David Kato was a former teacher who is regarded as the founding father of the Ugandan gay rights movement. He came out first to his twin brother and then during a press conference in 1998 after which he was arrested and jailed for a week. He was part of an underground gay movement but formed Sexual Minorities Uganda (SM-UG) in 2004.He conquered his fear to speak openly and freely about the need for peace, tolerance and rights to protect gay people in the society, even in the face of oppression from his country’s government.
In 2010 he, along with 99 others, was the top story of a local tabloid which also published their pictures and addresses and called for their execution of all gay people. Even after the paper was published, he (along with others) sued the paper arguing it violated their ‘fundamental human rights and right to privacy’ after which the paper was ordered to stop that edition and to pay each of the plaintiffs 1.5 million Ugandan shillings each. All this was happening at a time where the Uganda was in the midst of an uncontrollable rise in homophobia brought on by the visit of three US anti-gay preachers who propagated the idea that the “gay movement is evil” and that “gay men sodomise boys” and seek to destroy family. A Zambian reverend who attended the anti-gay rally commented that the preachers did not understand the consequences of bringing such an idea to Uganda. “They didn’t know that when you speak about destroying the family to Africans, the response is a genocide,” he said. “The moment you speak about the family, you speak about the tribe, you speak about the future. Africans will fight to the death. When you speak like that, you invite the wrath.” .
In January 2011 around 2pm EAT, David Kato was attacked by an unknown assailant who clubbed him twice on the head before fleeing on foot. He died on his way to the hospital. This resulted in a massive international uproar (which was how I got to hear of him at all). The main suspect, Sydney Nsubuga Enoch, a well-known thief who apparently confessed to the crime stating it resulted from a personal disagreement was sentenced to 30 years in jail.
The series of events leading up to this death ranks high on the list of possibilities most gay people in my area (myself included) fear the most: to be exposed in public especially for those who are not out, to be ridiculed for standing up for your right to freedom. He was a brave man and I cannot imagine how immense his courage must have been for him to stand up for himself and others like he did. He stayed around when most people would have found their way out of the country and fast. He stood against his family, one thing that I believe is extremely hard for any African to do. David Kato said in an interview once that he wanted to be a “good human rights defender, not a dead one, but an alive one.” It’s sad that he’s gone, but even dead he still continues to inspire so many young people who dream of and work towards peace, tolerance and freedom for gay people in their society.
The David Kato Vision and Voice Award was established in his memory. In addition a documentary film titled “Call Me Kuchu” which is based on interviews he gave to two US film makers was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 11, 2012. You can watch a short film titled “They Will Say We Are Not Here” (which was made with footage from the documentary) on the New York Times website here