Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentines Call to action

As people around the world prepare to celebrate St. Valentine's Day, yesterday's arrests in Kenya highlight the continuing struggle among LGBTQI couples for the right to bless and build consensual, loving relationships.

Five guests preparing to celebrate a private same-sex wedding were arrested in Mtwapa after locals alerted the police of the intended nuptials. Reports also suggest that two of the men were victims of mob violence, as a crowd gathered around the villa, and later, the police station where the men were being held. Friday's raid followed a similar situation on Thursday, when officials intended to break up another ceremony but the couple and guests escaped before being arrested.

Kenyan police officials say the Friday wedding party will be subjected to an internal medical examination before charging them with homosexuality, a charge punishable with imprisonment. District Officials and local Christian and Muslim clerics have publicly praised the local community for their diligence in reporting the men. Their statements suggest that there is little distinction in public perceptions between committed same-sex couples and the culture of sex-tourism which is prevalent in local coastal resort towns.

These incidents continue to bring focus to the struggles of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in eastern Africa:
In Blantyr, Malawi, a judge recently denied bail for the second time to Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, citing fear of violence against them as the reason. They remain in jail after being arrested during their engagement celebration in December.
In Uganda, tensions are running high as Pastor Martin Ssempa continues to organise a "million-man" march on 17 February in support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a bill proposing harsh sentencing, including the death penalty in some cases. Local human rights organisations in Kampala are bracing themselves for the possibility of escalating violence against LGBTQI people in the wake of the march.
These events, in light of the history of Valentine's Day, carry a sense of tragic irony. The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that one of the three St. Valentines associated with the 14th of February was an African whose history has largely been lost. He was martyred with several friends in unknown circumstances. Today, I am keenly aware that too many of our African siblings struggling for equal rights to self-expression and loving relationships have been lost in unknown circumstances. May we resolve that not one more lesbian will be raped without outcry; or a transgender sibling murdered without investigation; or a same-sex couple victimised by mob actions and religiously condoned violence without it being known, exposed and remembered.

This Valentine's Day, I call on people throughout the world to remember, pray and act in support of our LGBTQI and allied communities in Africa. MCC has African members who are involved in these continuing struggles locally, continentally and internationally. Whether testifying before US Congressional Committees in Washington, DC or working with passion on the ground in churches, hidden cell groups or NGOs in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Africa, they are standing courageously for the right to love. I call on our entire Fellowship and our friends to stand in Spirit and solidarity with each one of these freedom fighters and liberty lovers.

This Valentine's Day, I call on religious and civic leaders throughout the world to condemn religiously fuelled anti-homosexuality violence, whether carried out with stones or brutal legislation. Gay bashing is gay bashing, whatever the form. Our people bear the scars of homoprejudice in our bodies and lives. We proclaim that the time has come for homoprejudice to be named for what it is----a sinful prejudice that steals, kills and destroys precious lives created by a good and just Creator.

This Valentine's day, I call on lovers throughout the world, whether we are able to do so publicly or only privately, to give thanks for the partners God has given us. May we build lives of substance and mutual care----a good, blessed and joyful thing to do. Let us value our love with the fulness of sacred promises, resisting any lessening of our relationships and commitments through external or internal pressures. Together, we stand as Light, braving the winds of misinformation and unknowing. Together, we stand as Truth in a world that hungers for genuine love.

Our prayers and shouts of protest go out for those arrested in Kenya this weekend. We call for the immediate release of our brothers, in the name of all that is just and right.

May God bless and protect them,


The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson

This statement prepared in conjunction with The Moderator's Global Justice Team,
Rev. Pressley Sutherland, Global Justice Liaison for Africa, and Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Chair.

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