Zambian Government Cracks Down on Gay Rights Advocates

About Kapya Kaoma

Following the arrest of a gay rights advocate in Zambia, Political Research Associates’ religious and sexuality researcher Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya Kaoma writes about the attacks on gay people in his home country for the Lukasa Times. Zambian LGBTQ people are currently hiding out in fear of a government crack-down, triggered, officials claim, by attempts by two same-sex couples to receive marriage recognition. Rev. Kaoma wrote about the situation in August 2012 in a Public Eye article, “The Culture Wars Come to Zambia.”

The arrest of human rights activist Paul Kasonkomona deserves condemnation by all Zambians of good will. If speaking in favor of gay rights is a crime, then our democracy is hollow. Free speech is among the many values that democracy upholds. Of course, the Acting President, Edgar Lungu, justified the arrest on the premise that “the bible is against” same-sex relations and that people with money are behind gay rights – hence “we better remain poor” than grant gays their rights. It is clear that Mr. Lungu does not know that he is not acting Bishop but President. With due respect, the Bible is not the constitution of Zambia.

That said, I want to remind Mr. Lungu that he will not remain poor – he has already accumulated a lot through undeserved allowances he receives, while the majority languish in perpetual poverty. “We,” the people, will remain poor whether we accept gay rights or not. However, Mr. Lungu’s utterances are also indicative of how gay rights are perceived – is all about money which is false.

In my article, “Does God Make Mistakes: Addressing the Issue of Gays,” I challenged our religious hypocrisy of using biblical verses when they suit our tastes. My point was that every human being is sacred. If anything, we are one big family, God’s family. My mother, my twin brother, my younger brothers and sisters may disagree with me on this issue. But that does not make us enemies. We are a family and that is more important to us than our perceived differences. If anything, my brothers and sisters would defend me should you attack me.

As Zambians, we should consider ourselves as one family. We carry one passport and share one name, Mother Zambia. We are all endowed with inherent rights and Dignity by the Creator. I know you can cite versus from the Bible to make your case, but the bible tells me that we are all children of God. I am not saying that there is no room for disagreements, but those differences shouldn’t rob us of our dignity.

I read every comment that was posted on my article. You may call me whatever you want, but I will never diminish your dignity. Being an Ethicist, I won’t waste time reciting counter-verses. What I want to know, however, is how being gay affects your lifestyle, your family, your marriage and of course your faith as a Christian.

Some critics cited Sodom and Gomorrah. However, they missed the ethical point of that story. The moral actor in that story is not God but Abraham, who was a righteous man. Unlike most Christians today, Abraham pleaded with God to stop the destruction of “sinners” in those two cities. I know this story is highly complex for people without ethical training but the point is that despite being a holy man, Abraham did not condemn Sodom and Gomorrah to hell – rather he wrestled with God to try and save it. Likewise, your duty is to pray for us sinners and not to kill us! Some critics used the meme, “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Yet their responses were full of insults, hatred and demonization. It is one thing for you to attack me as the author of this article but it is another to insult innocent people. Please insult me to your liking but not sexual minorities.

Let me take this opportunity to remind you that the culture of insults in detrimental to democracy. In case you don’t know, I have always defended human rights for all and I mean all – women, boys, girls, gays, straight, prostitutes, drunkards and even murderers. I believe that sin does not take away our humanity. This is why I oppose capital punishment and any form of brutality by those in power.

Coming back to gay rights, I kept a low profile on this issue – especially when it came to Zambia. But there are kairos moments when taking a stand is all we have to do. I am a defender of gay rights and I am not apologetic about it. I fully understand that defending human rights demands courage – that is why it is a struggle. We only get human rights by putting our lives on the line. When women began the battle for their rights, some were killed. When our liberation heroes began their struggles, some were killed and others stayed in prison for decades. But justice cannot be denied – the oppressed are always the victors. As for those who wondered whether I am gay, my answer is – what difference does it make? Oppression of our fellow human beings is not a Christian or African value.

As a Zambian, I am highly concerned with lack of civility in how we debate issues. We seem to strive on the culture of insults – from politicians to Christians. It is a shame that in the nation that prides itself in Christian values, we see nothing wrong with the comments that threaten to kill gays.

My sisters and brothers, Jesus calls us to love even our enemies. Demeaning the humanity of another person is not a virtue but a vice. You don’t need reminding that the first step to genocide is demeaning your opponents’ humanity. The Rwanda genocide is an excellent example. The Tutsi were dehumanized as cockroaches – thereby justifying their slaughter. The same thing happened to the Jews in Nazi German.

But, the dehumanization of gays seems to follow a pattern. When MMD was losing popularity, it attached the gay issue to PF. Today, the PF government wants to employ the gay issue to distract from real issues facing our nation – corruption, lack of rule of law and shortages. By the way, Mr. Lungu, if there is someone who should be in jail, it is GBM and Winter Kabimba – and not the innocent Paul Kasonkomona.

I know that most of us believe that the arrest of Paul is is justified because he is a gay rights activist. The truth is, the persecution of gay rights activists says much about our democracy. It started with the arrest of citizens for speaking against President Sata. Then Nevers Mumba, HH, Rupiya Banda and now Paul. Unless we put a stop to this madness, tomorrow we should not complain when they come for us.

Let me end by challenging the Acting President and Madam Kanjera to issue my warrant of arrest since I am a proud gay rights advocate. You don’t need to investigate, the evidence is all over – from The Lusaka times to the United Nations.

Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma served as PRA's Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher from 2008-2018. He was the original researcher to expose the ties between U.S. right-wing evangelicals and the anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda, and has testified before Congress and the United Nations. He is the author of "Globalizing the Culture Wars" and "Colonizing African Values," and appears as an expert voice in the 2013 documentary God Loves Uganda. He received his doctorate in Ethics from Boston University.