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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 04
Ugandan Gay activist murdered in cold blood
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Ugandan Gay activist murdered in cold blood

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Ugandan Gay rights activist David Kato was murdered on January 26.

'He used to say that he was the first 'out' Gay Ugandan,' his friend, blogger GayUganda, remembered.

According to a statement issued by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the country's main LGBT organization, 'David was brutally beaten to death in his home today, 26 January 2011, around 2 p.m.'

SMUG executive director Frank Mugisha told reporters for BBC's Network Africa that '[Kato] was killed by someone who came in his house with a hammer, meaning anyone else could be the next target.'

According to BBC News, police confirmed the death and said they are investigating the circumstances.

Kato was a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone, which resulted in Uganda's Supreme Court ordering the paper to stop inciting violence against Ugandan Gays.

The tabloid - which has no connection to the U.S. music magazine of the same name - published photographs of many people it identified as Gay next to a headline reading, 'Hang them.'

According to SMUG's statement 'David has been receiving death threats since his face was put on the front page of Rolling Stone magazine, which called for his death and the death of all homosexuals.'

Mugisha confirmed that threats against Kato had increased since the tabloid story was published.

'Before he died, he talked a lot about receiving threats from the anti-Gay groups,' he told the BBC.

Ugandan activists blamed the climate of hate stirred up by an anti-Gay conference in the country's capital, Kampala, in 2009.

The conference was attended by a number of Americans prominent in anti-Gay Christian right groups. Shortly after the conference, Ugandan government supporters introduced the infamous 'Kill-the-Gays' bill, which specifies the death penalty for 'serial offender' Gays.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni is also known to be a protégé of the secretive U.S. Christian group The Family.

Val Kalende, the chair of the Lesbian organization Freedom and Roam Uganda, did not mince words when assigning blame for Kato's death.

'David's death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. Evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. Evangelicals must take responsibility for David's blood!' she said.

Mugisha demanded that the Ugandan government protect all its citizens, but also cautioned LGBT individuals to be vigilant.

'We're strongly asking every Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgender person in Uganda to watch out for their security. & [They] should take extra caution.'

According to BBC News, there has been a recent spate of 'iron-bar killings' in Mukono, where Kato lived, in which the victims were beaten with pieces of metal.

'Iron-bar killings' were also common in Uganda when the late dictator Idi Amin was in power in the 1970s.

Rolling Stone editor Giles Muhame tried to distance himself from responsibility for the crime.

'There has been a lot of crime, it may not be because he is Gay,' he told Reuters News Agency.

'We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not for the public to attack them,' he added.

International human rights organizations condemned the killing and called on the Ugandan government to protect its citizens.

'IGLHRC calls upon the government of Uganda to publicly condemn Kato's murder, carry out a full and fair investigation into his death, and prosecute the perpetrator to the fullest extent of the law,' the group said in a statement on January 27.

'Additionally, Ugandan authorities should provide police protection to LGBT human rights defenders who want it, particularly at their homes and offices.'

Human Rights Watch also called for a swift investigation into Kato's death.

'David Kato's death is a tragic loss to the human rights community,' Human Rights Watch spokesperson Maria Burnett said.

A primary school teacher, Kato became an LGBT rights activist in 1998 after he returned to Uganda from a stay in South Africa.

'In South Africa, I fought for their liberation in Johannesburg, so when I came home I had the same momentum. I tried to liberate my own community,' he said in an interview posted last year on YouTube.

'I didn't know anyone, but I knew there were people there.'

Not long afterwards, he was arrested for his activism and spent a week in police custody. The incident was the start of a career that saw him become a leading member of the LGBT rights movement in East Africa.

Kato, who was passionate and outspoken about his views, said that the life of a Gay activist in Uganda was like playing 'hide and seek.' Offices had to be changed often so they did not become targets of either police or freelance anti-Gay vigilantes.

'David was always proactive and also very authoritative. He seemed to want to be a leader in every way,' his close friend Poline Kimani, of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, told BBC News.

'I will miss everything about David - he was somebody I'd talk to about advice. I will miss him as a friend, and I will miss him as a comrade in the struggle for social justice. I know that we have lost someone who was making a change in all our contexts,' she added.

Mugisha vowed that SMUG would continue to fight for LGBT rights. 'No form of intimidation will stop our cause. The death of David will only be honored when the struggle for justice and equality is won. David is gone and many of us will follow, but the struggle will be won,' he said. Perhaps the best tribute to Kato came from his school friend, blogger GayUganda. 'We need to celebrate his life,' GayUganda wrote. 'Maybe that will take our minds off the desperate vulnerability of ours.... how quickly, how easily we can lose all, in the name of nothing, or something. 'But, it is a matter of fact that he lived his life. And, was happy. A Gay man in Uganda.'

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