Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Uganda, a “Fearless Voice” for Gay Rights is Brutally Silenced


David Kato Kisulle

New Internationalist reporter Joselyn Edwards observed last April that, as a gay man living in Uganda, human rights activist David Kato faced “innumerable forms of harassment” – including arrest and beatings by police. As with all sexual minorities in the deeply homophobic African country of Uganda, Kato’s future, wrote Edwards, was “unfathomable.”

Here’s how Edwards described Kato and his work when she met him last year.

Kato is one of the activists leading the fight against the [Ugandan anti-gay] law condemned most recently by President Obama as odious and unjust. International pressure since the bill was tabled last October resulted in Uganda backing away from the law’s most draconian provision: the execution of some gays. However, it remains to be seen if the backlash will moderate it any further. Even without the death sentence, the bill still calls for life imprisonment for those who commit ‘the offence of homosexuality’ and goes so far as to criminalize a simple touch as an ‘attempt to commit’ homosexuality.

Kato, a spokesperson for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was one of the plaintiffs in the successful lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone (no relation to the U.S. publication of the same name). Box Turtle Bulletin reports that Kato was one of three plaintiffs (or applicants) “who had been named by the tabloid under a headline tagged “Hang Them!” His photo appeared on the tabloid’s front cover.”

It’s now being reported that David Kato was murdered today in his home in Kampala. Sadly, given all we know about the situation in Uganda, Kato’s death is not completely unfathomable.

The details remain sketchy, but Human Rights Watch is reporting the following.

Witnesses told police that a man entered Kato’s home at around 1 p.m. on January 26, 2011, hit him twice in the head and departed in a vehicle. Kato died on his way to Kawolo hospital. Police told Kato’s lawyer that they had the registration number of the vehicle and were looking for it.

Human Rights Watch is also calling on the Ugandan government to “urgently and impartially investigate [Kato’s] killing.”

I find the news of Kato’s murder very sad – and a grim reminder of just how difficult and dangerous it is for many people around the world to live openly as LGBT. I can easily forget that as I go about my life as an openly gay person in the U.S. and Australia.

Yet while I’m horrified by Kato’s brutal murder, I’m also inspired by his courageous, Christ-like life. I have no idea if David Kato identified as Christian. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that in his life – in his efforts to help others and to move humanity forward in its thinking and treatment of people viewed by society as “less than,” as “the other,” Kato was following in the footsteps of many great people – Jesus of Nazareth among them.

I resonate with Bishop John Shelby Spong’s understanding of how the historical Jesus serves as an icon of faith. Writes Spong:

I see the primary Jesus experience as being that of a boundary breaker. His humanity and his consciousness seem to me to be so whole and so expanded that he was able to escape the basic human drive of survival that binds so many of us who are less fully developed. Unlike us, he appeared to need no security barrier behind which to hide. He could thus step across the boundaries of tribe, prejudice, guilt, and even religion into a new dimension of what it means to be human, and this is what caused people to experience God present in him. His call to us is therefore not to be religious but to be human and to be whole.

Such a call and such “boundary breaking” activity does not sit well with those fearful of growth and change. Such people ensured Jesus was killed for the radical message of inclusion he lived and taught. Similarly, David Kato’s murder, it would seem, has been at the hands of those fearful of his message of compassion and justice for all – including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population of Uganda.

David Kato, I believe, is now enveloped in the all-loving and transforming presence of the sacred. He is with God. Within my own life and sphere of influence I want to do what I can to ensure that his life of courage and sacrifice was not in vain.

Accordingly, I recommit myself to working for the full inclusion, dignity, and safety of LGBT persons in the profoundly homophobic Roman Catholic Church.

I recommit to speaking out against and working with others to reform the dysfunctional and harmful attitudes, practices, and teachings of the church’s clerical caste as they relate to homosexuality.

I recommit myself to living and working with others in modeling an authentically catholic way of being church; of being a community of spiritual seekers inspired by the life and message of Jesus. It’s a universal message, one that is truly good news of liberation for all who are oppressed by attitudes, rhetoric and structures that exclude, that deny God’s gift of human life in all its wondrous diversity.

On a practical level, I’m going to start making a modest monthly contribution to Human Rights Watch. I can’t afford to give much, but it will be something.

In all these efforts – these pro-active, hope-filled efforts – I’ll seek inspiration and encouragement from the example of people like David Kato; people who courageously open themselves to that same transforming and “boundary breaking” spirit of love that Jesus so completely embodied.

Yes, a “fearless voice” in Uganda has been tragically and brutally silenced. But the voice of justice and compassion lives on – potentially in each one of us. Let’s do what we can – in our own special and unique ways – to keep that voice alive, whenever and wherever we can.

Updates and Recommended Off-site Links:
Brutal Killing of Uganda Gay Human Rights Defender – Sexual Minorities Uganda (January 26, 2011).
Gay Hero Murdered in Uganda – It's Time for the U.S. to Act – Emma Ruby-Sachs (The Huffington Post, January 27, 2011).
Uganda Gay Activist Slain After Photo Published – Max Delany and Godfrey Olukya (Associated Press, January 27, 2011).
Ugandan Gay Rights Activist Murdered, U.S. Evangelists Must Take Responsibility – Candace Chellew-Hodge (Religion Dispatches, January 27, 2011).
Background: Evidence of Scott Lively’s Complicity In The Murder Of David Kato Joe. My. God. (January 27, 2011).
David Kato’s Funeral Marred by Commotion – Max Delany (The Huffington Post, January 28, 2011).
Is Murdered Gay Activist David Kato the Gabrielle Giffords of Uganda? – David Gibson (Politics Daily, January 29, 2011).
Slouching Toward Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate – Jim Burroway (Box Turtle Bulletin, February 2009 - present).
LGBT Rights by Country or Territory

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Why Jesus is My Man
The Scourge of Homophobia in Economically Impoverished Countries
A Prayer for International Day Against Homophobia
To Be Gay in Iraq
The Vatican’s Actions at the UN: “Sickening, Depraved and Shameless”


Amy said...

Thanks for posting this, Michael, and for sharing your thoughts and perspective on this. I heard about his death on the BBC in the middle of the night and my heart sank. Thanks for all the work you do to make our world a better place.

Catherine said...

Thank you, Michael, for writing about Kato and for all the hard work you do.

I, too, recommit to working for just and dignified treatment of all of God's creation.

Mick said...

He was a brave man and marked by the Ugandan government. Look at what Pastor Rick Warren and the Senators of C Street have sponsored.

Joe said...

The editor of Rolling Stone, Uganda:

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

Spoken like a Bishop!

Mareczku said...

Thank you for this very moving article, Michael. I suggest that you send a copy to Archbishop Nienstedt. He would surely benefit from reading it and pondering your words of wisdom.

Paula said...

It is a call to all of us to re-commit. Thanks, Michael.

Kittredge Cherry said...

II included a link to this post in my own tribute to David Kato today on the first anniversary of his death. Here is the direct link:

It includes a trailer from a new documentary film about Kato, “Call Me Kuchu.” May we honor the legacy of David Kato by continuing to work together for justice and equality for all.