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Obama Chides Kenya Over LGBT Rights During Nairobi Visit

But the Kenyan president says gay rights are "a non-issue" for his people.

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President Barack Obama on Saturday used his historic visit to Kenya -- the first by a sitting U.S. leader -- to criticize the nation, as well as other African countries, for its poor record on LGBT rights.

Speaking alongside Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at a press conference in the capital Nairobi, Obama responded to a reporter's question about gay rights in Kenya by declaring that he adamantly believed "the State should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation."

In Kenya, same-sex sexual relations are outlawed and punishable by up to 14 years jail.

"When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode," Obama said. "And bad things happen."

"And when a government gets in a habit of people treating people differently, those habits can spread," Obama said.

"As an African-American, I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently under the law."

However, the Kenyan president told reporters that for cultural reasons most people in his country regard gay rights as a "non-issue."

"It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept," Kenyatta said. "This is why I repeatedly say that, for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue."

Prior to Obama's visit, conservative Kenyans had used the Twitter hashtag #KenyansMessageToObama to warn the U.S. president against speaking out in favor of LGBT rights during his visit.

"The homo agenda is not of interest to Kenyans. Try security and trade," one Kenyan Twitter user wrote.

The leader of one right-wing political party even threatened to hold a protest featuring 5,000 naked demonstrators during the president's visit so that Obama "can see from a distance the difference between a man and woman."


David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.

Contact David Mack at david.mack@buzzfeed.com.

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