A White House official told the Washington Blade the advocates were among the more than 70 members of Kenyan civil society who attended a “town hall” with Obama in Nairobi. The official did not identify the LGBT rights advocates who attended the meeting that lasted for nearly an hour.
Eric Gitari, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a Kenyan LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade that he is among those who attended the gathering.
“We discussed the importance of creating strong movements and organizing collectively as civil society against oppression,” Gitari told the Blade, noting Kenyan television stations broadcast the meeting live. “The meeting was inclusive of other movements and mainstreamed our struggle with others. Our inclusion in it was monumentally symbolic.”
The meeting took place a day after Obama challenged Kenya’s LGBT rights record during a press conference with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“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. “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.”
Kenyatta during the press conference said “the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue” in his country.
Kenya is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.
Obama traveled to Kenya amid calls from local politicians and other officials not to discuss LGBT rights while in the country. Gitari on Saturday criticized Kenyatta’s comments alongside Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Human Rights First and other organizations.
“President Obama continues to show tremendous leadership on this issue and we commend him for speaking out on the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or whom they love, or what country they live in,” said Ty Cobb of the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday in a statement. “We sincerely hope that President Kenyatta and other African leaders listen to the voices of their own citizens who feel excluded from society, and live in daily fear of violence and discrimination.”
Obama on Sunday traveled to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. He is scheduled to return to D.C. on Tuesday.