Recently, I had the pleasure to talk to my grandmother. Though 84 years old, and displaying the frailty we commonly associate with old age, she spoke eloquently about her experiences living under the colonial regime. She recalled the memory of how Kenyans were driven off their lands, tortured, killed and raped, in such detail, depth and clarity.
At the same time, I realise that her story is of a life that did not happen: due to being born a black girl, in colonial era Kenya. From talking with her, I get the sense that she possibly would have made a great academic, who could have lectured and inspired the next generation. Those opportunities never materialized, for she was a black girl, in colonial era Kenya.
In that time it was the norm that girls would not get much of an education, if any at all. She did not choose to be denied, what we now think of as obvious rights. Her path in life was clearly set out for her, and her choices in life limited too. Being born a black girl meant that she would attend school for a few years, and drop out as soon as she was able to provide labour in her father’s farm. She would then get married as soon as she showed signs of being a woman, give birth to as many children as her body could bear, raise them and provide labour in her husband’s farm for as long as her body allowed. Sad as it is, that was the path set out for just about every girl born at her time.
Gender, race and disability are some of the grounds that have been used historically, and even presently to discriminate in just about every part of the world. These kinds of discrimination have seen minorities suffer tremendous injustices, ranging from gender inequalities, slavery, apartheid and colonialism.
The idea of reversing these injustices, and seeing groups that had been historically disadvantaged as human beings with rights was repulsive to the powerful. At that point, the idea of sending girls to school, or allowing women to vote, or to engage in any other public setting was unfathomable. The idea of black people mixing with white people was even more repulsive. People with disabilities were for a long time considered social misfits in Africa and Europe, often not worth living.
While a lot of advancements have been made to end the discrimination of women, black people and people with disabilities, bigotry is still existent in many forms. The most obvious form is expressed towards people with non-conforming sexualities. Be they lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender or inter-sex (LGBTI). The same Bible and other religious texts that were used to justify bigotry towards women, black people and people with disabilities, are now used to create homophobic sentiments. Consequently, LGBTI people have suffered rejection, torture, excommunication and even death, across the world. Many gay people cannot live ordinary lives of achieve their full potential because society has no space for them.
Sometimes I get angry when I hear my grandmother speak, because I realise the impact of discrimination in depriving people of choice, and deterring people from achieving their full potential. Having faced double disadvantage, first as woman, and secondly as a black person, I imagine if I had been born at the same time as my grandmother, I would not have made the academic and professional achievements that I have made so far. These achievement do not only give me immense pleasure, but they also make significant contribution to society. I hate to imagine of the wasted potential that would have become my story.
At the same time I am glad because some people fought to make sure that would not be my story. Many women and black people were injured, excommunicated, and some even died for me to enjoy the freedom that I enjoyed today.
Had women or black people stopped fighting for their rights to avoid repulsing the powerful, most of us would not be enjoying the freedoms that we do today. People with disabilities would not have the right to live let alone enjoy any other rights. Yet women all over the world, black people, and those with disabilities are still so far, from being considered equal to men, white people or those more able-bodied. Our battles are far from over, and those of the gay community seem to have an even longer way to go.
A Kenyan High Court ruling that declared it unconstitutional to deny registration to a gay rights organisation, has been met with a lot of resistance by ordinary Kenyans, the Church and even our Deputy President, William Ruto. Many have questioned the need to have organisations that support such a ‘repulsive’ group of people. Others are now in panic, fearing that once gay people win this battle, they will move on to demand marriage rights. It is no wonder, the argument that gay people should keep their affairs private has gained so much traction.
Just like any other group has a right to form a group to advocate for its rights, so do gay people. Registration is essential for many organisations to operate. You can imagine the difficulties that any organisation, be it a company, a church, a school, would have if it was denied registration. Just as women, black people and other minority groups decided to move their support groups from private to public spaces, to advance their agenda to be recognised as people, gay people too should do the same. Because no battles are ever won in private spaces.
The journey for the rights of people with non-conforming sexualities has come a long way, and it still has a long way to go. I am hopeful though, and very hopeful for that matter, because if you told my grandmother that she would live to see her granddaughter travel abroad to get an education, she would probably have laughed at the ridiculousness of such an idea. If you told her that her granddaughter would be so political, declaring herself a feminist, sitting at the same table with men the age of her father to discuss issues of national importance, she would have taken you to the nearest mental institution. But she has lived to see it, and I pray that she lives even longer, to see her granddaughters do even more wonderful and amazing things in the public arena.
I say this, not to blow my own trumpet, but to cast hope to the gay community. I am hopeful that our gay sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters will write blogs to celebrate the battles that we fought for them. We therefore must keep hope alive.
We must refuse to be discouraged or to feel powerless. We cannot afford to become complacent, or allow lack of support to overcome us. We must shed off all fear, and refuse to worry about what other people think about us stepping into a role that might make us unpopular. We must silence the voices that urge us to shut up or quit, the voices that call us defeated. We must reject any idea to cave in to the discouragement that surrounds us. We must continue to work, fight, and challenge, awaken, and campaign for equality and social justice. (Quote adapted from the Pillion Trust Charity).