Last edited: February 05, 2005

Spilling Out of the Closet

Society, February 5, 2005
The Standard Group
I & M Building, Kenyatta Avenue,
P.O Box 30080, 00100 GPO, Nairobi-Kenya.
Tel: +254 20 3222111, Fax: +254 20 214467.

By Benson Kimathi

Homosexuality and the social condemnation it attracts are as old as mankind. Tales of homosexuality by soldiers during both the First and Second World Wars were commonplace. Today, not only is homosexuality practised in secluded institutions like prisons and colleges but it is also slowly albeit grudgingly becoming accepted as a sexual orientation rather than a perversion.

Because heterosexuals are the majority, homosexuality is still considered a disorder and is still fervently opposed. Late last year, a Ugandan radio station, Simba FM, was fined $1,000 (Sh80,000) and forced to apologise for hosting a talk show by gay men. In Kenya, Anglican Church bishops continue to breathe fire over last year’s decision by the American Episcopal Church to ordain a homosexual bishop and to allow the wedding of gay couples.

Even then, gay and lesbian-friendly pressure groups around the world continue to speak out against laws and customs that are deemed hostile. What is evident is that the impact of gays and lesbian lobby groups is progressively beginning to be felt. Their continued inability to change their sexual bearing has forced them into becoming activists. Then scientific researchers came forth and started announcing that biology may have something to do with sexual orientation, after all.

Before the 1980s, homosexuality was included as a treatable disorder in the manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. Given findings from scientific research, and with mounting pressures and politicking from both gays and gay-friendly groups and individuals, however, that particular disorder has had to be dropped from the manual.

Today, as Nairobi psychiatrist Dr Frank Njenga explains, homosexuality is no longer viewed as a disease. “To try to understand homosexuality from a medical point of view is incorrect.”

He says there are people who are comfortable being homosexual, and others who are unhappy about it. “These (the latter) are the ones I would see.” He, however, emphasises that the aim of seeing these people is not to ‘treat’ the homosexuality, but rather to address the related concerns. “The mistake we make in Africa is to define people by their sexual orientation,” he says.

According to the Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual [LGB] Clients (American Psychological Association, 2000), “The process through which LGB individuals first recognise their sexual orientation is often referred to as ‘coming out’.” This process consists of a series of complex cognitive [thought processing], affective [emotional] and behavioural changes.”

The handbook explains that forming a sexual identity is a challenging process, which might mean adopting an unpopular identity, altering one’s self-concept, as well as changing relations with others and with society. “The process can occur quickly or over an extended time, and it is the beginning of the lifelong process of developing an LGB identity.”

Although this mood is finding a home locally, it remains difficult for many to take a clinical, objective look at homosexuality, without moralising the issue and evoking strong emotions. More often than not, public opposition to the practice is fuelled by social condemnation. Knowing where society stands, everybody is on their guard every time they touch on the sensitive topic. One psychologist says he would never consult with homosexuals. The media approaches the subject with great caution.

Homosexuality continues to be a sore point, and in spite of laws or policies, it seems it is here to stay.

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