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Google invites Kenyan anti-gay activist to Web Rangers conference

Google sponsors gay pride events across the world and was one of the largest corporations to back same-sex marriage at the US supreme court. Photograph: AP

Google sponsors gay pride events across the world and was one of the largest corporations to back same-sex marriage at the US supreme court. Photograph: AP

Google has invited a Kenyan government official and anti-gay activist to its Web Rangers conference in Mountain View, California, even sponsoring his visa.

Ezekiel Mutua, who is the head of the Kenyan film classification board (KCFB), gained notoriety this year for banning from the country’s servers local band Art Attack’s cover of the Macklemore gay marriage anthem Same Love, saying it “promotes homosexuality” in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal.

“Kenya must not allow people to become the Sodom and Gomorrah through psychological drive from such content,” said Mutua.

In 2014, Mutua banned Stories of Our Lives, a film about Kenya’s gay community, for “obscenity, explicit scenes of sexual activities and [for promoting] homosexuality, which is contrary to [Kenya’s] national norms and values”.

Another KCFB representative said in January that Netflix represented a threat to the country’s national security because it would make the nation a “passive recipient of foreign content that could corrupt the moral values of our children”.

Mutua is not invited to speak at the Web Rangers conference, which promotes internet safety and takes place on Friday. A person familiar with the matter suggested that discussions about bullying, especially as it affects teens struggling with nascent sexual identities, could prove instructive.

Google told the KCFB it would not remove Same Love. In May the government and the tech company compromised: the video stayed up with a warning of “imagery and a message that may be unnecessarily offensive to some”.

“Because of my stand on moral values, including the banning of content promoting LGBT and atheists culture in Kenya, someone wrote in a local daily that I will never get a visa to the US,” Mutua wrote in a post, now deleted, on his Facebook page.

“Well, I not only got it but it came on a diplomatic passport and I didn’t even have to go to the embassy for biometrics or pay the visa application fee. It was delivered to my office free of charge thanks to our efficient ministry of foreign affairs and highly courteous US embassy officials. America here we come … TO GOD BE THE GLORY!”

The invitation has caused consternation within Google, which promotes itself as a bastion of diversity and support for the LGBTQ community. Google sponsors gay pride events across the world and was one of the largest corporations to back same-sex marriage at the US supreme court.

The person familiar with the matter said there was internal conflict over Mutua’s invitation, and Google was working to determine how to better avoid apparent conflict with its stated values.

According to a report on abuses of LGBT people from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) linked from Google’s Pride landing page, in Kenya sexual contact between consenting adults of the same sex is criminalized by four statutes, the most recent from 2003. Prison terms for breaking anti-gay laws can stretch to 14 years.

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