Saturday, June 13, 2009

It’s Homophobia that is the Problem, Not Homosexuality

The main ‘problem’ with homosexuality or same gender sex, is homophobia. People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or intersex (LGBTI) do not thereby have a problem. Their problems arise because of the attitudes of people who consider themselves to be ‘normal’. These ‘normal’ people also consider themselves to be Christian, Muslim, law abiding, God fearing, righteous and many other things.

In reality they are at best prejudiced, judgemental and guilty of discriminatory practices, at worst, they can be criminally violent, even murderers. At the hands of these self-appointed arbiters of moral and immoral behaviour, LGBTI are subjected to horrific persecution, they are ostracized from communities, they are considered to be and treated like second class citizens.

Everyone has some kind of sexuality and most people express their sexuality in some way. Most sexual behaviour involves other people and much of it is consensual. Of course, forced or coerced sex is a terrible crime. But anyone can force or coerce someone to engage in some kind of sexual behaviour. That means, whatever someone’s sexuality, they can choose to have sex only with those who consent and only engage in types of sexual behaviour to which their partner consents; or they can engage in behaviour that is, hopefully, criminal.

If the self-appointed upholders of ‘virtue’ object to the way that some people express their sexuality, they could object to fact that tens of thousands of people are forced to have sex every year. Thousands of these victims are children, sometimes infants. Many are particularly vulnerable, for example, orphans, young girls who have been married off by their poverty stricken parents or women who have been widowed or abandoned. But others are just ordinary people, neighbours, friends and relatives.

These ‘virtuous people’ could also object to the incalculable number of women and girls (mainly females, anyhow), who are left with no other option than to provide men with sex in return for money, food, security, accommodation, school fees or some other transaction. For every female, there is at least one man involved in these transactions. In reality, for commercial sex work to be viable, there must be a lot more males than females involved. It seems hard to believe that none of these ‘virtuous people’ overlap with the many men who engage in transactional sex.

Amnesty International (AI) have highlighted the plight of human rights abuses against LGBTI in a number of African countries, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal and Rwanda. Kenya may not be the worst offender but I don’t believe their record with regard to LGBTI is particularly good.

It’s particularly galling to hear this about Uganda and Senegal when you compare it to the badly researched journalistic rubbish you also hear about how successful these two countries have been in fighting their respective HIV epidemics. Senegal has one of the lowest prevalence figures in the whole of Africa and Uganda now has far lower prevalence than it once had.

Firstly, I would question their ‘success’ and suggest that there were important factors governing HIV transmission in both countries and these factors were far more significant in determining fluctuations in prevalence than anything the Ugandan or Senegalese governments ever did. But that’s another story.

Secondly, both these countries need to watch out. Discriminating against certain groups of people who are thought to be at highest risk of transmitting HIV is not going to help reduce transmission. People who are at risk need to be targeted with education, testing, health services, support and the protection of the law. Criminalise what they do, be it homosexuality, commercial sex or anything else, and you will have little success in targeting them.

At present, both Uganda and Senegal have pretty poor records when it comes to protecting some of their most vulnerable people. Low prevalence now does not mean low prevalence in the future. Both countries are creating and maintaining conditions where HIV will spread rapidly. There will be little their HIV prevention programmes can achieve if their laws compel or allow homophobia and other discriminatory forms of behaviour to persist.

Apparently, Kenya is considering discussing LGBTI in schools. I’ll believe it when I see it. However, everyone has a sexuality. There is no point in discussing a handful of sexualities without also discussing the whole issue of sexuality with everyone. Tomorrow’s homophobes need to be targeted, future persecution needs to be prevented and that won’t happen by exceptionalising LGBTI. The biggest problems faced by LGBTI stem from the behaviour of people who are not LGBTI.

The best thing Kenya could do to reduce HIV transmission and to help those who are most at risk of being infected is to criminalise discrimination and persecution, to criminalise gender based violence, forced and coerced sex and gender based corruption. They also need to decriminalise non-heterosexual sex and commercial sex work in order to prevent and/or identify and punish criminal behaviour and, at the same time, protect the victims. They need to get away from the current situation where they are just meting out punishment to those who are thereby victimised twice over.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.