The conference on sexuality and gender equality was held at Biblica Guest House, from April 27th to May 1st, 2010. It was organized by the Centre for Research and Innovation for Change [CRIC]. About 50 participants comprised of theologians and university lecturers from East Africa and Southern Africa, civil society and human rights organizations, lawyers, and LGBTI organizations such as Gay Lesbian Coalition of Kenya [GALCK], I am Ministry, and Other Sheep Kenya.

The theme of the conference was “Exploring Stepping Stones: Sexual Identity and Gender Equality.” Rev. John Makokha, Riruta United Methodist Reconciling church minister and Other Sheep Kenya, Country Coordinator presented a paper entitled: “Breaking the Silence and Elimination of Stigma on LGBTI.”

The participants deliberated on historical and contemporary issues concerning human sexuality and ethical concerns, culture, language, mental health and human rights. It was observed that the African worldview on sexuality has been challenged but answers must reflect human dignity and human rights. Sexuality is an integral part of the first humans as shown in the African myths and proverbs. Our desire is regulated from birth in African tradition. The challenge of language and values reflect how sexual desire is regulated in the community. Culture is an information conveyor that makes language an important tool in any given community.

There is need to restore hope and purpose by breaking the silence and eliminating stigma and suffering associated with religious homophobia and transphobia among sexual minorities and their families. Ethical and theological principles of hermeneutics used to perpetuate apartheid and homophobia can also be used to undo discrimination and exclusion.

The conference participants recommended that there should be an agenda of change of attitudes, knowledge and perspectives that inform values with respect to human sexuality. This should be expanded with a view of reaching out to diverse audiences. There is need to holistically build on existing empirical research from African perspectives on human sexuality at all levels of the society. The gap between the research and action approaches that inform the discourse on human sexuality and gender equality and equity needs to be addressed. From the African context, there is an urgent need to build on dialogical research education.

In the spirit of dialogue using the analogy of stepping stones, there is need for a multidisciplinary approach to human sexuality and more openness to dialogue with stakeholders across all spheres of life. This can be vital in building bridges on issues of human sexuality in the African context. The conference participants identified the need for leadership capacity building from interfaith community to embrace the realities of human sexuality and gender. There is need for sensitization of leaders across all sectors of society on human sexuality. And introduce and conduct a transformative assessment to identify other key stakeholders including minority groups in relation to human sexuality. The outcome of the assessment will include an action plan for the follow up with each stakeholder identified and new ways to engage religious institutions and opinion leaders at every level of the society.

They observed that in creating a just, harmonious and peaceful relationship between individuals and communities, there is urgency to identify areas and spheres where sexual minorities can significantly contribute to the wider society. This can be done through folk media and modes of communication to affirm the dignity of all persons irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. By all means, both legal and cultural justification to all forms of violence to be eradicated and that advocacy for more humane polices and framework be established.

The participants reaffirmed that dialogue on human sexuality at various levels of society should guarantee engagement of all stakeholders. This dialogue should be grounded on the principles of respect for human dignity, quality and non-discrimination. They noted that creation of safe spaces remain an integral part to the establishment of supportive environments that enable dialogue on human sexuality and gender in Africa. For the discourse on human sexuality and gender equality and equity to be meaningful, the spiritual, legal, economic and spiritual dimensions must be discerned. They underscored the urgency need to address stigma, discrimination, violence and intimidation of LGBTI. The Ecumenical movement in partnership with leading human sexuality and gender institutions has a critical role to play, especially in providing leadership and addressing human sexuality and gender concerns.

There is need for appropriate infrastructure and policies that guarantee and protect the rights of individuals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rev. Michael Kimindu, Other Sheep East Africa Coordinator and Mrs. Anne Baraza, CEO Riruta United Empowerment Programme NGO also attended the conference.

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