Monday, October 11, 2010

Which Way is the Gay Rights Discourse Going in Kenya?

The UK Guardian carries an article arguing that there is a lot of good news for gay people in Africa, that many things are changing for the better. I hope it's true. I hope that, even though several countries are passing legislation that seems to go in the opposite direction, these bills are being rendered obsolete even as they are being discussed.

Of course, what a journalist says one day, despite being repeated my many others the next day, can tend to be rather ephemeral. The very fact that a journalist is discussing something often indicates that it is already old hat. When something as sensitive as gay rights is an issue, some hack with a superficial understanding is the last person you want to be your spokesperson.

I was quite surprised at one of the articles I read about the minister for special programs, Esther Murugi, and her call for greater acceptance of gay people in society. But it was perhaps more surprising that the article was republished by Mars Group Kenya, a human rights organization. The article was so preposterous in its claims and so inept in its arguments that I wondered if Mars Group only posted the article to make the author look like a fool, except that the article was anonymous.

An article in The Standard attempted to use argument rather than bluster. The fact that the argument was patently fallacious means that even people who were convinced by the conclusion, that homosexuality is wrong, may see that the means used to reach the conclusion was highly suspect, at best. I don't believe the author wished to defend homosexuality by raising easily defeated arguments against it; just that those arguments have the load bearing capacity of a wet paper bag.

And a third argument, in The Nation, simply called for a bit of calm and common sense, a bit of compassion, even. Perhaps the author found it difficult to raise arguments against the homophobic outbursts because there was nothing to argue against. I don't have a link to the article but the author, Makau Mutua, makes many interesting points on the subject in another article, including a refutation of the sort of arguments that appear in the Mars Groups article mentioned above.

There's no doubt that Minister Murugi has sparked off a lot of discussion. It's just hard to see where that discussion is going to lead. She hasn't resigned, nor has she been sacked, despite the reactions from some groups, especially religious groups.

On balance, I think good could come from these open discussions, especially where they are genuine exchanges of views rather than the political equivalent of schoolyard rows. But I don't know if it's always safe to discuss sexuality, in particular homosexuality, anywhere and everywhere. I think one still needs to be careful. Ordinary people don't have the levels of protection that politicians and even journalists often enjoy. But I also think arguments can have little impact and I follow Mutua by calling for people to be humane.


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