Lamu Shows How Diversity Can Work


I was actually traveling in Africa when the controversy over draconian laws against gays and lesbians in Uganda appeared in my e-mail inbox.

Since my son started as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2008, I had worked toward visiting him during his service in Africa. The highlight was a week on the coast of Kenya near the equator in a town called Lamu.

Lamu is a UNESCO Heritage Site on a protected bay of the Indian Ocean with lovely white sand beaches and mangrove forests. The Swahili people have lived on this coast since far, far back into the mists of time. In the 17th century, the Sultan of Oman sent colonizers whose descendants continue to live in the village of Shela and the town of Lamu (the “Lam” stemming from their faith of Islam). Sailing one-masted ships called Dhows, which are still common there today, the African and Arab traders traveled along the coast as far as China in steady and brisk commerce.

Europeans began to stay in the 19th century; one of the historic sites in Lamu is the German Post Office. The centerpiece of the village of Shela is the Peponi Hotel opened forty years ago and run still by the son of the English founder. An Italian family recently opened the hotel that my son and I stayed in. A highlight of our visit for me was attending the Christmas Eve Mass in the Lamu Catholic Church on the docks, traveling there by boat at night in the dark.

Lamu definitely felt like the big city compared to the small, quiet beach nearby. Its quay was bustling with people. The first lane parallel to the water was a busy commercial street, only as wide as my son’s two arms stretched out to the side. We dodged around donkeys loaded with cases of Coke and other freight, groups of Muslim women with children in tow and men intent on their business. These alleys have been there for four hundred years and the homes behind the high walls continue to serve the people there.

I mention all this not just because it was an amazing experience, but because I was so impressed by the way in which all these people have found a way to live and work together harmoniously over the centuries, accommodating different faiths and customs, learning from one another to make life on the bay rich and meaningful for all. Diversity in sexual orientation is just another layer of difference among people that requires work for us all to get along together.

Which brings me back to the situation in Uganda. It’s frightening to see not just the horror of the proposed laws against GLBT people, but also the clear involvement of American evangelical pastors in these developments. To the extent that American evangelicals contributed to the fomenting of persecution against GLBT people in Uganda, we are failing all the people of Uganda. As Americans and as Christians, our role has got to be to encourage people to live in harmony together, respect one another’s differences, and treat others as we would like to be treated.

We know it can be done. The wonderful people of Lamu have shown us how.

If you want to send a positive message to the parliament of Uganda, check out this opportunity on the HRC website:


Reverend Janet

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