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Ugandan Gay Rights and David Kato

Updated on May 1, 2012
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Stuart has spent three years trying to convince his boyfriend he is not hiding books under their bed and they are certainly not multiplying.


With constant debate waged over the rights of the LGBT community and marriage equality highlighted on popular news media programmes daily, it can be easy to forget we are extremely lucky to live in one of the most progressive societies in the world. We may deal with homophobia in schools, face intolerance by some or see certain civil liberties ignored by some religious institutions - such as the right to marry - but we are still protected, by law, against others acting against us solely based on our sexuality. This is not the case for many gay people living in countries who (1) still see homosexuality as a criminal offense or (2) have no laws pertaining to the protection to members of the LGBTQ communities within the country.

As it stands, the BBC estimates homosexuality is still illegal in 38 countries in Africa, whereas 13 of them have legalized it or have no laws pertaining to homosexuality whatsoever. The most publicized African country concerning the treatment of the LGBT community, recently, would be Uganda. In 2009, Ugandan MP David Bhati introduced the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill which not only broadened the criminalization of homosexuality but imposed a death penalty for repeat offenders, homosexuals/lesbians living HIV/AIDS and those of them who are having sexual relations with members of the samesex, under the age of 18. The bill also called for a legal requirement for Ugandan citizens to report homosexuality (or homosexual activity) within 24 hours or face imprisonment. Perhaps the most shocking stipulation was Uganda requested the right to extradite Ugandan citizens, living abroad, if they were involved in same-sex relationships.

This would be later toted on the world media circuit as the Ugandan 'Kill the Gays' bill and saw David Bhati interviewed on several American news programmes defending the need for such a bill. It was not until the UN threatened to cut relief efforts to the country if the bill was not killed that it was shelved; though in 2011, it was reported, an amended version of the bill had been introduced. Within this time the names and photos of several homosexuals (or those thought to be) were published on the front page of the leading Uganda newspaper, under the headline 'Hang Them'.

Memorial for David Kato, in Milan
Memorial for David Kato, in Milan | Source

Who Was David Kato?

David Kato was born on February 13, 1964 to the Kisule clan in the village of Nakawala, Namataba Town Council, Mukono District, he was given the name 'Kato' being the younger in a pair of twins. He was educated at King's College Budo and, later, Kyambogo University before teaching at various schools within Uganda. In 1991, he was dismissed from his position at the Nile Vocational Institute without benefits when he realized his sexuality. After coming out to his family he took a job in the Johannesburg, South Africa where he watched the LGBT community begin to grow and flourish.

He lived for many years in South Africa before returning to Uganda, in 1998, where he held a press conference in which he came-out publicly; hope his admission would aid others in their personal struggles. Kato spent a week in prison for this action but still remained positive he could begin change within Uganda, making it safe for all members of the LGBT community. Over the next few years, he maintained contact with several LGBT activists outside of the country and shared with them his struggles, asking for their ideas to illicit change within his country.

He became highly involved in the LGBT advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), eventually becoming one of their founding members in 2004, he took on the position of Advocacy Officer. By 2010, he had quit his teaching and focused solely on SMUG, especially in light of the events following the proposition of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality bill of 2009. When his name and photo, along with 100 other known homosexuals, were printed in the Rolling Stone paper (an Ugandan publication) he sought, and was awarded, a fellowship at the Center for Applied Human Rights in United Kingdom; the center offers Human Rights activists a brief reprieve from the dangers they face at home.

News Coverage Following Death of David Kato

Death of David Kato

In January 2011, while talking on the phone with a fellow SMUG member, Kato was assaulted by a man wielding a hammer. He was struck in the head twice before his assalter fled the scene, Kato died enroute to the hospital. His fellow SMUG members believe, as do most of the organizations he was in touch, he was killed because of his sexuality.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both called for an in-depth and impartial investigation into Kato's death, and for protection for gay rights activists in Uganda (and other African countries). Unfortunately, James Nsaba Buturo, the Ugandan Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, went on record stating, "homosexuals can forget about human rights."

Were you aware of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill?

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The Future of Gay Rights in Uganda

Unfortunately, the future of gay rights in Uganda looks bleak and the death of David Kato is a major setback in the fight, but it has garnered considerably media attention. We have serious issues to contend with in several African countries, especially when it comes to the rights of the LGBT community. There is a considerable amount of selfishness within the North American gay community, we tend to allow our action plans to be limited to the shores of our own country. Isn't it better to be an unified LGBT global community than a series of different separate sectors, we should be concerned with making life better for every gay, lesbian and transgendered person in the world.

Because that is the only way we can ensure that atrocities like this and hateful bills, like the Ugandan government is trying to pass before the world eyes, will never happen again.


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    • hisandhers profile image

      hisandhers 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Sometimes when we get so caught up in our own stuff at home we forget what it is like for people living in other countries. A very thoughtful and well-researched hub!