“With respect to the rights of gays and lesbians, I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this,” said Obama in response to a question from Reuters reporter Jeff Mason about Kenya’s LGBT rights record. “I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law. And they are deserving of equal treatment under the law and the state should not discriminate based on their sexual orientation.”
Mason asked Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta the same question.
“For Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue,” said Kenyatta to audible applause during the press conference that took place at State House in Nairobi. “We really want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for people.”
Advocates criticize Kenyatta’s comments
LGBT rights advocates with whom the Washington Blade spoke after the press conference criticized Kenyatta over his comments.
“We feel excluded: That’s what Kenyatta is sending as a message,” said Eric Gitari, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a Kenyan LGBT advocacy group. “The violence and discrimination is real. Instead of stating his opinion on gay rights, Kenyatta should have responded to the question, which was how people are treated. Simply that, not West vs. African values. Not moral or cultural superiority competition.”
Jeff Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights expressed similar sentiments.
“I would like to take President Kenyatta at his word that gay rights is currently a non issue in Kenya; however, that doesn’t seem to be the case given the recent disparaging comments made by his deputy president, and the incidents of violence against LGBT people that continue to be documented by local groups,” he told the Washington Blade in an email. “If improving day-to-day living is a priority for Kenyatta, as it should be, then he would be well-served to know that study after study has shown that countries that treat LGBT people equally have better-performing and more sustainable economies.”
The press conference took place a day after Obama’s arrival in Nairobi amid calls that he not discuss LGBT rights while in Kenya.
Deputy Kenyan President William Ruto earlier this month during a speech he gave at a Nairobi church sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in the United States. Ruto also suggested that LGBT rights advocates should leave the country.
“I disagree with him on that,” Obama told the BBC during a White House interview before leaving for Kenya.
The International Criminal Court has indicted Ruto over violence he allegedly orchestrated after Kenya’s 2007 general election.
Mason on his Twitter page noted that Obama earlier on Saturday came “face to face with” Ruto during a meeting in Nairobi.
Obama came face to face with with Kenyatta's deputy, Ruto, who has been indicted by the ICC at meeting in Kenya's State House
— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) July 25, 2015