Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 1, Issue 2
Spring 2011
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editor, John-Albert Moseley
Layout Design: Nick Appleby

Remembering David Kato

by Graeme Reid, Visiting Lecturer, WGSS & LGBT Studies

David KatoSearching through a stack of business cards last Wednesday, looking for the number of my new barbershop, another card caught my eye - a card with the distinctive logo of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the name David Kato. It was one of those moments when I pause in the ordinary business of everyday and remember David.

I first met David in Johannesburg in 1995 a year of intense campaigning in South Africa for the retention of 'sexual orientation' in the Constitution. A citizen of Uganda, David volunteered his time in the office of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality assisting with the minutia of the campaign. David was to go on to prominence in Kampala where he became the public face of 'queer Uganda'. This visibility came at a cost.

Last summer when he escorted me to the SMUG offices in Kampala on the back of a boda-boda (motorcycle), he insisted on going an unusual route, and I wondered if he was being a bit paranoid. I was seduced, as many visitors are, by easy-going, vibrant Kampala. The US evangelical inspired 'Bahati Bill' had generated a climate of suspicion and fear, but the SMUG office was an energetic space, with an air of confidence that the Bill would be quietly shelved. Introduced in 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposed the death penalty for 'aggravated homosexuality' and would compel civilians to report homosexuals or face imprisonment. During our meeting, David was his characteristic self, finding it hard to sit still for a moment, his thoughts jettisoning off in several directions at once. While we talked he told me about past campaigns, his recent travels in Europe, and his plans for the future. 'Next time don't waste money on hotels', he said, 'come and stay with me.'

The last time I saw him, will ever see him, was in an open-air restaurant in downtown Kampala. He brought me some materials, including his well-thumbed copy of 'Homosexuality: Perspectives from Uganda', edited by academic Sylvia Tamale – an overview of press reports on homosexuality in Uganda from 1997 – 2007. Tamale rightly encourages open debate, concluding on an optimistic note: 'The fire that was lit with the media debate that has been raging since the late 1990s should not be allowed to go out.' But that fire took an ominous turn in October 2010 when a Ugandan tabloid, published a picture of David Kato on the front page next to the headline: 'Hang Them'. Then, in January 2011 the Uganda High Court issued an injunction against the publication, in a judgment lauded by human rights groups. "If a person is only worthy of death", the court said, "then that person's dignity is placed at the lowest ebb". Within a month David was dead, murdered in his home.

In February, sponsored by FLAGS, I delivered a paper at the African Same Sex Sexuality and Gender Diversity Conference in Pretoria. This was an extraordinary conference that brought together activists, researchers and academics from across the continent. The gathering was an indicator of a nascent LGBT movement emerging across sub-Saharan Africa, the other side of the wave of homophobia that has dominated media reports of the region. It was an invigorating and exciting meeting that held great promise. My paper was an optimistic one about the ways in which a hybrid form of African and Christian spirituality, in this case the Zionist Christian movement, embraced and celebrated gender diversity - very different from the brand of Christianity that is being exported to countries like Uganda.

David Kato was on the conference program. His paper was concerned with the ways in which HIV legislation further criminalized the LGBT community in Uganda. But we never heard his paper. Instead there was a minute of deafening silence.

Graeme Reid

Find us on