President Obama talks gay rights ahead of Kenya visit

The World
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) looks on as U.S. President Barack Obama signs a guest book as he arrives aboard Air Force One at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi July 24, 2015.

It's been a long time coming — six and a half years to be precise.

On Friday, President Barack Obama arrived for his first presidential visit to Kenya. Kenya considers Obama one of its own, as Obama's father was Kenyan.

But not all Kenyans are thrilled to see him.

The president has been an outspoken critic of Kenya's persecution of gay people. He spoke about the issue with the BBC ahead of his visit.

“Everybody deserves fair treatment, equal treatment in the eyes of the law and the state. And that includes gays, lesbians and transgender persons. I am not a fan of discrimination and bullying of anybody on the basis of race, on the basis of religion, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.”

During Obama’s presidency, the US has become more supportive of gay rights, including same-sex marriage, while Africa has moved the opposite direction.

In Kenya, homosexuality remains illegal.

“A recent case that we know of is in February of this year, when two young men were arrested in a public restaurant and they were held for four days in police custody,” explains Eric Gitari, the executive director of Kenya's National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “When they were presented before the court, the court ordered that they be given anal examinations to prove that they had consensual adult sex, in private.”

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto has been outspoken on the issue, stating that Kenya was a God-fearing country and would not entertain growing calls for respect for gay rights.

The punishment for homosexuality in Kenya is a 14-year prison sentence.

“I went to this barber shop in Nairobi,” says Gitari. “I wanted to get my hair cut. But the barber there told me that I could not receive service because some of the patrons in the barber shop had seen me on television advocating for gay rights and there were concerns about associating with a known homosexual. I have been denied entry to social premises, like restaurants and bars. And the usual rhetoric I hear is that people like you are not allowed here.”

Gitari is hopeful that President Obama will speak publicly in support of gay rights while he is visiting Kenya.

“I look at him today, and a lot of Kenyans look at him today as a man who has journeyed through a lot of hardship to a point of great success.”

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