How religious groups use moral panic to block human rights for LGBTQI+ persons

How religious groups use moral panic to block human rights for LGBTQI+ persons

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Kenya has in the recent past witnessed the rise of anti-gender groups who are attacking the human rights of women and LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transex, Queer, Intersex) people by framing gender rights as a threat to the health, safety and wellbeing of children.

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 of ‘good people’ vs ‘bad people’. 

‘Good people’ 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 is to label LGBTQI+ persons, women’s, and children’s rights defenders as ‘evil’.

This narrative is highly effective in creating moral panic, social outrage and 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. Moral panic’s main role 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 anti-choice groups have greatly opposed access and provision of Age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education on many grounds, among them being issues like LGBTQI+ rights.

Access to safe abortion for rape and defilement survivors is recognized within the constitution of Kenya 2010. Addressing issues around rights of the sexual minorities; LGBTQ+ is important to ensure no violence or discrimination is witnessed and access to age appropriate information and education around stigma is vital at all levels.

Unfortunately the religious and anti-choice groups have clearly and openly discriminated the 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 discriminating which in turn might lead to violence and even fear of accessing services within health facilities.

Some of the instances where the anti-choice groups have been discriminatory include:

  • 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 harmed 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 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

The anti-choice 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 LGBTIQ+ 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.

With political and public discourse and through the heavy support of these religious and opposition groups, the 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, CitizenGo Campaigns Manager in a tweet also took out on 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

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. The 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

Twitter: @alvinmwangi254