Beyond Legal Reform

Criminal Law is meant to give society the power to protect itself against those who cause harm and are dangerous. It also gives society the power to protect itself against prospective wrongdoers. Consensual same sex activities have been criminalized in law in more than 70 countries in the world. These acts do not cause any harm to society. Morality should not be used as a basis to set laws yet that is the main argument in most of these countries for the existence of the criminalizing provisions. This therefore creates the need for legal reform. In order to achieve legal reform however, a lot more than strategic public interest litigation and policy reform has to be done. In order to get successful results in litigation, societal attitudes towards LGBTI individuals and concerns need to be addressed. The legal fraternity needs to be sensitized on what exactly it is that they are advocating/ruling on. While in the process of advancing the legal rights framework and to give credence to the initiatives that go into the said process, there is a need to work on changing societal perceptions towards LGBTI individuals. There is a need to show society that the rights being sought here are not special rights rather they are the same rights that everyone else has but are denied of LGBTI persons. A need to show the society that the LGBTI individual is a human being just like the rest of the society and shouldn’t be treated any different due to actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In order to do that, several aspects of society need to be targeted and addressed. One of the most common reasons why LGBTI rights are curtailed thus is because of lack of information. The LGBTI movement is for the most part underground and not known or simply completely misunderstood. Society ends up relying on common stereotypes when dealing with LGBTI persons. There is a need for the movement to become more “open”. To create a level of visibility that cannot be ignored by society and by extension, governments. The health sector is one which every person goes through at some point for one reason or the other. LGBTI persons are not exempt from this. Instances of LGBTI persons denied treatment for nothing else but their sexual orientation or gender identities have been reported and recorded. This goes against the individuals’ constitutional right of the highest attainable standard of health. It is therefore imperative that persons working within the health sector be informed on the fact that health rights apply to everyone despite the person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They need to be informed on various health concerns faced by LGBTI individuals. They also need to be informed on exactly how to handle an LGBTI patient without attempting to impart their personal views on the patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity on them. The media is a tool that has potential to reach a large number of people in the society within a very short time. Its purpose is to educate, inform and entertain. With regard to LGBTI issues however, the media has been known to report in a way that paints a bad picture of the LGBTI community. Sections of the media have been known to take LGBTI related stories, sensationalize them and publish them in order to gain more sales. There is therefore need to sensitize the media on LGBTI issues and cause objective and non-discriminative reporting. There is also a need for the LGBTI movement to use the media for its benefit. Due to the reach the media has, the movement should use the same to sensitize society on the various concerns. Use the media to demystify sexual orientation and gender identity. In most jurisdictions, religion has been a big stumbling block in trying to create a non-discriminative environment for LGBTI individuals. There is therefore a need to sensitize the religious leaders and opinion shapers on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. This way, there would be a religious atmosphere which is tolerant towards sexual orientation and gender identity issues. How to go about this is the tricky bit. Depending on the situation in the jurisdiction in question, the movement could supply alternative interpretations to the scriptural provisions on sexual orientation. The movement could also present LGBTI individuals as human beings in need of love and acceptance like anyone else. All in all, the extremely negative perception of LGBTI individuals by persons within the religious sector needs to be addressed in order to get to a situation where there is an “open society”. Instrumental societal players including the police, education providers, corporations, and persons within the various arms of government also need to be sensitized on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. This will create a society that understands and appreciates sexual orientation and gender identity issues beyond the stereotypes. These societal players affect the lives of LGBTI persons in one or the other capacity. It is therefore important that they understand sexual orientation and gender identity wholesomely. In the quest for legal reform, the judiciary is often heavily involved. It is therefore important to sensitize and inform persons working within this sector on sexual orientation and gender identity. This ought to come from the perspective of the LGBTI movement. This way, any decisions coming from courts are made not out of ignorance but out of actual understanding of the concerns of the movement. If all the above initiatives are conducted alongside the quest for legal reform, it will not only make legal reform more easily attainable, but will also garner support for the LGBTI movement from other sectors and ensure equality and non-discrimination for all despite their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Anthony Oluoch

I am a lawyer, a brother, a son, a friend, a neighbor, a confidant, a student of life and I am Kenyan. Became a human rights activist so suddenly sometimes I ask myself if this really is something I wanted. But I have come to embrace it. I have come to realize that I like what I do. That on some level, what I do makes life easier for someone and hopefully, eventually, for myself…Probably the best way to describe me is in the words of Winston Churchill, I am a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

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