Will President Obama Use His Upcoming Trip To Africa As A “Teachable Moment” On LGBT Rights?

gay-for-obamaPresident Obama’s visit to Africa will coincide with the Supreme Court’s scheduled rulings on two cases determining the future of same-sex marriage, prompting hope that the Commander-in-Chief will address the oppression of those nations’ LGBT citizens.

Obama will visit Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa in late June and early July, as the Supreme Court prepares to issue its decision on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Whereas those cases could expand the rights of LGBT Americans, just being gay is considered a criminal offense in two of the countries on the President’s itinerary.

Indian Express reports:

According to the State Department’s 2012 human rights report on Tanzania, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal and carries a prison sentence of 30 years to life. The report also concluded that gays and lesbians face “societal discrimination that restricted their access to health care, housing, and employment” and that there were no government efforts to combat such discrimination.

Conditions are similar in Senegal, according to the State Department. The agency’s 2012 human rights report on the West African nation says that consensual same-sex activity, referred to in the law as an “act against nature,” is a criminal offense.

South Africa has broad protections for homosexuals and is the only country on the entire continent that has legalized same-sex marriage. Even there, however, there have been instances of cruelty and violence, including “corrective rape” of lesbians.

The White House was mum on what role, if any, the issue of gay rights would have during Obama’s trip, but gay rights activist and White House adviser under Bill Clinton, Richard Socarides, said the President could use his trip as a “teachable moment.”

“If the timing works out so that he’s there, it may provide a perfect opportunity for him to speak out about the principles we value in our democracy and how we would hope that others follow it,” said Socarides.

Besides the two Supreme Court cases, recent developments such as Nigeria’s recently passed bill that would imprison anyone for public displays of same-sex affection and Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, which Obama has himself called “odious,” would provide ample reason for the President to address LGBT rights, while also reaffirming the United Nations’ pledge of solidarity.