How an LGBTQ court ruling sent Kenya into a moral panic | Opinions

How an LGBTQ court ruling sent Kenya into a moral panic | Opinions

Kenya is in the throes of a full-blown moral panic. If politicians, clergy, self-anointed defenders of “traditional culture” and the nation’s media are to be believed, the long-feared “gay zombie apocalypse” is upon us, bringing with it hordes of “disaffected homosexuals ” that starves the brains of our children.

A Supreme Court ruling in February that constitutionally outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation sparked weeks of hysterical breast bleeding across the country, with many fearing it would open Pandora’s box and usher in the end. of civilization as we know it.

Driven by news anchors and editors who want to deliver drama and gore in an effort to retain viewers, everyone from President William Ruto to politicians are lining up to condemn the court for upholding the judgments of lower courts which the government cannot legally deny. to register an organization calling itself the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC).

The jeremiads dominating the airwaves and social media herald this as the beginning of the end.

In an interview with one of the most watched local TV stations, Citizen TV, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit of the Anglican Church of Kenya opined – to approving noises from the anchors – that this is a evil plot by environmentalists to depopulate the world in an effort to address climate change. The Ministry of Education also announced it was deploying chaplains to schools to prevent the “infiltration” of the odious Western-backed LGBTQ brigade.

Meanwhile, in a parliamentary session, MP Joshua Kimilu condemned the court’s decision as a violation of Kenyan law and warned that Kenyan culture could be “corrupted by the West”.

At the center of the national hatefest is the increased visibility and advocacy of sexual minorities in the country. Colonial-era edicts that criminalized sex “against the order of nature” and Western ideas about “African culture” have long suppressed bore fruit vicious homophobia, in recent decades, queer Kenyans have been pushing back, refusing to be forced back into the national closet.

This included a push to abolish British-imposed local versions of the Indian Penal Code in the 19th century that outlawed sexual acts “against the order of nature” – the colonial code for homosexuality – that ran counter to constitution of Kenya in 2010, the country’s first supreme. law to be fully drafted, discussed and ratified by Kenyans.

The NGLHRC registration is one of two LGBTQ rights cases that have gone through the courts. The reaction to the February decision may be an effort to influence the second case, which more directly challenges the constitutionality of sections of the penal code that prohibit sex “against the order of nature”.

It is important to note, as the High Court and the Supreme Court uphold, and contrary to the claims of some, that the arcane text of these laws does not actually criminalize homosexuality or homosexual relations or even homosexual orientation.

Instead, it permits certain undisclosed sexual acts deemed “against the order of nature” regardless of the sexual orientation of the person who commits them. Under both laws, for example, heterosexual couples can be prosecuted for practicing oral or anal sex. However, the laws are almost exclusively used to target gays.

In May 2019, a high court upholding the laws in a messy ruling in which the judges equated gender with marriage. They assert that the constitution’s definition of marriage as a union between persons of the opposite sex necessitates the criminalization of same-sex relationships while arguing that the laws do not specifically target LGBTQ people but people generally and therefore non-discriminatory.

The case is in the Court of Appeal, and all indications are that it will end up in the Supreme Court. Thus, the reaction to the NGLHRC verdict can be seen as an attempt to intimidate the judges, to force them to maintain the status quo.

Notably, the Supreme Court’s ruling in February reflected only what the country’s attorney had expressly instructed the court in 2017. While defending the constitutionality of colonial sex laws, he nevertheless acknowledged that the “Constitution protects individual against all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation”.

The strong demands for overturning the Supreme Court’s judgment also ignore its role as the ultimate arbiter of what the constitution says. Indeed, many of these same voices are calling on the opposition to accept another Supreme Court declaration: that the president was validly elected in 2022.

In that case, they are happy to insist that the court’s decision, and its interpretation of what the constitution requires, is final. However, when it comes to addressing the threat of “gayism” to the “African values” taught to us by the Victorian colonialists, both sides of the political divide are united in rejecting the prerogatives of the Supreme Court.

So what’s next? Even before the decision, MP Peter Kaluma announced his intention to introduce a law that would outright criminalize homosexuality with penalties, including life imprisonment. He remains unmoved by the court’s stance on the constitutional ban on discrimination.

Like the young Roper in Robert Bolt’s two-act play, A Man For All Seasons, it seems that the Kenyan elite is happy to “cut a great road through the law to end the [gay] Devil”. The churches are already suggesting that Parliament enact laws that further limit Kenyans’ freedom of association, singling out groups that promote illegal activities.

Clearly, churchmen are happy to drag the country back to the days when the Kenyan government could criminalize things like dissent and then jail people who dared to come together to challenge this. They would do well to consider Thomas More’s question to Roper: “This country is full of laws from coast to coast – laws of men, not of God! And if you cut them down – and you’re the only person to do it – do you think you’ll be able to stand up straight in the winds that blow then?”

The irony of using colonial laws to defend “African culture” against the specter of white corruption is apparently lost on the anti-gay brigade, who mistakenly insist that LGBTQ rights are a uniquely Western invention. But manufactured panics about European threats to African sexuality are not new – they were invented by whites themselves.

In her PhD thesis, gender studies scholar Elizabeth Williams argues that “to maintain their political dominance in the colony, Kenyan settlers had to find a way to present white supremacy as a welfare boon The solution to this problem lies in creating a vision of African sexuality that needs to be protected from contamination by the more deviant population of the inhabitants.

That vision of African sexuality was born of Victorian imaginings of noble brutality. “The average native is an immoral being, and as a general rule, he becomes immoral only after contact with some form of civilization, either Eastern or Western,” wrote one settler in 1920.

Today’s African elites, who inherited the colonial empire, replicate the same bare assertion of power. They also present themselves, and their theft and brutality, as justified by the need to protect “African” customs from Western corruption.

However, while it may be tempting to dismiss them as the rants of the ignorant and power hungry, which they are, we must not forget that they have real life consequences.

They provide justification for the oppression of thousands of Kenyans who find themselves victims of violence, rape and imprisonment at the hands of the state and local communities. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 500 people were prosecuted under colonial laws and artistic works were banned for depicting homosexual relationships.

We must also remember that by destroying constitutional protections, the self-appointed defenders of “African culture” are putting us all at risk, regardless of sexual orientation.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.