Kenyan President William Ruto / "William Samoei Ruto" by Magiondolo is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

U.S. Must Back LGBTQI+ Rights During Visit with Kenyan President Ruto

William Ruto, President of Kenya, visits Atlanta this week before heading to Washington, D.C., for a State Dinner. In addition to meeting with Georgia lawmakers and business leaders, he will sit down with senior teams from Emory University as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The potential for greater collaboration between our two regions abounds. Kenya is a powerhouse, with the biggest economy in the East African region and offices from companies like Google. Georgia boasts vibrant Civil Rights history, booming film and aviation industries, and one of the most influential music scenes in the world. Both places loom large in the global public imagination. And the Kenyan diaspora shapes Atlanta’s commerce and culture. 

However, a closer relationship cannot come at the expense of human rights and public health. 

Draconian anti-LGBTQI+ legislation has lingered in Kenya’s Parliament for the past year. The proposed Family Protection Bill includes up to 50 years imprisonment for queer people. The bill would also outlaw sharing information and resources about queer communities, making expressions of support for LGBTQI+ people illegal. Landlords could face jail time for renting a home to a queer tenant. 

Even with the legislation not advancing, violence against the LGBTQI+ community in Kenya has escalated. A United Nations office in the country has registered an uptick in the violations of rights of LGBTQI+ Kenyans. Over 10 clinics and organizations that previously served LGBTQI+ people have closed, citing risk to staff and patients. 

This anti-LGBTQI+ bill does not exist in isolation. Civil society organizations in Kenya have encountered a recent crackdown, with journalists experiencing attacks and police responding to protests with violence. 

While exploring opportunities during President Ruto’s visit, U.S. leaders must advocate for broader protections for human rights, fight for democracy, and against extremism. Any deals must be contingent on anti-LGBTQI+ bills being vetoed. 

This commitment serves as a way to honor Atlanta’s Civil Rights history. Simply put, allowing state-sanctioned violence to target a marginalized group flies in the face of the city’s legacy. Atlanta has museums and monuments that recognize the struggle for racial justice. And more importantly, Atlanta is home to elders as well as contemporary activists who have put their lives on the line as part of this mobilization. Furthermore, Georgia has grown into an epicenter of queer Black life, producing figures like Alice Walker, Lil Nas X, and the late Lady Chablis.

Human rights advocacy prevails as one of Atlanta’s biggest points of pride, but upholding a vision depends on global and domestic action, not mere lip service. 

Ultimately, anti-LGBTQI+ initiatives destabilize democracy–whether in Kenya or in Georgia (where the state government recently enacted a law that limits healthcare for trans youth). Such policies thwart the realization of the promise of human rights for all—and give rise to dangerous backsliding. A recent analysis by the Williams Institute found that anti-queer laws are a hallmark of autocratic regimes worldwide. Codifying hate limits civic participation as well as government accountability.

Additionally, we must stand with our Kenyan LGBTQI+ siblings because our fates are intertwined. Kenya and Georgia share a history of exploitation and extraction. Throughout East Africa, laws that criminalize LGBTQI+ people were introduced during colonial rule and have persisted as a relic of that era of terror and control.  As we fight back against the vestiges of slavery in the United States, we must consider the parallels between our experiences of the past and present. We cannot create justice in our own backyard if we endorse oppression elsewhere. 

Moreover, some of the actors behind anti-LGBTQI+ policies globally also coordinate to push regressive laws in the States. And within the U.S., these policies disproportionately harm communities of color. 

Tighter ties between the U.S. and Kenya must include promoting equity for the populations of both countries. Supporting queer Kenyan advocates aligns with Georgia’s values and identity. Building community and solidarity across borders strengthens our work in Georgia, from defending voting rights and to improving maternal health outcomes. 

U.S elected officials and business executives must demand that Pres. Ruto reject anti-queer legislation, in order to do right by both Kenyans and Georgians.