Ugandan Gay Rights Activist Is Beaten to Death
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Published: January 27, 2011
NAIROBI, Kenya — An outspoken Ugandan gay activist whose picture recently appeared in an anti-gay newspaper under the headline “Hang Them” was beaten to death in his home, Ugandan police said on Thursday.
David Kato, the activist, was one of the most visible defenders of gay rights in a country so homophobic that government leaders have proposed to execute gay people. Mr. Kato and other gay people in Uganda had recently warned that their lives were endangered, and four months ago a local paper called Rolling Stone published a list of gay people, and Mr. Kato’s face was on the front page.
He was attacked in his home Wednesday afternoon and beaten in the head with a hammer, said Judith Nabakooba, a police spokeswoman. But police officials said they don’t believe this was a hate crime.
“It looks like theft, as some things were stolen,” Mrs. Nabakooba said.
Gay activists disagreed and said Mr. Kato was singled out for his outspoken defense of gay rights. “David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. Evangelicals in 2009,” said Val Kalende, the chairperson of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood!”
Mrs. Kalende was referring to visits in March 2009 by a group of American evangelicals who held anti-gay rallies and church leaders who authored the anti-gay bill, which is still pending, attended those meetings and said that they had worked with the Americans on their bill.
After growing international pressure, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, indicated that the bill would be scrapped but that hasn’t happened yet and it remains a simmering issue in Parliament. The Americans involved later said they had no intention of stoking such a reaction.
Many Africans view homosexuality as an immoral Western import, and the continent is full of harsh homophobic laws. In northern Nigeria, gay men can face death by stoning. In Kenya, gay people can be sentenced to years in prison.
But Uganda seems to be on the front lines of this battle. Conservative Christian groups which espouse anti-gay beliefs have made great headway in this country and wield a lot of influence. Uganda’s first lady is a born-again Christian and has even proposed a virginity census. At the same time, American organizations that defend gay rights have also poured money into Uganda to help the small and besieged gay community fight back.