In Memoriam

David Kato remembered: A hero then, and a hero now


David Kato was born to the Kisule clan in its ancestral village of Nakawala, Namataba, Mukono District, in Uganda. The younger of twins, he was educated at King’s College Budo and Kyambogo University and taught at various schools including the Nile Vocational Institute in Njeru, where he became aware of his sexual orientation and was subsequently dismissed without any benefits in 1991.

Later, He came out to his family members and then left to teach for a few years in Johannesburg, South Africa, during its transition from apartheid to multiracial democracy, becoming influenced by the end of the apartheid-era ban on sodomy and the growth of equal rights for LGBTI South Africans.

David Kato

He returned to Uganda in 1998 and decided to come out in public through a press conference; he was arrested and held in police custody for a week. He continued to maintain contact with pro-LGBT activists outside Uganda, and served as one of the catalysts for the movement of LGBTI pride that developed in Uganda.

Kato was among the 100 people whose names and photographs were published in October 2010 by Giles Muhame in the Ugandan tabloid newspaper Rolling Stone in an article which not only outed him and the others, but also alluded to their execution through an the caption “HANG THEM,” which appeared next to a picture of a noose.

Together with others outed LGBTI Ugandans such as Kasha Jaqueline Nabagesera and Pepe Julian Onziema (SMUG), Kato successfully sued the newspaper to force it to stop publishing the names and pictures of people it believed to be gay or lesbian.

The court ordered the newspaper to pay Kato and the other two plaintiffs $600 USD.

David Kato’s story as an activist is elucidated in the must watch documentary film, “Call Me Kuchu,” and if you never had the opportunity to know or meet David, after watching the film, you will feel as if he is your brother too.

The film received acclaim around the world and played to an historic 6 minute standing ovation in the Castro, San Francisco. In the midst of making the film, David Kato was murdered, sending friends, his dear family and dedicated comrades around the world into deep shock and grief.

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Kato had spoken of an increase in threats and harassment since the court victory against Muhame, and it is clear that his sexual orientation and his activism were the motive for his murder. Kato’s murderer was caught and tried and is now serving a 30 year prison sentence.

Even though the local Ugandan media and prosecution tried to spin the motive as if to seem David had made advances on his attacker, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary and it is highly likely that the murderer was set up to commit what was indeed an assassination of a great leader, who barely had time to realize his full potential.

Kato advocated for the freedom of LGBTI Ugandans and for their right to their natural born sexual orientation in a heightened climate of hostility and homophobia, occasioned by extreme misunderstanding through the violent and harsh delivery of hyperbole and rhetoric, on Ugandan soil, by extremist American Christian Evangelicals, such as Scott Lively and Lou Engle, exporting hate in the name of their version of Christianity.

Today on this second anniversary of the death of David Kato, his friends, comrades, human rights defenders, and LGBTI people around the world are expressing their love, comforting each other and extolling the virtues of this great hero, with comments, memories and prayer for the peace of his dearly departed soul.

“Today we remember a fallen comrade who did everything in his power to stand for the truth. As we mourn his passing we also celebrate a true human rights defender, strong at heart and a great example to many young LGBTI persons. He used to say “Until it knocks on your door”; now that his passing knocked on our doors,we know that this fight is more than ever not going to be easy, but it keeps us going strong knowing that many are willing to die for it.”

And this from another heroic comrade and beloved friend of David, Viktor Mukasa:

“David was a glue for activists for effective activism. He acknowledged the role of every individual in the struggle, which is a rare thing in our struggles today. He went to great lengths to save his community. He cared about people so much that he used his personal resources to save others. He is irreplaceable.”

Frank Mugishu of SMUG noted in a statement remembering David Kato:

“Today we remember a chilling day for all LGBTI people in Uganda and around the world. The evening that followed was one of fear, apprehension, utter disbelief, horror, and uncertainty. The manner in which David was killed speaks of the sheer hate that can exist in human beings who have not opened up their hearts to love and reason, the martyrdom and the blood that David shed planted the seed of love that we all need to share, LGBTI to straight, straight to LGBTI, one to another.”

This year the coalition group of Ugandan human rights defenders (SMUG) is suing American Evangelical Pastor Scott Lively in the U.S.A. under the Alien Tort Act, for the acts and deeds in Uganda that sparked the wave of persecution against the Ugandan LGBTI community, noting his complicity in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, also known as The Kill the Gays Bill.

Through this extraordinary fight and act of bravery by SMUG and its individual members, it is clear that the spirit of David Kato is alive and well and breathing victory into the hearts and souls of his comrades.

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