American LGBT activists have joined a Ugandan gay leader in appealing to gay and mainline black civil rights organizations in the United States to take a vocal stand against conditions in Uganda that they say led to the Jan. 26 murder of a prominent gay advocate in his home near Kampala.
The activists spoke during a Jan. 28 telephone news conference in New York on the same day that an Anglican priest stunned friends and family members of slain Ugandan gay advocate David Kato by shouting at Kato’s burial service that homosexuality is “evil.”
According to a BBC News report, the priest, Thomas Musoke, declared before hundreds of people, “You must repent. Even animals know the difference between a male and a female.”
Reuters News Service reported that a scuffle broke out between Kato’s friends and nearby residents, who supported the priest’s remarks, prompting funeral workers to refuse to bury Kato’s coffin. Friends and family members completed the burial, Reuters reported.
Rev. Joseph Tolton, pastor of the Harlem-based Rehoboth Temple Christ Conscious Church in New York and an organizer of the Jan. 28 news conference, said a coalition of mostly African-American LGBT organizations and faith-based groups are encouraging U.S. civil rights and religious leaders to speak out more forcefully on anti-gay bias in Uganda.
“It’s an appeal to the mainline black civil rights organizations that we’ve had really good conversations with,” he said. “It’s an appeal to black industry. It’s an appeal to the LGBT African-American community and then an appeal to the boarder black community. And it’s definitely an appeal to the black faith community as well.”
Tolton was joined at the news conference by Frank Mugisha, chair of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the group for which Kato served as outreach advocate and deputy director.
Mugisha arrived in the U.S. last month to work with Tolton and other U.S. LGBT advocates to draw attention to the hostile conditions in Uganda for LGBT people and to build opposition to a pending bill in the Uganda Parliament calling for increased legal restrictions against homosexuality, including a possible death penalty for certain sexual acts.
Kato was found bludgeoned to death inside his home in a village about 20 miles outside Kampala on Jan. 26.
The murder came less than a year after Kato sued a Ugandan newspaper for publishing his photo, name and address – along with photos and identifying information of other known gays – under a headline that said, “Hang them.”
Ugandan police have said a preliminary investigation indicates Kato was killed during a robbery and that the incident was not related to his sexual orientation. Authorities said late last week that they arrested one suspect in the case and were looking for a second suspect that they said had been living in Kato’s house.
Members of SMUG expressed skepticism over the police reports. Activists with the group say they believe Kato was targeted because of his role as a gay leader at a time when politicians and many news media outlets in Uganda were waging a vocal campaign condemning homosexuality.
His murder also took place as the country debates whether its parliament should pass a proposed law calling for tightening existing restrictions against homosexuality, with a possible death penalty for people engaging in homosexual acts. Human Rights advocates have dubbed the legislation the “kill the gays” bill.
President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton issued statements expressing sadness over Kato’s death and called on Uganda to thoroughly investigate the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“In Uganda, David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate,” Obama said in a Jan. 27 statement. “He was a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom. The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David’s work.”
Clinton, in a statement released the same day as the president’s statement, called on Ugandan authorities to “quickly and thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for this heinous act.”
Clinton noted that Kato played a leading role prompting Uganda’s Human Rights Commission to release a statement saying the proposed legislation against homosexuality violated the country’s constitution. She noted that Kato won his court case in a Jan. 2 ruling by Uganda’s highest court holding that newspapers could not violate privacy rights of gay people by publishing personal information about them.
“His tragic death underscores how critical it is that both the government and the people of Uganda, along with the international community, speak out against discrimination, harassment, and intimidation of Uganda’s LGBT community,” Clinton said.
Other groups participating in the news conference and making appeals for U.S. support for LGBT Ugandans were Global Justice Institute, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD); GLO TV Network; BGM Network; GBM News; Metropolitan Community Church of New York; GayByGod.net; Rehoboth Temple; and The Fellowship.
Tolton called on LGBT advocates and their supporters in the U.S. to contact their representatives in Congress to alert them to the pending anti-gay legislation in Uganda and urge them to speak out against it.
He also called on U.S. advocates to consider providing financial support to SMUG, whose leaders he said are risking their own lives in their fight for justice for LGBT people in Uganda.
Tolton said online contributions can be made through www.GayByGod.net, an LGBT supportive faith-based website.
A press release posted on the website of the Embassy of Uganda in Washington, D.C. says Ugandan authorities believe “aggravated robbery” was the motive behind David Kato’s murder.
The press release says police are “actively searching” for the suspect still at large, who they describe as the “main suspect” and someone who was “formerly residing with and in the employment of Mr. Kato.”
“There are no indications that Mr. Kato’s campaign against the anti-homosexuality bill which was before Parliament of Uganda, or any other actions as a gay activist, were contributing factors in his death,” the release says. “The Uganda police [are] committed to thoroughly investigating this incident, as well as any other murder, and shall bring the perpetrators to justice.”