UPDATE 5/10/11 @ 4p EST: The anti-gay bill that has stirred so much controversy, and alleged violence, is now moving through Parliament. Conservative legislators are reportedly trying to swiftly pass the measure, with the death-penalty provision still in tact. Global gay rights watchdogs have launched a campaign to urge President Museveni to veto the bill if it passes. You can sign on to the petition at AllOut.org.
A prominent gay human rights activist in Uganda was beaten to death on Wednesday after more than a year of increasingly charged public debate over homosexuality in the country. Police have said they believe David Kato’s death was a robbery rather than a hate crime, according to the Guardian newspaper. But Kato’s friends and colleagues in Uganda insist it is instead owing to a horrifically anti-gay climate stirred up by U.S. evangelicals. The Guardian reports:
“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 rallies and workshops in Uganda discussing how to make gay people straight, how gay men sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” intended to “defeat the marriage-based society.”
The Americans involved said they had no intention of stoking a violent reaction. But the anti-gay bill came shortly thereafter. Some of the Ugandan politicians and preachers who wrote it had attended those sessions and said that they had discussed the legislation with the Americans.
The Guardian is referring to a bill, which is still pending in the Ugandan Parliament, that would make homosexuality punishable by life in prison and, in some cases, execution. Numerous reports, including an in-depth investigation by Public Research Associates, established that the bill grew out of Ugandan legislators’ relationship with the U.S. Christian right, which has expanded outreach efforts throughout sub-Saharan Africa in recent years. The bill is being pushed by MP David Bahati.
Bahati told the Guardian earlier this week, before Kato’s murder, that he is “willing to drop the death penalty” provision, but stands firm beside the other elements. Bahati spoke to the Guardian about the deportation case of Brenda Namigadde, a Ugandan who has petitioned the United Kingdom for asylum based on attacks she has faced as a lesbian. “Brenda is welcome in Uganda if she will abandon or repent her behaviour,” Bahati told the Guardian. “Here in Uganda, homosexuality is not a human right. It is behaviour that is learned and it can be unlearned.”
A global campaign is underway to force the British Home Secretary to halt Namigadde’s deportation. (Disclosure: I’m on the advisory board of the group leading that campaign.)
Last fall, a small Ugandan newspaper called “Rolling Stone” published a list of people it said were gay or lesbian, alongside photos and addresses. Kato, who is considered a founding leader in the local LGBT human rights movement, was on the list; he and others sued the paper and won. But the Associated Press noted at the time that reports of anti-gay threats and violence had been on the rise in Uganda since the anti-gay bill hit the headlines.
Of Kato’s murder, the Guardian reports:
Friends said that Mr. Kato had recently put an alarm system in his house and was killed by an acquaintance, someone who had been inside several times before and was seen by neighbors on Wednesday. Mr. Kato’s neighborhood is known as a rough one, and several people have recently been beaten to death with iron bars there.
But the Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association said in a statement yesterday that there are conflicting police reports and that at least one cites a witness to the attack. The statement also offers more background on Kato and his contributions to the global LGBT rights movement:
Kato has been arrested three times for his activism and faced innumerable other forms of harassment and assault. A long-time activist, Kato had earned the title of ‘grandfather of the kuchus’ - as gay men in Kampala call themselves - for his work on behalf of people in the LGBT community. In the past he has sheltered many people in his home, visited them in prison and worked for their release. He worked as the advocacy and litigation officer for SMUG, Sexual Minorities Uganda, Uganda’s main LGBTI Rights group. David Kato’s murder ironically comes on the same day that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon made the strongest call ever by the UN for an end to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Whatever the motive behind Kato’s killing, it’s plain that the atmosphere—and safety—for LGBT people in Uganda has deteriorated remarkably since the U.S. right showed up. Homophobia is in fact an imported product throughout sub-Saharan Africa. A particularly hardline version of Christianity has spread throughout the region in the past two decades, largely on the back of Western evangelism. These new churches and religious leaders have growing influence in local politics, and more than one struggling politico has pandered to them while trying to shore up support. Uganda is but the latest example of a place in which that process has manufactured controversy around LGBT Africans—ironically, always under the guise of calling homosexuality an example of European depravity.