Death of a Ugandan Activist: Mourning, Reactions, and Action

News of the murder of David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay activist who was outed in a Ugandan newspaper last year, has been spreading rapidly across the internet. (Previous Gay Highwaymen post here.) Many Western news sources have picked up the story (New York Times: Ugandan Who Spoke Up for Gays Is Beaten to Death”), which prompts me to have several thoughts:

This is terrible news – but at the same time, it isn’t news at all. From the LGBT activists I know around the world, I receive news of brutal murders of LGBT people all the time. Jamaica. Turkey. Uganda. I’m glad that David Kato’s tragic death is receiving the media coverage it deserves, but I’m surprised how many people seem surprised to hear that queer people are being murdered. An old activist slogan applies well in this case: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

As this story is discussed in the West, I hope that we can avoid some of the negative clichés that one hears far too often about LGBT rights and Africa. When news of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill hit the international airwaves last year, many Westerners condemned Ugandans (and Africans in general) as uncivilized and ignorant for considering this bill. But in doing so, they missed a crucial fact: much of the homophobia that produced this bill was imported to Uganda from the West. I don’t want to romanticize the past, but historical evidence suggests that homosexuality was tolerated much more in some pre-Christian African societies, than it is today. The missionaries who brought evangelical Christianity to Uganda also brought homophobia.

It’s a great irony: These conservative, virulently homophobic strains of Christianity that are repugnant to the majority of people in the countries that brought them to Uganda (and other African countries), are practiced enthusiastically in Africa. But how can Europeans and North Americans condemn Africans for these beliefs, and forget that the source (and, arguably, at least some of the responsibility) lies with their own countrymen?

I have received over 40 press releases from LGBT organizations around the world about David Kato’s death. Brazil. Kenya. Germany. Chile. England. Nigeria. Spain. United States. The outpouring of grief is overwhelming. David Kato’s work and his courage touched so many people. The world has lost a truly remarkable person, and extraordinarily brave activist.

Amidst the tears, I am glad to see that many of these groups are making the connections between anti-gay evangelical groups in the U.S. and the hostile climate in Uganda.Sharon Groves of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., wrote:

“Since at least 2009, radical U.S. Christian missionaries have added anti-gay conferences and workshops in Uganda to their anti-gay efforts in the U.S. – and now they’re beginning to ordain ministers and build churches across East Africa focused almost entirely on preaching against homosexuality.
These American extremists didn’t call for David’s death. But they created a climate of hate that breeds violence – and they must stop and acknowledge they were wrong.”

SoulForce of Abilene, Texas, concurs:

“[W]e call upon our colleagues in ministry who have contributed to the rise of homophobia in Uganda and around the world to repent of the kind of preaching and public pronouncement that vilify homosexuality as a sin and that purport to offer “cures” for sexual orientation.”

GetEQUAL DC has planned a “Breakfast Without Bigotry” to protest and expose the anti-LGBT group behind the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.:

“Join LGBTQ folks, people of good will and our religious leaders outside the National Prayer Breakfast as we expose “The Family” — the secretive group hosting it — and their dangerous, gay-hating programs in Uganda, the United States, and elsewhere, made possible by events such as this.”

The HRC has identified Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and Carl Ellis Jenkins, as 3 U.S.-based evangelists who are “stirring up hostility” toward LGBT people in Uganda.
If you wish to sign the HRC’s petition to urging these three to “Stop Exporting Hate,” you may find it at this link.

Aidan Dunn
re-posted from

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