Saturday, January 29, 2011

David Kato LGBT hero

Imagine a country inundated by evangelicalism, where a bill that would legalize the execution of known homosexuals has been passed around parliament for years, where being 'outed' as a homosexual leads to death threats and being shunned by society. This country exists, it is known as Uganda.

But there are those who fight for a better future for Uganda. A future where sexual orientation is no longer a matter of life and death but personal preference. David Kato has fought for this future and, sadly, had his life taken for what he stood for. On January 26th, 2011, David Kato was murdered in the middle of the day in what the local authorities are claiming was a botched robbery. But friends of David Kato claim that it was an acquaintance of Kato's who had been seen in his house many times.

But how did it get to this? What made David Kato such a hero for the LGBT movement and such a perceived threat to the evangelical community? Through his life of understanding and his willingness to put himself in harms way, he supported those who would otherwise be ignored.

After completing his education in some of Uganda's best schools, David Kato became a high school educator. In the mid-90's, he moved to South Africa continuing to work as a teacher. It was here, amongst the ends of Apartheid that David Kato saw what could be done through protest and organized groups. Having come out to his family shortly before leaving for Johannesburg, seeing the ban on sodomy lifted and the gradual rise of LGBT rights inspired him to bring the same message to his home.

Upon re-entering Uganda in 1998, David Kato promptly started the Uganda's fist gay rights news conference in the capitol city of Kampala. Unfortunately Uganda was not ready for equality and David Kato was beaten by police and arrested. After being released from his one week imprisonment, David Kato sought out Uganda's LGBT underground movement. It is here where he found the group known as SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda). Becoming one of the founding members, David Kato took on the role of advocacy officer.

In October of 20069, a bill was brought to parliament, supported and inspired by American Evangelical Christians who claimed homosexuality was a threat to the African family. The support for this bill was incredibly strong, with backing of both the president, Yoweri Museveni, and the majority of parliament. But David Kato and other SMUG members spread the word to international new agencies. Soon the outcry became so strong that many countries threatened to withhold financial aid. With such threats of financial loss and other outcries the bill was suspended. In a pathetic attempt to appease critics, the writers of the bill replaced execution with life imprisonment, the bill floats about Uganda's Parliament to this day.

Also in October 2009, the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone published David Kato's name and photograph in an article listing 100 known or suspected homosexuals living in Uganda, David Kato and two other SMUG members, Kasha Jacqueline and Onziema Patience, successfully sued the newspaper to get the list removed as well as for 1.5 million Ugandan Shillings each. This smear article featured lines such as "hang them" and "Parents face heart-breaks as homos raid schools". Despite calling for David Kato's death, upon hearing of Kato's murder, the editor of Rolling Stone had this to say:
There is no need for anxiety or for hype, we should not overblow the death of one.
Those words sound far to much like those of a guilty person trying to push aside obvious evidence. To dig themselves a deeper hole, members of the newspaper went on to say:
I have no regrets about the story. We were just exposing people who were doing wrong

His death has spurred The Archbishop of Canterbury to press the U.K. goverment to allow the United Kingdom to offer asylum to any LGBT individual. In a statement US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated:
This crime is a reminder of the heroic generosity of the people who advocate for and defend human rights on behalf of the rest of us -- and the sacrifices they make. And as we reflect on his life, it is also an occasion to reaffirm that human rights apply to everyone, no exceptions, and that the human rights of LGBT individuals cannot be separated from the human rights of all persons.
In President Obama's statement, he said:
In Uganda, David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate. He was a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom. The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David’s work.

David Kato was truly a hero for many. May we all press forward to reach the future he envisioned.
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2 comments:

the chaplain said...

Very nice post. It boggles the mind that there are many who fear homosexuality to the point of killing people over it. It's painful to realize that, despite all of our achievements, humans are still reptiles in many ways.

Ahab said...

It's hard to believe that such bigotry and ignorance still exists in the 21st century. I hope Kato's murderer is held accountable for this horrible killing.

I also hope that U.S. fundamentalists who promoted homophobia in Uganda are taken to task. They might not have directly advocated violence, but they contributed to the homophobia there.