Obama made the remarks in the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C. during a town hall as part of a three-day summit for the Young African Leaders Initiative, which brings together selected young individuals from sub-Saharan Africa to meet with the U.S. president as well as American entrepreneurs, government officials and civil society representatives.
In response to a question from a summit participant who said she was from Kenya and individuals with albinism in Africa are being killed so their body parts can be harvested for ritual purposes, Obama said violence against people because of skin pigmentation is “tomfoolery” and needs to stop.
“The same, by the way, is true for sexual orientation,” Obama added. “I spoke about this in Africa, and everybody is like, oh, oh, we don’t want to hear that. But the truth of the matter is, is that if you’re treating people differently just because of who they love and who they are, then there’s a connection between that mindset and the mindset that led to racism, and the mindset that leads to ethnic conflict. It means that you’re not able to see somebody else as a human being.”
Hinting at the long history of oppression in Africa against black people because of European imperialism, Obama said, “You can’t, on the one hand, complain when somebody else does that to you, and then you’re doing it to somebody else.”
“You can’t do it,” Obama added. “There’s got to be some consistency to how you think about these issues. And that’s going to be up to young people — because old people get stuck in their ways.”
Anti-gay sentiment is high in Africa and many countries criminalize same-sex relations. Nonetheless, the audience of young African leaders seemed to welcome Obama’s remarks against anti-gay discrimination, applauding the comments when he finished.
During his visit to Africa last month, Obama spoke out publicly in favor of gay rights during a news conference in Kenya — even though public officials warned him not to bring up the subject when visiting the country. Last week, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told the Washington Blade during a news conference Obama also spoke out privately during meetings in favor of gay rights when touring Africa.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said Obama’s remarks during the young American leaders summit were a good addition to his comments overseas.
“And this really is a hallmark of President Obama’s approach – lifting up voices and communities, challenging all of us to see the humanity in others and to recognize the human rights we all share,” Bromley said. “I’m glad he raised LGBT issues again today in his meeting with young African leaders, and that he spoke about it on his recent trip to Africa. It’s important to see him raising it so consistently, and in the context of the broad range of human rights concerns that we have in every region, including Africa.”