And warns that treating people unequally leads to bad things
By Melanie Nathan, July 25, 2015.
At a news conference held in in Nairobi with U.S. President Barack Obama and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, both spoke in agreement on all issues, except that of gay human rights. President Obama responded to the question with brazen support for LGBT equality while Kenyatta had a more measured response.
The Presidents agreed on issues pertaining to youth, counter terrorism, and trade. Yet, each President remained true to their constituents on the issue of equality.
President Obama, despite warnings by anti-gay Kenyans, not to speak out for gay rights while in Kenya, spoke out in full support of gay rights. Kenyatta, o n the other hand, was clear that Kenyan culture, would not be changed by American opinion, and then offered up a cautious approach to the question.
Kenya has come under criticism for its criminalizing and harsh treatment of gays. Homosexuality is mostly considered a taboo and repugnant to the cultural values and morality of Kenya, where the state punishes same-sex sexual acts as crimes.
Obama conveyed his stand for equality, invoking his personal experience and the African American struggle for racial equality in the U.S.A, noting that all people should be treated the same, despite their differences:
“When you start treating people differently, not because of any harm they doing, but because they are different, that is the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen; and when a government gets in the habit of treating people differently those habits can spread; and as an African American man in the United States I am painfully aware of the history of what can happen when people are treated differently under the law.”
He noted further that if someone is a law abiding citizen and obeying all laws and doing all that good citizens are supposed to do and not harming anybody – the idea that they will be treated differently because of who they love is wrong. He then mentioned how leadership in America were wrong when they treated African Americans unequally. He also noted that equality issues are not a matter for religion but for the state.
There is currently an even stronger expression of anti-gay sentiment in Kenya, a reaction to the American gay rights gains, especially on marriage equality. The timing of the visit of President Obama, in such close proximity to his expressions of support for the SCOTUS ruling in favor of marriage equality for all 50 of the US States, seems also to have triggered somewhat of a backlash against the LGBT people and their human rights in Kenya.
Social media has been abuzz with the resulting anti-gay rhetoric. Kenyan politicians, such as Deputy President William Ruto, have recently taken a robust stand against LGBT rights, saying that there is “no room” for homosexuality in the country’s society.
In answer to the question of LGBT equality, President Kenyatta noted in what seemed a somewhat defensive response to President Obama:
“It is difficult for us to impose on people that which they do not accept. For Kenyans issue of Gay rights is a non issue. “
In my analysis, while President Obama remained unwavering and blunt on the crucial importance of treating gay people equally, the Kenyan President took more of an ambivalent stand. The good news is that Kenyatta did not condemn gays as other leaders on the Continent are apt to do, but rather deflected the issue by minimizing it as a non-issue.
On some level that is as good and measured a response as anyone could expect. Kenyatta did not speak against gays, per se. He took the high a road as he could have expressed the extreme anti-gay sentiment of his constituents.
I think saying it is a non-issue, on the one hand, is sweeping the terrible persecution suffered by Kenyan’s LGBT community under the rug, while at the same time it is also positive in that it did not make matters worse for Kenya’s LGBT community. Perhaps this could serve to improve things for LGBT Kenyans as people can now follow the President’s lead and keep gays at a non-issue level. Hopefully this will at the very least serve to mitigate the persecution that gays are currently suffering in Kenya.