By Gatonye Gathura
Scientists at the Kenya Medical Research Institute have reported a truce with the clergy over HIV research among gays.
A report published in April by Kemri says there has been a thawing of attitude over homosexuality among the clergy at the Coast, a major win for HIV research.
In 2010 Kemri had been forced to close down a HIV research clinic in Mtwapa, Kilifi following violet protests by the local community and religious groups.
The groups had opposed the operations of the clinic claiming it was initiating young men to homosexuality and same-sex marriages.
But following intensive engagement with the religious leaders, Kemri says now the clergy are more accepting and hold supportive views of sexuality, sexual identities, and same-sex relations.
The engagements as per the report had peaked between June 2015 and October 2016 involving, meetings, workshops and online trainings.
Clerics participating in the exercise, the report say included 138 representatives from six different denominations with 59 Muslim clerics; 30 Anglican Church pastors; 27 Protestant pastors and 14 Kaya elders.
Others were four Seventh Day Adventists pastors and four Catholic priests while three religious leaders refused to participate.
The Kemri side involved two community liaison officers, two HIV behavioral scientists, and six members from coastal gay community groups.
For their time the participating clergy were paid Sh1, 000 per day. The exercise, the report says was funded by Americans through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“The religious leaders realized that they have a role to play in facilitating gays’ social acceptance to advance their access to HIV prevention and care,” says the report appearing in the journal of Critical Public Health on April 27th.
Others institutions in the study included University of Oxford, UK, University of Turku, Finland and University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The report shows while most of the clerics went into the exercise breathing fire against gays they largely came out a changed people.
“At the start of the sessions religious leaders expressed, on the whole, extremely homophobic views,” says the study, views it says were supported with readings from respective scriptures.
As perspectives changed, the report says most religious leaders started to use alternative scriptures to justify their new viewpoints.
But the report say still a lot of work needs to be done for the researchers to fully win over the hearts of the Coast clergy and community over gay matters.
It cites the cases of one religious leader who had participated in exercise but has since relapse to condemning gays in public forums.
In another case a clergy was ex-communicated by his superiors for having taken part in the engagement activities.
But since then Kemri has resumed its research activities on gays across the country with its most recent findings published this month (May 3rd) in the journal Aids.
In this study Kemri working with others from US, Canada and the UK investigated the use of alcohol and other substance among 1,476 gays, at three research sites across Kenya.
Of these, 44 per cent or 637 were into hazardous alcohol use, slightly more than half, 749 had problematic substance use while a third were depressed.
The researchers now want gays affected by harmful alcohol or substance use or in depression to be provided with appropriate treatment and prevention services.