David Kato, a Ugandan activist who served as advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) was a brave and exceptional man. He was a leading opponent of the 'Anti-Homosexuality Bill' introduced in 2009 by MP David Bahati – a legislative proposal designed to criminalize any advocacy or support for LGBT people, and to punish homosexual conduct with the death penalty under certain circumstances. Having honed his activism in Johannesburg South Africa during the country’s transition from Apartheid, Kato was determined and fearless.
The international outrage over the legislation shone an unwelcomed spotlight on the homophobic climate of fear and hatred in Uganda, made worse by the concrete connection between the authors of the legislation and the insidious group, the Family, a highly secretive U.S.-based religious and political organization founded in 1935, and led by Douglas Coe.
The bill was promoted by U.S. evangelical Christian leaders including Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundidge, who met with Ugandan parliamentarians and advocated for increased strictures against homosexuality while preaching in Uganda in early 2009.
The unwelcome attention thrust the unwilling organization into the headlines again. They had yet to recover from a series of reports of relating to C-Street and a powerful expose by Jeff Sharlet, revealing many of their members (including almost every conservative senator) and their own scandals (including adulterous affairs by Senators John Ensign and David Vitter as well as South Carolina governor Mark Sanford).
On October 9, 2010, a Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone, published a cover story sensationally titled “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak,” in which names and photographs, and in some cases home areas of suspected homosexuals, were published. Framing the story as a national scandal, the publication invited a remedy. “Hang Them”. David Kato was one of two men prominently splashed above the fold on the front page.
The editor, Giles Muhame, (not to be confused with Jann Wenner, the openly gay publisher of the iconic music magazine Rolling Stone) told blogger and activist Melanie Nathan of Lez Get Real: “The homos argued that their right of privacy- had been breached when we published their pictures – but we must reveal these criminals to protect our children, Homosexuality is spreading like wildfire and we must stop it. The parliament is trying to strengthen the weak law.”
Undaunted, Kato and two other SMUG members who were also listed in the article, Kasha Jacqueline and Onziema Patience, took the tabloid to the Ugandan High Court, and on November 2, 2010, the court issued an interim injunction against ‘Rolling Stone’, banning them from publishing any further personal details of alleged homosexuals as an invasion of privacy.
On January 3, 2011, High Court Justice V. F. Kibuuka Musoke ruled that Rolling Stone's publication of the lists, and the accompanying incitation to violence, threatened Kato's and the others' "fundamental rights and freedoms," attacked their right to human dignity, and violated their constitutional right to privacy. The court ordered the newspaper to pay Kato and the other two plaintiffs 1.5 million Ugandan shillings each.
According to his SMUG colleagues, Kato had received an increase in threats and harassment since the court victory. And so it came as little surprise on January 26, 2011, when reports surfaced that Kato had died after being maliciously attacked with a hammer.
I didn’t think twice when my friend and fellow long-time activist, Michael Petrelis, asked me and a few other activists to help honor David Kato and condemn the Ugandan government. I suggested we set the date to coincide with the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. to once again shine the spotlight on the Family and their role in this unfortunate assassination. Please join us tomorrow night at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro, between 6-7pm, and show the Ugandans they are not alone.