By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 19 June 2011
“Clerics seek harsher laws for gays”, screamed a headline on the online edition of the Daily Nation last Tuesday evening. The story went on to document the troubles that certain Muslim clerics had caused children attending madrassa at the coast- defiling them while pretending to be offering religious education. One muslim leader even claimed that “the rising cost of living and drought are due to the behaviour of these Kenyans (read homosexuals) who are not ready to change”.
Throughout the story, one could not find a single indication that the clerics accused of defiling madrassa pupils were homosexuals. It seemed that the article actually contained two stories- the on child sexual abuse and on homosexuality.
The conclusions made by the religious leaders were even more bewildering, considering the issue they were purportedly addressing. Sample this: Sharia or harsher laws should be enacted to punish homosexuals; Christians and Muslims should shun religious leaders and businesspeople who abetted homosexuality; there should be a “crackdown on institutions that spearhead the rights of gays and lesbians in the country” and so on and so forth.
Not once in the article was it indicated that the clerics wanted harsher penalties for child sexual offenders of whatever sexual orientation, leading to the inevitable conclusion that they may be comfortable with a heterosexual cleric sexually assaulting young children of the opposite sex!
Mainstream Kenya will probably identify with the clerics’ call, that all homosexuals should be hunted down like dogs, and probably put to death!
Homosexuality, as we have pointed out before in this column, has several meanings. One, it may refer to a sexual orientation whereby one is sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Secondly, it may indicate a personal or social identity, whereby one chooses to be identified as a homosexual. Thirdly, it may describe sexual behaviour or contact between two individuals of the same sex.
The importance of this distinction is that one may have homosexual orientation and be ‘happily’ married to another person of the opposite sex. Such a person may never (at least publicly) demonstrate homosexual behaviour, and one wonders where the clerics would find them to mete out their punishment.
Secondly, a person who is heterosexual may engage in homosexual behaviour at some point in their life, and still remain firmly heterosexual with no subsequent attraction to members of the same sex.
One concept in psychology holds that among the most vehement critics of a certain behavioural impulse or trait, many often have the exact same impulse or trait. It is explained that the extreme revulsion for those possessing the hated trait or impulse constitutes the ego defence mechanism known as reaction formation. In order to defeat the trait in themselves, they (unconsciously) choose to fight it in others!
Our homophobic fellow-citizens, who often irrationally equate homosexuality to criminal behaviour such as child sexual abuse, rape, murder or theft, must therefore examine the root cause of their own prejudices.
They may just discover a more appropriate outlet for their energies- fighting sexual abuse, whether perpetrated by heterosexuals or homosexuals!
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine