As many Kenyans gather in their places of worship, others are making preparations for the week ahead or catching up on much needed sleep after a long week or night out partying, 49 people lose their lives. They are doing what thousands of Kenyans do every weekend: Socialising. They are members of a minority community. The Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender persons, Intersex and Queer(LGBTIQ). They are massacred on Sunday 12, June.
They are massacred by a 29 year old man, Omar Mateen. According to news outlets in the USA, Omar’s father says that his son had expressed anti-gay thoughts. He thinks his outrage was triggered by seeing two men kiss. Another source, The Telegraph wrote, “Omar Mateen, 29, has been described by those who knew him as a man who was fiercely homophobic, violent towards his wife, and who may have been mentally ill.”
The adjectives used to describe Mr. Mateen are not synonymous with ‘a young American male of Arab origin – Omar’s parents are Afghan immigrants. Other than easy legal access to firearms thanks to the USA’s gun policies, Omar could be a young man anywhere in the world. He could be in Kenya, where mental health isn’t prioritized. Where many youth lost in disillusion turn violent at any provocation. And guns, he wouldn’t work harder to access firearms in Kenya. No. You only have to look at the number of violent crimes involving guns to know this.
Yet we did not as a country condemn these killings. When Westgate happened to us, the world stood with Kenya. When Garissa happened. The world, including Americans ‘was Garissa’. When Paris attacks happened, Kenyans ‘were Paris’. When Abidjan happened we were Abidjan. But now, we are silent. Silent to the death of 49 people. Why? Isn’t violence against anyone a crime? But this isn’t surprising. Kenyans have kept quiet when LGBTIQ are attacked in Kenya. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has spoken against the killings. We are quiet. The Vatican has condemned the killings. We are quiet. World leaders and most of humanity has weighed in. But we are quiet.
Every week a Kenyan is attacked – beaten, threatened and sometimes even killed. We look the other way because we are not accepting of who they are. We take their contributions to building the nation – people with alternative sexual orientation and gender identity serve in all fields in this country; doctors, teachers, nurses, chefs, artists and all other professions – but we perpetuate violence and discrimination towards this minority group. We attack or allow attack on citizens of Kenya. These are gross violations of human rights enshrined in our constitution. They are hate crimes triggered by negative rhetoric from members of this community. Hate is hate. You cannot claim to be above prejudice yet be a homophobe. If you are a homophobe, you are no different from a racist. You are brewing in the same cup as a sexist, racist, classist you name it. Haters with justifications. Justifications borrowed mostly from tools like religious books, cultural practices or in Kenya, the constitution too. The same were and continue to be resources for people propagating all other ‘…isms which result in violence’.
Omar Mateen is celebrated by people suffering from homophobia for the murder of his fellow countrymen. What they fail to acknowledge is all the evidence that he in fact was struggling with his own sexuality as a closeted gay man. This goes to show what self-hate can lead to. Many people with extreme views about an issue tend to develop violent tendencies towards it. Think about Hitler.
As a society, we condemn any form of violence. For the same tools used to put down sexual and gender identity minorities are used against women, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, living with HIV and even refugees. Our societies – in Kenya, other African countries and even the US – are accepting high levels of hate speech against this community. And this has devastating consequences. Being homophobic is a sort of routine, and not controversial at all. The result of hate speech in social media and even in prominent political rallies is the trivialization of violence.
All the negative speech in all these countries provide fertile grounds for intolerance and physical violence
The sexual and gender minorities in Kenya condemn the Orlando massacre of Americans, human beings, fellow sexual and gender minorities. If we are a nation that attacks the weak amongst us, we are a nation of bullies. To accept diversity “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people. Different beliefs. Different yearning. Different Hopes. Different dreams.” Jim Carter
First published by the Star Newspaper