Gay Rights Activist Murdered in Uganda

I first had the opportunity to meet David Kato three years ago when he and another colleague from the gay rights organization Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) flew from Uganda to Kenya to help us understand better the human rights situation in the country. David came to the meeting with his arm in a homemade sling after he was beaten by an angry mob who accused him of immorality because he was gay. After the attacks, he continued his human rights work with serious personal sacrifice.

Yesterday, David was was found murdered in his home, apparently bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Human rights groups around the world are calling on the police to promptly and effectively investigate the murder.

This devastating news comes only weeks after David won an important victory for lesbians and gays in Uganda. Late last year, a local tabloid called Rolling Stone (no connection to the U.S. magazine) published David’s picture and name, along with other lesbian, gay, or transgender individuals, with the headline “Hang Them.” David, along with two other activists, sued the publication for violating their right to privacy. They won the case on January 3. In addition to ordering compensation for the activists, the judge issued an injunction prohibiting any further publication of the identities and home locations of individuals labeled “homosexuals.”

Times have been increasingly precarious for sexual minorities in Uganda. In 2009 a sweeping piece of legislation was introduced before the Ugandan parliament which would make homosexuality—already an illegal offense—punishable by life imprisonment. “Repeat offenders” and those who are HIV positive would be subject to the death penalty. In his role as SMUG’s advocacy officer, David worked to advocate against the bill and to bring mainstream human rights voices into the fight to recognize the gross human rights violations that the legislation would legalize.

David used his life to call for a more humane and safe world, where human rights are respected. Whether he died as a consequence of his work will likely remain undetermined—the police have little motivation to identify this vicious attack as a hate crime. What is clear, however, is that the Ugandan government has created an environment of intolerance that puts the lives of human rights activists at extreme vulnerability. David’s death is a tragedy, but we must ensure his life’s work was not in vain.

I first had the opportunity to meet David Kato three years ago when he and another colleague from the gay rights organization Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) flew from Uganda to Kenya to help us understand better the human rights situation in the country. David came to the meeting with his arm in a homemade sling after he was beaten by an angry mob who accused him of immorality because he was gay. After the attacks, he continued his human rights work with serious personal sacrifice.

Yesterday, David was was found murdered in his home, apparently bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Human rights groups around the world are calling on the police to promptly and effectively investigate the murder.

This devastating news comes only weeks after David won an important victory for lesbians and gays in Uganda. Late last year, a local tabloid called Rolling Stone (no connection to the U.S. magazine) published David’s picture and name, along with other lesbian, gay, or transgender individuals, with the headline “Hang Them.” David, along with two other activists, sued the publication for violating their right to privacy. They won the case on January 3. In addition to ordering compensation for the activists, the judge issued an injunction prohibiting any further publication of the identities and home locations of individuals labeled “homosexuals.”

Times have been increasingly precarious for sexual minorities in Uganda. In 2009 a sweeping piece of legislation was introduced before the Ugandan parliament which would make homosexuality—already an illegal offense—punishable by life imprisonment. “Repeat offenders” and those who are HIV positive would be subject to the death penalty. In his role as SMUG’s advocacy officer, David worked to advocate against the bill and to bring mainstream human rights voices into the fight to recognize the gross human rights violations that the legislation would legalize.

David used his life to call for a more humane and safe world, where human rights are respected. Whether he died as a consequence of his work will likely remain undetermined—the police have little motivation to identify this vicious attack as a hate crime. What is clear, however, is that the Ugandan government has created an environment of intolerance that puts the lives of human rights activists at extreme vulnerability. David’s death is a tragedy, but we must ensure his life’s work was not in vain.

5 Comments

This is really sad news. David was an incredibly brave man. Gays, lesbians, and transgender people are vulnerable to these types of violent acts all over the world, but the current environment in Uganda is especially dangerous. What makes this story particularly galling is the role of right wing U.S. groups that have been exporting their bigotry to East Africa. These are the groups that fueled the fire, getting preachers on board, warning of a sinister gay agenda attempting to "take over" Uganda. In reality of course, homosexuality is as African as it is American or British or Russian. People are born gay. But we are not born killers -- that is something we learn through repeated messages of hate and fear mongering.

It is possible to kill a person by bullet or a bat. But can you kill an idea? If that was the case then the ideas of Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King would have been dead long ago. Similarly love is an idea that you cannot kill - does not matter whether we consider it right or wrong - that is our problem. And we must learn to deal with it. Without resorting to violence of any form.

When I was in Kampala in November last year, I watched a CNN interview in which the editor of Rolling Stone said gays and lesbians were 'worse than terrorists'. I struggled and still struggle to understand how someone like David Kato, who fought for tolerance and understanding and for the right to simply live his life as himself, could ever be labeled a terrorist. I am honestly so tired of even having to argue that homosexuality is not un-African. There are many others like David in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and across Africa and every corner of the world, whose lives continue to prove that homosexuality is simply human.

I did not know David Kato until November 2010 when we together attended a UK Consortium organised International Conference on HIV Care and Support in London. During the conference, David not only expressed his deep love for Uganda but also his support for universal access to HIV care, support and treatment for all by 2015. His presentation and contributions during this high level conference were not only detailed but also focussed, passionate and non-discriminatory. During the conference David was not only cognisant of the dangers his human rights activism entailed but also openly expressed his fears during the meeting. His presentation was so prophetic-had we listened more attentively David will be alive today. David was a personable person, likeable, all encompassing and courageous. David's death is not only a loss to Uganda, not only a loss to sexual minorities, not only a loss to people living and affected by HIV: it’s a big blow to the entire human rights movement.
On the last day of the conference, David extended an invitation to me to visit Uganda at some point in the future. I can’t forget walking down the conference room stairs with David and talking about what Africa's future should look like with regard to the rights of sexual minorities. Little did I know that the paces we made were not only symbolic but were also taking David closer to his unfortunate end. However he died, David will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who were fortunate to have known him. His ability to unite people from different worlds made him a unique personality, an advocate, human rights pillar and international example and leader. May David's soul rest in eternal peace. May those responsible for this heinous crime be held accountable.

people shouldn'T HURT OR KILL SOMEONE BECAUSE OF THE WAY THEY ARE. WHO CARES IF YOU ARE GAY ITS THERE LIFE AND YOU SHOULDNT TAKE IT AWAY FROM THEM!!!!!

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