Kenya has banned the Disney Channel program Andi Mack over a coming-out storyline in its second season premiere.
The tween dramedy announced that the title character’s best friend, Cyrus (Joshua Rush), would begin exploring his sexuality during the show’s sophomore outing. Andi Mack dealt with the reveal with refreshing nonchalance.“You’re no different,” says a female friend when learning that the 13-year-old is gay.
The development was applauded by LGBTQ advocacy groups, who heralded it as a groundbreaking in queer representation.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, credited Andi Mack with “reflecting the lives and lived experiences of so many LGBTQ youth around the country.” PFLAG Executive Director Dr. Jaime Grant predicted the storyline would be “a memory moment for some and a teachable moment for many.”
African media regulators weren’t as thrilled with the creative decision.
Dr. Ezekiel Mutua, CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), said a statement that regulators had blocked the show from airing in Kenya following “public complaints” about its LGBTQ content. He claimed that “any attempt to introduce gay programming in Kenya will be met with the full force of the law.”
Mutua tells INTO that the government has a duty to the media from spreading “misleading information” about homosexuality. He says kids are “impressionable” and “vulnerable.”
“For a child in Kenya, watching one boy have feelings for another boy will think that is normal,” he claims in a phone interview. “It’s not normal for a man and another to have sexual relations. Any program that promotes that kind of narrative or ideology is not suitable for children. If adults want to consume it, that’s a different story. But for children, it is a no-no.”
“Kenya has very clear laws that do not allow children to be exposed to inappropriate content,” he continues. “In Kenya, homosexuality is illegal. That is the law.”
Kenya is one of more than 70 countries where same-sex relations are a criminal offense, punishable with up to 14 years in prison. Section 161 of the country’s penal code bans “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature,” a legacy of British colonial rule. It’s classified as a felony under the 19th century penal code.
Between the years of 2010 and 2014, 595 people were prosecuted under the anti-sodomy law.
Mutua claims that the country has “one of the world’s most progressive constitutions,” which recognizes “freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and access to information as fundamental rights.”
“However, that freedom is not absolute,” he says. “It has limitations.”
Many youth programs with LGBTQ themes have incurred the wrath of Kenyan regulators in recent years. Nickelodeon cartoons like Hey Arnold and The Loud House, the latter of which stars a same-sex interracial couple, were yanked from the airwaves in the African nation. Following the decision, other countries followed suit by pulling them as well.
Mutua claims queer storylines aren’t the only ones to be blocked in Kenya. He pointed to bans on The Wolf of Wall Street and Fifty Shades of Grey, which the regulator says “promote promiscuous and indecent behavior.”
But programs which depict homosexuality, he says, pose a particular threat because they “seek to normalize gay behavior.”
“Africans, we do not believe in homosexuality,” Mutua claims. “There’s a basic logic or philosophy behind it. The basic objective of sex is procreationto reproduce. Societies are defined by the ability to have a common culture and a common background.”
“That basic principle is defined and distorted if children are under the impression that one boy and another boy can have a sexual relationship,” he adds.
Kenya plans to continue allowing the Disney channel, Mutua says. He believes that the network is full of informative programs that provide children with necessary education. The media regulator claims that he has the channel in his home. But he says that any LGBTQ content that airs on Disney will continue to be opposed.
“We’re a religious and conservative culture,” Mutua claims. “That is against our culture and compromises the dignity of our people.”
Shortly after the censor spoke to INTO, he condemned two male lions who were discovered having same-sex intercourse. Alleging that the behaviors were “demonic,” Mutua told Nairobi News that the “crazy gay animals” be should be isolated and sent to conversion therapy.