Ending institutional atrocities among sexual minorities in East Africa

How can we use literature as a tool to end violence and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity in East Africa?

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sexual minorities

The phrase ‘sexual minorities’, referring to people with non-sexual orientation has been of recent use in both spoken and written English. The term refers to people with non-usual sexual orientation; connoting to the hypersexual, the sexual deviant like the voyeurisms, fetishists, pedophiliacs, erectile-dysfunctional, and the gender fluids. The gender-fluids are usually referred to as either the queers, or the homosexuals or more commonly as gays to mean lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and the intersex (LGBTQI).

Gender fluids will be the main focus of this paper since they have a special scientific and legal position in modern society and particularly in African society. The group has become of major interest because of the currently observed evidence about their socialization and its relative impact on literature, cinema, drama, poetry, law enforcement, politics, gender policy, HIV control, family values, and population policy such as Christian and Islamic religious civilization. Evidently, homosexuality which is a common word for the gender-fluids has of-late posed a challenge to how politics and religion have to be done with respect to gender, diversity, and gender mainstreaming.

The African society has blamed the West for malicious Americanization and Europeanization of Africa through the forceful imposition of vulgar queer culture on a still pristine African society. African social scientists have already intellectually crystallized sexual minorities in the example given by Professor Achile Mbebe. He espouses that the culture of sexual minorities has been ridiculed as ‘aesthetic vulgarity’. Hence, African literature and institutions of cultural studies have a duty to move beyond the rudimentary queer theory to establish reliable literary space in which the human and animal condition of gender-fluidity is to be explained either as a narrative or as textuality otherwise known as a lived experience.

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There are various factors suggested to cause gender-fluidity. The American Congress-man W M. Dannemeyer, in his book The Shadow on the Land, identified genetics, hormonal imbalance, environmental and learning to be the causes of human homosexuality. However further observations also reveal that rituals, culture, economic difference, and show of power and superiority over others conjure homosexual behavior among human beings.

Of the above causes, genetic factors have been tested and the most used in the scientific explanation of human and animal biology of homosexuality. The argument is that there is a special gene that predisposes human homosexual behavior. According to a scientific report by Earth magazine published in 2016, “There are more than 450 animals that behave homosexually.” Monkeys in japan have displayed lesbian sexual behavior on several occasions and cockroaches are the most homosexual domestic biological creatures. Thus, homosexuality among animals is basically influenced to a great extent by genetic conditions,” the report adds.

The failing genetic conditions which Sigmund Freud is quoted by Kenneth Bairenss in his book Psychoanalytical Perspective of Male Homosexuality to have rationalized explained away the misunderstanding by arguing that these genes are the basis of the miss-programed sexual development in an animal finally ending up as a deformed in sexual psychology and disposition.

Institutional atrocities faced by sexual minorities

The LGBTQI society is reported to face various institutional atrocities, especially in East Africa. These include, but not limited to discrimination by family members and religious institutions, unfair handling by health-care institutions, harassment at school, harassment by the police, political harassment and exclusion, biased and exclusive legislations, athletics and sports harassments, literary harassment like exclusion from being published and criminalization of the queer literature, verbal harassment by use of pejorative and derogatory languages in labeling the gender-fluids, un-apprehended bullying by age-mates and many other forms of social exclusion.

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Evidently, politicians in Kenya pose as friends only to collect money from individuals and organizations that work for the rights of the gender-fluids only to con these LGBTQ individuals and organizations without carrying out the promised proposition of the bill to the parliament which the gender-fluids are or may be lobbying for.

In such situations, gender-fluids have nowhere to go and complain given that non-conventional sexual biology is criminalized in Kenya. Take the case of Chepkemoi (not her real name), a lesbian middle-aged woman living in Nairobi. She had just entered into a clandestine lesbian marriage in 2017 when 2 months down the line, her then partner had deeply assaulted her to an extent of grievous body harm on grounds of infidelity within the same-sex circles.

Chepkemoi was just skulking with her injuries, she could neither let her parents know nor could she report the matter to the authorities for the fear of shame and apprehension by the police. She feared that filing a report with the police would be a betrayal to her group, and also that she risked serving 14 years in prison, which is a legal penalty for the same-sex relationship in Kenya.

The East African, a weekly publication in Kenya, in May 2017, carried a news-feature in its opinion and editorial pages about a certain person who was arrested and forcefully subjected to anal testing for being suspected to be gay. Suspicion was based on the perceived vulgar posts the person had made on his social media.

About the same time, it was reported by the gay and lesbian coalition of Kenya (GALCK) that five men in Mombasa, Kenya, had been beaten by hammers and machetes for being gay, one of them died. The report was signed by Artist for Recognition and Acceptance, Kenya (AFRA), Gay Kenya Trust (GKT), Health Options for Young Men on HIV/AIDS and STIs (HOYMAS), Ishtar MSM, Kenya Youth Education and Development Support Association (KYDESA), Les Bos, Minority Persons Empowerment Group (MPEG), Minority Women in Action (MWA), Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved in Kenya (PEMA Ke), Q-Initiative, Tamba Pwani, Upper Rift Minorities (URM), and Usawa Kwa Wote Initiative (UKWELI).

The state’s apathy – and often open hostility – towards LGBTQ people merely encourages the aggressors, who know they will face no adverse consequences if their victim does not appear to be straight. Criminalization provides a license for the perpetration of horrific crimes – even murder – against a vulnerable group.

These questions of transgender and transphobia are socially pertinent to any society, not only in Kenya but around East Africa. This is why literature as an institution has a duty to educate and guide the new societies on how to socialize in the currently disillusioned times of social and biological diversity as a human experience.

Intellectual audacity like that one evinced in the Jumping the Monkey Hill by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Leopard lives in Muu tree by Jonathan Kararia, Stranger in the village by James Baldwin, Stowaways by Alexander Opicho as anthologized in Queer Africa 2, the Native speaker by Laila Lalami, Hiding in plain sight by Nuruddin Farah, Bustle on the Morning by Angelou Maya is what the East African writings and oracy have to take as a benchmark and ageless adaptation in defense of the dignity of its humility.

It is neither shame nor intellectual degeneration but this is an honor to humanity given its diversity. This is what Sappho, Shakespeare, Walt Wiltman, Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville, and Henry Thoreau among others did in defense of the powerless of their times. Not that because they were sexual minorities, but because they found honor in being the voice to the un-voiced and the dis-esteemed.

Alexander Opicho

I am a poet, essayist, freelance writer and a short story writer based in Lodwar Kenya. Lecturer of Conservational Biostatistics.