Friday, January 28, 2011

Gay Rights Activist Murdered in Uganda

Funeral for Ugandan gay activist

David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist was murdered in his home on Thursday, January 27, 2011. The BBC's Joshua Mmali in Kampala says hundreds of people gathered in his home village near the capital, Kampala, for the burial. At one point a protestor outside disrupted the somber funeral proceedings spewing anti-gay rhetoric demanding homosexuals "repent". He was seized by the police and removed from the premises.

Last year, Mr Kato sued a local paper which outed him as homosexual.

Uganda's Rolling Stone newspaper published the photographs of several people it said were gay, including Mr Kato, with the headline "Hang them".

Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda, and can be punished by 14-year prison sentences. An MP recently tried to increase the penalties to include the death sentence in some cases.

The Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug) group said Mr Kato had been receiving death threats since his name, photograph and address were published by Rolling Stone last year.

Our reporter says it is unclear whether the death is linked to the Rolling Stone campaign, but police have said there is no connection between Mr Kato's activism and his death.

He says hundreds of people - friends, family, colleagues and diplomats - crowded outside Mr Kato's family home in the village of Nakawala in Mukono district, 40km (about 25 miles) from Kampala.

Many members of the lesbian and gay community wore T-shirts with Mr Kato's portrait on the front and the words "La luta continua [the struggle continues]" printed on the back.

The man warned that they would face the fate of residents in Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical cities destroyed by God.

Police have made one arrest in connection to Mr Kato's murder in his home near Mukono town.

The main suspect - who the police say was living in Mr Kato's house - remains on the run.

"His homosexuality has not come up as an issue in the preliminary investigation," police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba told Reuters news agency.

"At the moment, we think theft is the most likely motive," she said.

There has been a recent spate of "iron-bar killings" in Mukono in which people have been assaulted with pieces of metal.

Witnesses have told the BBC that a man entered Mr Kato's house and beat him to death before leaving.

Smug's executive director Frank Mugisha told the BBC Mr Kato had recently been concerned about the threats he had received.

"He was killed by someone who came in his house with a hammer, meaning anyone else could be the next target."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged authorities to investigate and prosecute the killers.

The UN refugee agency head Antonio Guterres has said people facing persecution for their sexual orientation in Uganda should be given refugee status in other countries.

Much of the current impetus for the antigay campaign began with the arrival of evangelical church groups- some from the US – which began to get increasingly involved about two years back, says Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa.

“Things started going to a whole new level when the churches got involved,” Ms. Kagari says.

But while it is the current antigay campaign in Uganda that has garnered international attention, homophobia remains rife across Africa. Homosexuality is illegal in 37 countries on the continent.

And from attacks in Senegal, Nigeria, Gambia, and Cameroon to the imprisonment of a same-sex couple in Malawi and the "correctional rape" of lesbians in South Africa, more cases of abuse are being reported, Kagari says.

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Response
Below are excerpts from Rev. Peter Morales, President of the UUA:

. . . Right now in Uganda, we have seen an alarming rise in violence and prejudice toward people who are even assumed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Right now, Ugandan citizens, including members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Uganda, fear they will be killed because of this growing culture of oppression against LGBT people.

In response, I am honored to announce that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), in partnership with the UU United Nations Office (UU-UNO), has launched the UUA/UU-UNO LGBT Uganda Fund, to help LGBT human rights activists—including members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Uganda—protect people whose safety is threatened and fight for social justice and LGBT rights.

I know how bravely UUs like the Rev. Mark Kiyimba, founder of the UU Church of Uganda, are working to support and protect threatened LGBT people by providing a welcoming faith community. In their struggle to prevent further violence, the Rev. Kiyimba and other UUs in Uganda have put their own safety at risk...Home is the one place we believe we can be safe, where we can be ourselves. For LGBT people in Uganda, this belief has been shattered. I can only imagine the terror and despair they must feel. My heart breaks for them.

Still, I have hope. As president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I believe the people of our faith will answer the call to action. I have seen, again and again, the strength and resolve UUs summon in response to violence and oppression, no matter how daunting the task.

We must stand on the side of love with our UU brothers and sisters in Uganda. Through solidarity and hard work, we can —and will—end this violence.

We cannot, in good conscience, allow them to struggle alone. Even recent anti-bigotry legislation in Uganda will not stop the hatred and violence aimed at the LGBT community. Worse, much of the hateful rhetoric has been wrapped in religious language, brought to the Ugandan public by Americans representing the so-called Christian right.

The situation remains too dangerous for us to stand idly by.

Imagine the horror of seeing your photo and home address listed in a national magazine, with an accompanying article calling for your death. It seems unthinkable, almost impossible, but that is exactly what has happened in Uganda.. .

Sincerely,Rev. Peter Morales
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

(edited by Qiyamah A Rahman from QBBC NEWS and the UUA website and other sources)