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FEATURE

Gays, lesbians fight conservative governments and an unkind society


Joyce Mulama | October 13, 2003

NAIROBI — It can pass for any high-class restaurant in Kenya's capital Nairobi. With the serene environment, soft piped music and colourful lights, curiosity of passers-by is aroused, and some are tempted to get inside for a swig.

Once inside, unsuspecting first-timers immediately get lost.

Things aredone differently here. Customers sit in twos; man and man. The intimacy displayed cannot go unnoticed. They caress each other and, at times, even kiss.

It immediately dawns on a newcomer that this is a spot for gay people.

Located within the bustling Nairobi's central business district, the newly opened entertainment spot serves as a contact point for homosexuals, who have for long concealed their sexuality for fear of being shunned.

But now, they have a place to meet and share ideas. "This is good. We can even form our own association, among other things," a gay representative, who declined to be named, told IPS.

"We first want to know how many we are. After that we shall choose our leader and spokesperson. We shall then embark on registering our association," he said.

Kenya's gays and lesbians plan to forward their grievances to the government and lobby for recognition in a draft constitution currently being discussed in Nairobi by 629 delegates from across the East African country.

The remarks by the gay representative, who refused to be named, come in the wake of threats issued by a gay group in neighbouring Uganda, pressuring the government to accord its members the necessary recognition.

The group wrote to the government on October 4, demanding constitutional recognition and legal protection.

Writing under the auspices of Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Uganda (GALA),they indicated that they would come up with a political party to champion their interests if the government failed to give them a positive response.

Like in the Kenyan case, GALA is unhappy that gay rights did not feature in the recent cabinet proposals forwarded to Uganda's constitutional review commission.

The campaigns by the gay people in Kenya and Uganda follow a meeting by African Anglican bishops in Nairobi to try and resolve the controversy surrounding the issue of homosexuals and their subsequent recognition and ordination within the church.

The September 25 meeting of over 50 clergymen including primates, bishops and pastors, affirmed that the dark cloud of homosexuality hanging over the Anglican Church would not divide the Anglican community in Africa. "On the contrary it will strengthen us," said Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria, Peter Akinola.

Akinola and, his southern Africa counterpart, Njongonkulu Ndungane, had exchanged bitter words over their differences on the issue of homosexuality.

Akinola wrote a strongly-worded letter on September 23, criticising Ndungane's moderate stand on the controversial issue of gay ordination. Ndungane hadimplied in an interview with British media that African clergymen including Akinola, who were opposed to such ordination, were arrogant, intolerant and hypocritical.

When the debate about gays and lesbians heightened this year, Akinola, leader of 17.5-million-strong Anglican Church in Nigeria, accused the churches in Europe, Canada and America of using 'their wealth to intimidate the financially weak churches in Africa' to get the African support.

Recognition of gay people at the alter almost caused a split in the Anglican Church when in August, the Episcopal Church of the United States approved the appointment of an openly gay clergy, Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, as the new Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Robinson has for the last 13 years been living with his male partner.

African bishops have threatened to sever links with member churches practising homosexuality, but a crisis meeting called by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans in London next week, will discuss problems surrounding the appointments of gay clergy. The meeting, which will be attended by 38 leaders of the world's Anglican branches, is expected to seal the crack that has emerged in the church. There are about 40 million Anglicans in Africa, where homosexuality is generally considered as a wayward sexual orientation.

Namibia's President, Sam Nujoma, and his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe, are some of the most vocal critics of gay practises on the continent. Mugabe has described gays and lesbians as being 'worse than pigs and dogs'.

Most African states do not have legislation for gays and lesbians. Only South Africa has had its laws changed to favour these groups. –Sapa-IPS


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