On February 26, 2011 one of Uganda’s finest and most outspoken LGBT rights activist, David Kato, was murdered in cold blood in his home. Friends and activists called him the “grandfather of the kuchus”, a self-applied label by Ugandan LGBTs.
GlobalGayz was privileged to interview him for our –‘Gay Uganda’ story in 2008. He was a brave and highly committed activist who pushed the struggle for gay rights since the 1990’s. Over the years he was jailed for his advocacy work; he spoke at international conferences; he met with UN officials; and he was not afraid to go to public court to stop a tabloid from falsely outing suspected gays. He won. His work and his memory will go down in Ugandan human rights history.
During our visit to Kampala in 2008, we were privileged to meet with several Ugandan gay rights activists who were leading the uphill battle for recognition and acceptance in their very homophobic country. The prejudice against gays was palpable. They asked us not to publish the location of their meetings but were still willing to speak their minds about the government, religious and media discrimination against them.
Physical assaults, police harassment, religious bigotry were common events in their lives. While we were talking to Victor Mukasa, another outspoken activist, his phone rang to tell him the police were at his house. Later that day FARUG leader Kasha Jacqueline spoke how she had a driver (funded by an NGO charity) to take her around townto minimize her public exposure because she was so outspoken for gay rights.
David Kato was also among this ‘family’ of brave ‘human rights defenders’ planning demonstrations, lobbying sympathetic government officials, soliciting needed funds from abroad and writing letters to the media to counter homophobic press stories. Our meetings were quiet, computers and phones were busy and we ate pizza together.
It was at this meeting that David–or possibly one of the others–wrote the following: “Many people are laughing at us, saying that we are wasting our time fighting for our rights because we may never live to see freedom. But I don’t care at all not to see that freedom, if I am not around. The issue is , have I left a foundation for the future generations to carry on the struggle? The answer is YES!”
It’s hard to describe in words the daunting conditions under which these courageous activists labor. The Ugandan government treats them with disdain; the police have fun ridiculing and abusing them; religious leaders make money by attracting crowds of ‘believers’ with anti-gay sermons and news interviews; American fundamentalists have traveled to Uganda to urge anti-gay sentiment and gay-hating legislation. Sometimes the activists have to hide or leave the country if things get too pressured and threats are made against them.
David Kato lived in fear but did not let that stop his march for human rights and justice. For him it was the right thing to do–it was the only thing to do. This was a man who made a real difference to move the world from darkness into light. His last message to us was, “Thanks for your visit to Uganda.
That was nice of you to give your time to us and I hope the data you collected will be of great use.”
What David said and did will be of much greater use. May his spirit ever shine.
By Richard Ammon