John Sibi-Okumu: Let's tolerate gays like India and USA - The Star

I noted that on July 2, 2009, the High Court in Delhi had ruled to decriminalise homosexuality, pinpointing a 148-year-old statute in section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which defines homosexual acts as, carnal acts against the order of nature' and deeming it' an antithesis of the right to equality.'

True, this ruling did not apply countrywide, it was still subject to appeal and the Constitution was yet to be changed to accommodate it.

October found me in America as director of the Kenyan musical MO FAYA that was a guest production at the New York Festival of Musical Theatre.

Having a keen interest in local journalism, my attention was drawn to a second, gay scenario from a discarded newspaper in the subway.

A news brief from Washington on the weekend of October 9-11,2009, said 'The House voted Thursday to make it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation, expanding the hate crimes law enacted' after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968. With Senate passage expected, federal prosecutors will be able to intervene in cases of violence against gays.'

I returned to Kenya to register my third gay scenario: Two Kenyan Men Wed in London' declared a weekend daily on its Society page on October 18,2009. With the sub-heading 'Couple make history as first to be recognised under 2005 British law on same sex relations.'

This news triggered vitriolic responses. Newspaper rubrics in the same newspaper flowed fast and furious.

In responding to these scenarios, I was challenged to think about what I myself thought.

India is the country that seems to have tackled-the excesses we have in common head on. It has had invariably capable and selfless leaders, has welcomed individual initiative while seeking to expand the quality of life amongst all its citizens.

With one hundred or so TV channels, India has championed the role of the media as watchdogs of the people. And now we saw a judge who, instead of saying 'We're doing what we're doing because the British colonialists told us so,' had the guts to confront tradition when it needed to be confronted. Good for India!

It was noteworthy that Americans were making linkages between human freedoms. That the struggle for racial equality that came to a head with the Civil Rights Movement, preceded one for equality of gender, which in turn was leading to a fight against homophobic acts in all their manifestations. Good for the USA! .

The Kenyan scenario led me to question the more harshly opinionated views of my relatives, friends and acquaintances: Yes, indeed, homosexuality to the 'born again' Christian was an abomination unto the Lord. Read the Word of God in Leviticus 23:13, I was told.

I did: 'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.'

Read the Word of God in 1st Corinthians 7:9, I was told.

I did: 'Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral-nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.'

There were more condemnations spread across the Bible. So what if your own child proved to be gay? I would disown them, came the reply.

At that point we agreed to abandon the urge to become armchair theologians. The irony that one of the newspaper headlines in this season of debate proved to be 'Caught in the act - Bishop and lover stripped naked by mob in Kisumu,' was lost on my righteous friends.

Then there were the traditionalists whose mantra is that homosexuality is against African tradition and a pernicious import from the White Man. In other words, that black people have genetic coding that makes them entirely different from everybody else in the world.

The irony that such an argument had led and still leads some to label black Africans as hopeless primitives was lost on them. With these diehards, of whom there were surprisingly many; the admission that some of my best friends, some of them black like me, were homosexuals held no sway.

The conjecture that I myself might be gay, hiding against the sexual carapace of heterosexuality held no sway. Bad for Kenya!

To nail my colours well and truly to the mast, I think that on the high road to tolerance and accommodation we Africans are amongst those holding up the rear. We would do well to try and catch up with others elsewhere as quickly as humanly possible. There! I stand to be condemned.

John Sibi-Okumu is a teacher, writer and media personality. This article was first published in the quarterly Awaaz Magazine.

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