We Must Target the Origins of Homophobic Violence: Religion and Culture
By Michael Okunson
KENYA –In as much as we want individuals who commit anti-LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] crimes to be prosecuted, we must also address societal and contexts that create and fuel homophobia in the Kenya.
Research has shown that, acts of abuse and violence against LGBT people are a clear symptom of a broader societal problem that must be treated structurally if we are to ever succeed in reducing and eradicating violence against LGBT people in the country.
Homophobic beliefs drive homophobic conduct that occurs in all domains of societal life: at home, at school, in politics, on television, on the Internet, in churches, in organisations, at work and on the streets.
In Kenya, about 96 % people believe that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept. Traditional, religious and cultural values play a substantial role in this figure. Leaders of the three dominant religious doctrines in Kenya –Catholic, Anglican and Islam, condemn homosexuality and transgenderism. They see it as signs of decadence, disease, and immorality.
Any discussion about homophobia in Kenya must absolutely reference religion and culture. In general, religion and culture have played a key role in the fuelling of homophobia in different societies. Religious leaders and traditional leaders in Kenya continue to teach extremely negative views about homosexuality and gay people and have taken on an almost national leadership role in the demonisation of gay people under the veil of religion.
People who are born into certain religious and cultural environments grow up hearing toxic anti-gay messages and consequently, develop negative views about the LGBT. Young and impressionable minds for instance, may internalise the notion that gay people are inferior and that homosexuality is an “abomination,” something unnatural and deviant. This ‘infection of the mind’ with distorted and false information is an extremely powerful process and in many cases lays the foundation for future anti-LGBT abuse and violence.
Article 32 of the Kenyan constitution provides the “right and freedom of religion”. Well, that should also include freedom from religion. I believe that the religious and cultural views of the “majority” should not be used to oppress the minority.
While those who practice particular religions are free to believe whatever they wish to believe and express their views, freedom of expression as stated in article 33 of the Kenyan constitution does not extend to incitement to violence, hate speech or advocacy of hatred that— (i) constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or (ii) is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27 (4) of the Kenyan Constitution. Furthermore article 33 states that, in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, every person shall respect the rights and reputation of others.
Any effort to seriously reduce or eradicate homophobic abuse and violence in society must address the roles that religion and culture play in the development and fuelling of homophobic messages about LGBT people. Together we can defeat the forces of hate and in the process create a better society and world for everyone.