Religious Groups increasing blocking human rights for LGBTQ+ Groups

Words by Alvin Mwangi

Anti-gender groups are attacking the human rights of women, children, and LGBTQI+ people by framing gender rights as a threat to the health, safety and wellbeing of children. Anti-gender groups are often conservative, faith-based and operate under the umbrella term ‘anti-gender ideology'.

The primary strategy of anti-gender groups is to manufacture moral panic by crafting easy-to-understand narratives based on misinformation and selective interpretations of human rights, religious teachings, negative cultural beliefs and scientific evidence that create a divided worldview: ‘good people’ vs. ‘bad people’.

‘Good people’, to them, are those who uphold the heterosexual, patriarchal family as society’s core and defend parental authority over the principle of the best interest of the child. They claim to protect children from an alleged ‘internationally-funded agenda’ that seeks to corrupt and harm them - part of this agenda are LGBT, women’s, and children’s rights defenders, wo are labelled as ‘evil’. This narrative is highly effective in creating moral panic, social outrage and in mobilizing political support for gender-normative candidates across parties and regions.

Anti-gender groups are part of a long-term political, social, and cultural strategy that has been in the making for decades, and that feeds on social unrest and cultural anxieties. The main role of moral panic is political - particularly in contexts of economic, social, and political upheaval and anxiety - as it creates solidarity among different groups and channels outrage into concrete political actions; like development of laws and policies, as well as heavy resource allocation to discriminative actions.

Religious and other opposition groups have greatly opposed access and provision of age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education on many grounds, among them issues like LGBTQ+ rights, access to safe abortion for rape and defilement survivors which is recognized within the constitution of Kenya (2010). Addressing issues around rights of sexual minorities and LGBTQ+ people is important to ensure no violence or discrimination is witnessed or perpetrated, and access to age appropriate information and education around stigma is vital at all levels.

Unfortunately, religious and other opposition groups have clearly and openly discriminated against sexual and gender minorities - terming them “sick”, pedophiles and in need of treatment. This is a sad and worrying trend as it increases stigma and discrimination, which in turn may lead to violence and even fear of accessing services within health facilities. Religious and other opposition groups have been spreading misinformation against access and enjoyment of human rights of all groups - particularly LGBTQ+ people. Some of the instances where the opposition groups have been discriminatory are as follows:

  • In 2019, Kenya catholic doctors association (KCDA) together with CitizenGo led by Anne Kioko led a petition to have intersex people removed from the census and claimed that being intersex was a disability and this was “an attempt to deconstruct Kenyan social fabric and introduce the deviant ideologies of homosexuality and transgenderism.”
  • One of the top level staff within Kenya catholic doctors association (KCDA) Dr. Wahome Ngare swore an affidavit in court during #Repeal162 saying all lesbian, gay and bisexual people were recruited through sexual abuse and were likely to be abusers of children.
  • In a recent tweet; CitizenGo Africa Campaigns Director, Ann Kioko continued bullying and abuse of Kenyan Citizens with whom she ideologically disagrees with is becoming endemic, her homophobic and bigoted remarks against Chris Njeri Makena for her LGBT stance, Ann Kioko also tweeted about the journalist Chris Njeri Makena sexuality and noted that she “wears men’s clothes and chose the homosexuality path.” She also added, “homosexuality is illegal in Kenya”
  • For Years, Nigerian Televangelist The Late TB Joshua broadcasted humiliating “exorcisms” of LGBTQ+ Persons. He caused a lot of harm to many people, especially the LGBTQ+ People who he conducted “conversion” therapy on, also there were numerous hate speech against LGBTQ+ people made by him amounting to human rights abuses.

The only thing that holds true for these religious and opposition groups is their religion. Nothing in their profession backs up their claims whether on reproductive health issues, policies and law. Kenya is largely a religious country, and a lot of these groups ride on that and continue to not only cause moral panic, stigma and discrimination using social media platforms but also instigate online violence towards the LGBTQ+ community.

Religious and other opposition groups' strategic portrayal of progressive demands as detrimental to children is negatively affecting the work of progressive activists, organizations and funders, LGBT and sexual health and reproductive rights (SHRR) movements. The misrepresentation of LGBT individuals and organizations as sexual deviants and predators is widening the gap between LGBT and children’s rights organizations, advocates, and funders, and further preventing cross-sector or coalitional work between them.

For Many Civil Society Organizations, religious and opposition groups have hugely divided the landscapes of LGBT rights and child rights (funding, organization and advocacy) and prevent collaborations and coalitional work between them.

With political and public discourse and through the heavy support of these religious and opposition groups, groups trying to maintain or attain political power are using the notion of ‘fighting gender ideology’ as a key component of their campaigns, supporting authoritative, nationalist, and anti-rights political platforms.

We have also seen opposition groups attack new aspirants who strongly support LGBTQ+ rights in Kenya, in a recent case, the CitizenGo Campaigns Manager, in a tweet also took aim at Xian Dela, a contestant in the upcoming 2022 general elections. This stance is tantamount to spreading hate speech, inciting violence as well as discrimination and bullying LGBTQ+ Communities as well as allies within the space.

The impact towards policy, access and enjoyment of health services has also been felt. The repealing of discriminatory Public policies within law and frameworks - including Constitution - has not been positively progressing with cases like #Repeal162, which culminates to repealing pre-colonial discriminatory  laws which are not progressive.  Access to Age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education is being barred by misinformation which wrongly states that sexuality education encourages same sex relations.

Children, Women and LGBTQ+ People have felt a huge impact with limited access to Sexual Reproductive Health services, including contraception and Comprehensive Sexuality Education affecting women, children and LGBTI+ people -  particularly girls. Increased violence in online social spaces has been rampant and there is a lack of protection for LGBTQ+ people - especially young people.

Unfortunately funding for organizations supporting LGBTQ+ Rights has been decreasing owing to non-progressive systems and laws in countries like Kenya.

In the last 20 years, international human rights organizations have tried to counteract this harmful narrative. For instance, the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child explains that the rights promoted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child also apply to LGBTIQ+ children. Also, UN agencies have also made statements to this effect, like the one issued in 2015, wherein 12 UN entities called for nations around the world to end violence and discrimination against LGBTI adults, adolescents, and children.

Although these efforts have been essential in recognizing the predicament of LGBTIQ+ children and youth, their rights are still not widely enforced.

Alvin Mwangi is a Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Youth Expert based in Nairobi, Kenya.

You can reach Alvin on Twitter: @alvinmwangi254