key population.

“We are not asking that they accept us, but they should respect our sexual orientation decisions and stop the stigma,” he said.

Mwendwa, who now champions for fair treatment of the LGBTQI community, was chased away by his late mother when he opened up about his orientation.

But years later before her demise, Mwendwa said he reconciled with his mother, who accepted his decision.

Edited by T Jalio