Nyarwek Training the first 22 TOTs from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania who will train other trainers and conduct change forums using the toolkit developed by religious leaders.
Like other institutions in society, religious and cultural institutions and their leaders play an important role in how persons who engage in sex with persons of the same sex or who are gender nonconforming are seen or treated. In May 2015, NYARWEK commissioned a survey to examine the perspectives of religious leaders and their institutions towards gender nonconformity. Gender nonconformity refers to persons who think, feel, or behave in a way that deviates from the conventional, normative social expectations based on their biological sex. As a related but separate issue, the survey helped to discover some possible determinants of religious attitudes and perceptions towards the LGBTI in Western Kenya. It also sought to identify gaps, suggest a way forward and consequently develop resources that can be used by religious leaders in spiritually engaging members of the LGBTI community who also belong to their various religious groupings.
The LGBTI who are in our society, places of worship, our neighborhoods and even our families continue to face discrimination and rejection because of religious and cultural believes. They have been told by their families that they do not belong to them, they have been told by religious and cultural institutions that they are desperate sinners (Leviticus 18:22, Genesis 19:1-26, Judges 19, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10), abomination (cursed according to tradition and cultural) and by the law of the land (penal cord section 162 to 165 of Kenya) they are criminals. We therefore cannot limit our discussion on homosexuality but rather focus this discussion on religious and cultural perspectives on the LGBTI and on what role if any, religious and cultural institutions can play to positively change how the LGBTI are viewed and treated in Kenyan society.
It is in recognition of the above that the Nyanza Rift Valley and Western Kenya LGBTI Coalition (NYARWEK) formed in 2009, to advocate for human right of sexual minority in Western Kenya has been partnering with organizations with faith based organization and other religious groups in increasing levels of awareness and advocating for safe space, tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTI community within religious and cultural contexts. Since 2012, NYARWEK’s approach has been to reach out to religious and cultural leaders in an effort to make them aware of the existence of the LGBTI community and to provide a platform for interrogating the relationship between sexuality and spirituality and tradition. In addition, religious leaders are encouraged through a “clergy to clergy” concept to be champions of tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTI persons.
In summary NYARWEK’s way is a grassroots approach that is informed by among other things, in its context i.e. Known to unknown approach, Reproductive and legal frame work approach. Emphasis is on creating awareness and allowing for healthy conversations to happen that would lead to the creation of safe spaces, increase in tolerance, acceptance and knowledge development. It is therefore imperative that religious and cultural leaders and by extension religious institutions be involved in this discourse because they are often viewed as perhaps the largest source of stigma and discrimination. So far NYARWEK has and is still engaging with religious leaders from the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, the Muslim community and African Initiated churches through trainings, Focus Group Discussions and one on one engagement. In MAY 2015 NYARWEK has a survey with 103 religious leaders to measure the level of attitude, knowledge and understanding of LGBTI issues within the religious leaders and institution the findings were as follow.