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Making gay sex legal is only first step to ending bigotry says activist

Caribbean and Kenyan activists tell World Pride conference in London that more education is needed to change hearts and minds of homophobes
Kenita Placide was one of six activists at a World Pride conference in London today

Lifting the ban on gay sex is not enough to end discrimination, claims a lesbian activist from the Caribbean at a World Pride conference in London today (4 July).

Kenita Placide, co-executive of LGBTI group United and Strong in Saint Lucia, said despite the island nation’s law criminalizing buggery not homosexuality, the legislation is only applied to gays.

Placide was one of six activists from around the Commonwealth meeting in the UK capital today to discuss how the global community can work towards decriminalizing homosexuality in countries where former British colonial laws which banned being gay are still alive.

‘Our constitution deems homosexuality unnatural, an act against nature and immoral,’ she told the audience.

‘Most of the discrimination, even if it is not state sanctioned, is interpreted that way. So, it’s not the sexual act. It’s ok if heterosexuals have anal sex. But if two men have anal sex, it’s an issue.’

She added: 'This shouldn’t be happening. Equality is there for everyone and therefore it is the law’s responsibility that it is given to everyone.'

But she warned that simply lifting the ban will not end discrimination in Caribbean society, where many people still liken being gay to pedophilia and beastiality.

What’s needed, she insists, is greater education.

‘Stigma and discrimination perpetuated by society is backed by our constitution but also backed by religion,’ she explained.

‘And I don’t think they understand how ridiculous it is to say that they stand by the values of human rights and yet they deny other people the right to experience that same equality as everyone else.

‘Basically our people are saying, go to Canada, go to the US, but not here because this is not our culture. But I have a big issue about understanding what our culture is in the context of inequality.’

She added: ‘We have been socialized that way. To become the agents of change you have to be able to step out of that of yourself to take it to the next level that says, “I am not going to follow normal society or cultural behaviors and stand up for what is right.”'

Kenyan activist Akinyi Margareta Ocholla agrees that educating the general masses is the best way to bring about social change and tolerance.

The representative for gay rights group ILGA explained their approach to decriminalization of homosexuality is to focus on health issues, such as HIV/AIDS, as well as rights.

‘We realized that litigation in itself is not enough, we have to sensitize a lot of people,’ she said.

‘With 40 million people in Kenya, you can imagine how much work we have to do because the Kenyan educational system really doesn’t discuss sexuality. Sex education, yes, but that’s about it.

‘When you talk to people on the street, they don’t understand the term sexual orientation. They equate that a lot with homosexuality and heterosexuality is just the norm. No-one has actually talked to them about it.

‘There is a lot of need to educate people on that, let alone on the issue of gender identity.’

She added that transgender Kenyans are even less understood and there are currently no government policies which related to those issues, leading to problems such as changing their name on official documents and getting qualified doctors who can treat them.

However, she says Kenya is seeing positive changes in terms of awareness and attitudes towards the LGBT community.

Ocholla said: ‘There is an elemental progressiveness amongst the people. You will not see everywhere, but you will see it in certain towns and find it a lot in the modern cities like Nairobi.

‘There’s a lot of conversation going round about homosexuality. You’ll hear it on the radio and you’ll see it on the TV.

‘Different groups in Kenya have been able to speak out very vocally about the issues and make partners with different organizations such as the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.’
 

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