President Barack Obama, on his trip to Kenya, spoke about Kenyan LGBT rights while appearing with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. LGBT rights in Kenya are limited and sex between men is a criminal activity. Punishment includes jail time of up to 14 years.
Obama compared legalized discrimination towards gays to legalized racial discrimination. “When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode,” he said. “And bad things happen.”
“As an African-American in the United States, I am painfully aware of the history of what happens when people are treated differently under the law,” Obama said. “There were all sorts of rationalizations that were provided by the power structure for decades in the United States for segregation and Jim Crow and slavery, and they were wrong.”
The United States State Department has appointed an international envoy for LGBT rights whose job is to promote rights for the community around the world as the Obama Administration has made efforts to improve LGBT lives. There were conflicting comments on whether or not President Obama should bring gay rights while in Kenya. Local leaders urged him not to as the issue is unpopular. However, the community called on him to do so as President Obama is seen as a larger-than-life figure in Kenya. They felt that him calling for gay rights and bringing it up could lead to a change in the country.
Relations between the United States and Kenya have been on the decline over the past few years as America has shifted their attention away and President Kenyatta has aligned himself with China.
However, Kenyatta was unhappy with the President’s statements.
“For Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue. We want to focus on other issues that really are day-to-day issues for our people,” Kenyatta said.
“Maybe once, like you have, we overcome some of these challenges, we can begin to look at new ones,” Kenyatta said. “But as of now, the fact remains that this issue is not really an issue that is in the foremost mind of Kenyans.”
Kenyatta has opposed any effort to change the nation’s strict anti-LGBT laws. “The fact of the matter is Kenya and the U.S. share so many values: common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families — these are some things that we share,” Kenyatta said. “But there are some things that we must admit we don’t share. Our culture, our societies don’t accept.” Then he added, “It’s very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept.”