It was early in the afternoon on January 26th of this year when David Kato, a Ugandan teacher and LGBT rights activist, was brutally attacked in his home by a male assailant. The attacker hit him twice on the head with a hammer then fled. Kato died en route to the hospital.
Ugandan police claimed it was a botched robbery, but Kato’s colleagues strongly suspected other motives. Kato had reported increased death threats ever since a Ugandan tabloid named Rolling Stone had published an article with the names, addresses, and photographs of 100 people it claimed were gay or lesbian, accompanied by the headline, “Hang them.” Kato, perhaps Uganda’s most prominent LGBT activist, was pictured on the front page.
Kato and other LGBT people in Uganda lived—and continue to live—in a hostile social and political climate. A draconian bill that would increase the punishment for homosexual acts was introduced in the Ugandan parliament by MP David Bahati in October 2009. Under this bill, which has broad popular support, “repeat offenders” can face life imprisonment.
Two days after his brutal murder, friends, family members, and fellow activists gathered to bury Kato. The presiding minister, for reasons known only to him and God, decided it was a good time to launch into an anti-gay sermon complete with pointed references to Sodom and Gomorrah. After activists grabbed the microphone from the offending minister, Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, who had been excommunicated by the Anglican Church of Uganda for his ministry to LGBT people, finished presiding over the funeral.
Those present at Kato’s funeral knew that Bishop Christopher had himself been cited in the infamous Rolling Stone article that called for Kato’s death. A heterosexual supporter of LGBT rights, he was pictured on its front page right next to the man he would later bury.
It’s taken me a while to come to terms with the murder of David Kato. I didn’t know him, so here I’ll add my name to the long list of people who have appropriated his death without being directly impacted by his loss.
I’ve tried to imagine what went through the mind of the man who killed him. Perhaps after seeing his victim stare in incomprehension, after striking the first blow and watching Kato hold his head in agony, the man’s anger could have—should have—subsided, the trace of a doubt should have crept into his conscience and stopped him from striking another blow. Here, present to him, the heft of a man clearly suffering, placed in the scale against some contested ideas about the proprietyof same-sex love. Here, standing or crouching in front of him, a suffering it would be pointless to deny.
I wonder at those who do in fact deny this suffering; who from their pulpits whip their flocks into the white heat of hatred; who pour contempt on the child molesters, the corrupters of youth, the destroyers of marriage, and then, as if to put all things right again, exhort their followers to hate the sin but love the sinner.
I know what drives the hammer. What drives the hammer is a lethal combination of ignorance and bigotry. It’s self-loathing, a senseless fear of contagion, a criminal disregard for the basic facts of human sexuality. What drives the hammer is a boundless priestly arrogance, the arrogance of the contemporary Pharisee who quotes Leviticus over a plate of boiled shellfish.
Here is how one of his colleagues remembered David Kato (via GayUganda):
I am at work.
Fact is, my concentration is terrible. Bits and fits, that is when I can concentrate. Seems as if everywhere I turn, I see, think, hear, know only what has happened to David.
My partner was the first to hear the news. I was in the bathroom. And, his shout made me rush out to investigate. It was then I got an sms. From someone else.
No, it did not sink in last night.
My partner was crying. Me, too hardened. Have to express my emotions in different ways. But, I was unsettled.
My partner went, with a few others, to the police in Mukono, and from there to David’s home. Where he was killed. Speculation was rife about what had happened. Yes, David was much more open than I am. He used to say that he was the first ‘out’ gay Ugandan. Indeed, I saw one documentary in which he featured, filmed at his place, which he was still building.
Sad. He built the house. Has barely used it a year. He moved in, as is common here, before the house was ready. But, that is life.
Shit. It is hard. Life, it is hard.
Times when he lived in Masaka. Was actually a head teacher there, if I remember correctly. Then he moved to Nansana, where he seemed to always have problems with the locals. He was too open as a gay man. He would drink, and challenge them. And, he opened his house to the likes of other gay people when they felt threatened at their homes. The likes of George Oundo, if I remember well. And others.
Then he got a place in Mukono, and started building his house. The house where he was brutally murdered, just yesterday.
Sigh ... nostalgia ...
Maybe for the days when he was still alive to pester us with his demands, his beliefs in what he wanted to have done. He was a doer, and, in a difficult environment, he was an achiever. With scanty resources, he did what he could, and did it fairly well.
Of course he was a human being. Cantankerous, devious, quarrelsome.
But, he was a human being, a fighter, going to the police cells to look for those accused of being gay. Going to court to stand up for our rights.
Today is time to celebrate the life of a human rights activist, whose life, that basic human right of all, was brutally cut short. Just yesterday.
I talked to David the other day, on the phone, about his hacked email. We were worried about that seeming non entity now … !
Kato David Kisule. RIP. Wonder where his twin is.