NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 5 – Local human rights campaigners on Tuesday rushed to the defence of Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi, saying Kenyans cannot not ignore the link between homosexuals and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The human rights commissions, in collaboration with the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), argued that discriminating against sexual minorities in the provision of medical care would in the long run be injurious to the society.
Ms Murugi has come under increased criticism over remarks she made at a conference in Mombasa saying gays and lesbians should be included in HIV/ AIDS programmes but which were misrepresented.
A commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Lydia Gachoya said Ms Murugi’s sentiments were right but were taken out of context and misinterpreted.
“She did not say that she is legalising and she did not say that she endorses marriages between men. All she wanted to bring to our attention is what we already know that homosexuality does spread AIDS. And we are here to say that we agree with her,” she said.
In an earlier interview with Capital News, John Mwashiga (not his real names) a homosexual, explained the discrimination he sometimes faced in local hospitals.
“When we go to hospital, instead of doctors treating us, they start calling each other saying ‘come and see this gay person’. So most of us choose to stay home and wait for our fate rather than go to hospital and face discrimination,” he said.
On Tuesday, Ms Gachoya further asked the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to ensure that those spreading hateful messages against homosexuals were prosecuted.
“In fact we are waiting to see what the integration commission is going to do about the incitement going on. We have been seeing in the papers people agitating the general public to mob justice. Somebody even mentioned street protests,” she alleged.
On his part, GALCK Programme Manager David Kuria asked the government to provide human rights without any biases. He held that the government should also craft HIV awareness messages that targeted the homosexual community.
“Messages that I get with regard to preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS should be synchronised with my sexual practice. It should tell me what sexual practice is safe for me and which one is not. We also need to build the capacity for healthcare providers,” he said.
The Special Programmes Minister, who separately issued a statement clarifying her stand (see separate story) on the issue, said she had no apologies to make over her stand as the government had a responsibility of fighting the scourge.
“Some gay men get married and our daughters are at risk of marrying them without knowing what they do and HIV just continues to spread. So we have to talk about it and do a lot of counseling. We can’t just ignore them,” she said.
She also defended her ministry and the government in extension from accusations that they wanted to legalise homosexuals. Ms Murugi said that the allegations were misleading.
“The correct position of the government under section 45 of our new laws is that homosexuality is outlawed. There was no mention of legalising sex work, lesbianism or homosexuality but it is a fact that these segments of people exist and they are most at risk,” she said.
She added that the government would provide counseling to any interested homosexuals and sex workers in order to prompt behavior change: “This should however not be construed that the government is condoning these behaviors.”
Ms Murugi further cited recent studies indicating the connection between the spread of HIV and sexual minorities: “Most at risk populations are a significant contributor to the national HIV incidences. They represent over 33 percent of new HIV infections every year. That is a very high number.”