Written by Kenne Mwikya
Something very peculiar happened during the “Human Rights and Sexual Minorities” panel at the Storymoja Tent on Saturday afternoon. Five minutes before the event, the tent was virtually empty apart from the presence of David Kuria, the panel moderator, Monica Kareithi, a panel participant and sexual minorities’ law expert and I. A minute into the event, the tent was full.
The discussion panel consisted of David Kuria of Gay Kenya, Monica Kareithi of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Norwegian Ambassador, H.E. Per Ludvig Magnus. Later on, an openly gay member of the United States Embassy and Elphas Naivasha, Chairman of the Gay Kenya Trust, joined in to say a few words.
The Norwegian Ambassador started off by giving a brief history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights as seen through human rights, beginning from the drafting and adoption of the United Nations Declarations of Human Rights and subsequent ratifications by states, to the resolutions and challenges more than sixty years, and the Norwegian government’s history of recognising LGBTI Rights. The ambassador noted that LGBTI rights were not “western impositions” but ideals which nations imposed on themselves.
Ms. Monica narrated to the audience her own experiences in doing a Masters Degree in Law with a specification of sexual orientation and gender identity. She also pointed out the initial marginalisation of LGBTI rights within the human rights community. She stressed on the difference between sodomy and homosexuality, and emphasised on the fact that it was sodomy – or male same gender sex – that was criminalised and not homosexuality. On the new Kenyan constitution, she made a reference to Section 43 that guarantees access to health for all Kenyans hence, the inclusion of LGBTI folk into access to health. On whether homosexuality was un-African, a much emphasised argument among anti-LGBTI discourses, she gave examples of the Kikuyu and Kamba as communities in which there existed persons who lived and “coupled” with same sex partners.
I got to ask how effective the human rights language was when it came to addressing the question of LGBTI rights. Monica answered that public knowledge of human rights was an integral part of understanding their importance and the need to include everyone into the human rights framework, part of the “social awareness” campaign in the increasingly globalised world.
Monica also talked about the multi-pronged strategies in place to facilitate the decriminalisation of sodomy and related laws in Kenya, ranging from training of lawyers and judges on sexual minorities and gender identity to public litigation and change of legislation.
She ended her talk by stating that the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) in partnership with the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) was working towards decriminalisation of anti-LGBTI laws present in the Kenyan Penal Code.
A book, “My Way, Your Way and the Rights Way”, a Kenyan publication on LGBTI rights, was also on sale.
About the attendance and the quality of the questions asked during the event, David Kuria replied, “It was really good. A lot of people asked really good questions unlike last year where people were asking who the man and woman in a gay relationship were. That’s what high school kids are asking this year.”