Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately issued a statement within 24 hours of the brutal murder of LGBT activist David Kato in Uganda last week. Clinton did not rely on under or assistant secretaries to condemn the bludgeoning of Kato, who was affiliated with the human rights organization Sexual Minorities Uganda.
He was found alive with multiple crushing and blunt force wounds to his head--blows which were inflicted by a hammer. Kato died en route to a Kampala hospital. For the past year a proposed bill that advocates the death penalty has targeted lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender individuals in Uganda. Most troubling, Kato's death comes after a Ugandan tabloid, The Rolling Stone, published his picture, along with those of other homosexual men, with the headline "Hang Them." Recently Kato sued and won a case against the tabloid.
Clinton was direct in her statement that praised Kato's life and work. While diplomacy requires skirting the issue of accountability, Clinton made it very clear that the United States expects solidarity from the international community in a universal condemnation of Kato's murder.
David Kato tirelessly devoted himself to improving the lives of others. As an advocate for the group Sexual Minorities Uganda, he worked to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. His efforts resulted in groundbreaking recognition for Uganda's LGBT community, including the Uganda Human Rights Commission's October 2010 statement on the unconstitutionality of Uganda's draft "anti-homosexuality bill" and the Ugandan High Court's January 3 ruling safeguarding all Ugandans' right to privacy and the preservation of human dignity. 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 the discrimination, harassment, and intimidation of Uganda's LGBT community, and work together to ensure that all individuals are accorded the same rights and dignity to which each and every person is entitled.
Mainstream media has pretty much ignored this important story and statement from SOS Clinton in a news cycle dominated by conflict in the mid-east. However, Clinton's every syllable is parsed and dissected as she makes the rounds of morning news shows to comment on events in Cairo.
The facts surrounding Kato's murder are straightforward, but there are devious machinations by so-called American "Christian groups" that have led to this inevitable tragedy, and it is imperative that the influence of evangelicals in Africa result in accountability.
For those who have been following the story, last June Christopher Senyonjo, a Ugandan Anglican bishop, fled to the United States while blaming death threats he received on U.S. Christian evangelical groups.
The most well known of the anti-gay missionaries is Scott Lively, head of Abiding Truth Ministries. Lively gave a series of talks in Uganda in 2009 in which he castigated what he terms the "evils" of homosexuality, saying he "knows more about the subject than anyone in the world." In a good summary, The San Francisco Chronicle reported, "Shortly after Lively's trip, Ugandan legislator David Bahati introduced his 'Anti-Homosexuality Bill,' which in addition to punishing gays and HIV victims would also target groups 'promoting homosexuality,' effectively banning HIV/AIDS prevention groups."
In an article for the Huffington Post last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that the bill was "draconian" and would bring Uganda into a "direct collision" with established international human rights standards aimed at preventing discrimination. I just took a look at it. 15 shares and 26 comments. Not much for such an important statement. This article should have been much more widely received.
We only have ourselves to blame for our disengagement.
Scott Lively has condemned the Southern Poverty Law Center for calling his group a hate group, but two days after Kato's murder a Boston Globe op-ed quoted Ugandan gay rights activists who "have connected Kato's murder to the anti-gay climate fostered by a trip there by Lively and other American preachers in 2009. "David's death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,' said Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda's gay rights groups."
Here is a taste of Lively in his own words. Hate speech? Make the call.
In a statement on his website, Lively has distanced himself from responsibility saying "no has been arrested for the crime so the motive at this time is purely a matter of conjecture."
This blatant persecution of gays and lesbians in Africa has been in the news for years, but Uganda seems so far away, and so many of us have chosen not to speak out about this procession of persecution. Sometimes, it seems as if there are too many atrocities, too many obscenities-- and it is difficult to decide when to speak out and when efforts are better used elsewhere. Now, this writer feels culpable for being silent about evil in a part of the world she knows well. The Great Lakes Region of Africa is not that far from my experience; nor is the pain, suffering and mental anguish endured by the LGBT community and many of my friends here in the States.
It is relatively easy to call out the hate speech of people like Lively by using his own words, conveniently provided in a YouTube presentation.
It is much more difficult to be steadfast in focus and determination to speak out about what one knows to be happening in distant parts of the world.
Here is a rare video of an interview with Kato. His words live. His legacy endures. You cannot kill his courage, nor erase his humanity.
Recently, I was contacted on Facebook by women in South Africa and Australia who wanted me to write something, anything on the rapes of South African lesbians as a method of "curing" them of their homosexuality. I have been putting it off for a month now with a million excuses. I am ashamed to say that one of my pitiful excuses was that I did not know enough to make the story "compelling." As I read with sorrow about David Kato, I realize that speaking out about evil is required and not a matter of a writer's sense of convenience.
Writers are wordsmiths. It is our job to tell the story and get out of the way in the telling. It is not about us or how clever or shocking or "compelling" we are.
So, here is something you need to know about what is happening now in South Africa.
This is another story that has been making the rounds in Europe since at least 2009.
The heinous practice is called "corrective rape," in which sexual assaults on lesbians are viewed as a means of curing homosexuality. The most high profile case occurred 2008 when Eudy Simelane, a prominent gay rights activist was stabbed to death after being gang-raped. Her body was dumped into a stream.
Here is another account, "Hate Crimes: the rise of Corrective Rape in South Africa by the UK group, ActionAid.
On Sunday 7 July 2007, the bodies of Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Massooa were found in a field in Meadowlands, close to the Johannesburg township where they both lived. The murders were particularly shocking because of the brutality of the attacks the women had been subjected to before their deaths. Both had been gang-raped and tortured before being tied with their underwear and shot, execution-style, through the head. Sizakele was one of the first women in Meadowlands to live openly as a lesbian, and was a well-known gay and women's rights activist and HIV campaigner. On the night of the murders, both women had been drinking in a local bar and, according to eyewitnesses, suffered homophobic abuse by a crowd of people when they left to go home.
My Facebook contacts offered similar stories, and why I felt they were not "compelling" enough is beyond me. These and other accounts are not isolated instances. South Africa specifically prohibits discrimination against homosexuals in its constitution, but corrective rape is on the rise.
In 86 United Nations members states, homosexuality is illegal. In eight countries it is punishable by death. See this website for the International Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
And still we remain silent.
Would worldwide media outrage against homophobia in Uganda have saved David Kato? We will never know. But, despair and fatigue and news cycles are not sufficient reasons to look the other way.