“A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King has perhaps never been better applied than to the brutal murder of Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato.
According to reports by the Associated Press, Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer on Wednesday after a man entered his home with the express intent of killing him. Homosexuality in Uganda is illegal, and like many states on the African continent, gay men and women are harassed, not embraced. Insulted, not respected. Shunned by family, friends and their religious communities. The outcry against their supposed immoral character and behavior reflects the ignorance inherent in a disparately unequal society: that somehow it is justifiable to deny others the simple joys of humanity. The African sun has set, and this is a sad day in Uganda.
In October 2010, David Kato was featured on the cover of a local newspaper called Rolling Stone (not to be confused with the American publication of the same name) in a story titled “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak”. In a nation with such unbridled hatred of homosexuals, the article was more akin to a “hit-list”. Kato’s photo was placed under a yellow banner which read “Hang Them”. The visceral sentiment expressed was reflective of a significant majority of the nation’s bigoted attitudes on homosexuality: conflating gays with deviant sexual acts and going so far as to allege that they intend to “recruit” Ugandan children.
WATCH RACHEL MADDOW’S COVERAGE OF GAYS IN UGANDA:
The publication garnered international attention and criticism from human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch. According to activists, a wave of attacks ensued against those mentioned in the article and others throughout the country presumed to be homosexuals. Some gays and lesbians have simply gone missing and are assumed to be dead. The police arrest and imprison others with no regard to their human rights. David Kato and two other gay activists sued the newspaper involved, claiming that it had violated their constitutional rights to privacy and won the case earlier this month. But his victory proved bittersweet — as he became a martyr for his cause.
What strikes me most is the indifference with which the news of his murder was met. The police officers assigned to the case dismissed his death as a robbery, claiming it had nothing to do with his homosexuality. The editor of the Rolling Stone newspaper that had published Kato’s photo as a target, said that he intended for the government to punish Kato and the other gay men and women listed. The editor’s only regret was that civilians had chosen to murder him. This kind of homophobia is commonplace and rampant in the African world and among blacks in the greater diaspora — from North and South America throughout the Caribbean and Europe. In Nigeria homosexuality is punishable by death. Uganda is considering a similar anti-homosexuality bill, and South Africa — the most liberal of the African states on this issue — have tolerated gangs who perform “corrective” rapes on lesbians. What is wrong with our people? Where did this begin and why does the African-American community, in particular, remain silent on such horrific human rights abuses?
Black Americans have led the way on the campaign for international civil rights protections, but we have one rotting skeleton in the closet. It seems we are deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality — both as a concept and an action, as a noun and a verb.
Like our African neighbors, brothers and sisters — we simply choose to ignore it even exists. Many Ugandans questioned on Kato’s death, claimed that homosexuality was imported by Europeans, as if it was a staple food group or mineral. As if the construct of love and desire was capable of being manufactured. Sadly, this level of ignorance is not unique to Uganda or Sub-Saharan Africa. Many black Americans, when confronted with the realities of a gay lifestyle within our own community strike out against it with visceral hatred and disgust. I have read many reactions on theGrio’s notice boards and Facebook comment’s page, in which the commentary is so divisive and the rhetoric so heated any time the word gay is used, that a meaningful conversation is hardly possible.
As I have written before, the black church and the historic roots of Christianity in the African-American experience provide the basis for anti-gay sentiments. This is an undeniable fact, and one not worth debating here. What is significant is that we have not evolved past the slave master’s lies. The same scriptures we use to condemn others, teach us to embrace those with whom we disagree. The Christ in Christianity has been absent for far too long. Islam has an equally complicated history on the subject, and it seems we all hide behind religious lessons we either don’t fully understand, or refuse to challenge.
The Ugandan flag consist of six equally sized stripes of black, yellow and red. The black stripes representing its people; yellow reflecting the sun; and red honoring brotherhood and fraternity. As David Kato is laid to rest, I hope his tragic end will lead to a civil discourse — not just in Uganda, but in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Los Angeles. There seems to be something lacking here. The black is obvious and the sun is blinding, but the brotherhood and fraternity have gone missing in the dead of night.