On the murder of David Kato

I know others have been blogging this story, but we had a canon from the Episcopal diocese of San Diego at our church this morning who spoke about it, so I thought I would try to give it some small additional bit of attention.

Last month, David Kato, a gay rights activist in Uganda, was beaten to death after a tabloid (oddly called Rolling Stone) published a photo of him and several other people it maintained were gay under the headline “Hang them.”

According to this article in the New York Times,

Mr. Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in his rough-and-tumble neighborhood. Police officials were quick to chalk up the motive to robbery, but members of the small and increasingly besieged gay community in Uganda suspect otherwise.

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, said in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”

Ms. Kalende was referring to visits in March 2009 by a group of American evangelicals, who held rallies and workshops in Uganda discussing how to turn gay people straight, how gay men sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” intended to “defeat the marriage-based society.”

What has invariably been described as a “draconian” anti-gay-rights bill has been working its way through the Ugandan parliament for over a year, which among other things would “broaden the criminalization of homosexuality by introducing the death penalty for people who have previous convictions, are HIV-positive, or engage in same sex acts with people under 18 years of age.”

Meanwhile, a retired Anglican bishop in Uganda, Christopher Senyonjo, an advocate for gay people in the country who was expelled from the Church of Uganda when he first started working with gays and lesbians, is calling on the Anglican Communion to take a stronger stance in support of the rights of LGBT people. (The Anglican church of Uganda, while objecting to some of the more stringent penalties called for by the bill, has come out in support of a modified version that strengthens the current criminalization regime.)

The police have apparently arrested a suspect and are saying that the killing resulted from a “personal disagreement” and not from Kato’s activism. Some sources have been reporting that this was a case of some sort of sexual tryst gone bad, and not a hate crime. (Some conservative Anglican websites are even reporting this with a kind of satisfaction, as though it shows that concern about violence against LGBT people is just a bunch of liberal handwringing.)

Whatever the investigation turns up (and I know nothing about the circumstances of Kato’s murder beyond what I’ve read and nothing about the probity or otherwise of the Ugandan criminal justice system), the kind of climate of hate being fostered in Uganda–by professed Christians in many cases–is nothing other than the antithesis of the gospel of Jesus. The church of Christ, and particularly its leaders, needs to be crystal clear about that and unstinting in its defense of human rights and dignity for all.

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