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DeGaying Uganda

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David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in broad daylight at his home in Uganda. He died on his way to hospital. News of Kato's death reverberated throughout the world as friends, leaders, activists and human rights organizations paid tribute to a man whose lifelong legacy championed human dignity in the face of man's inhumanity to man.

Kato, a teacher who eventually quit his job to focus all his attention on Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a non-governmental organization based in Uganda's capital Kampala that advocates for the protection of Uganda's gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. David Kato was SMUG's advocacy officer and, some would argue, the founding father of gay activism in Uganda.

He came out to family members before leaving for South Africa. In transitional South Africa where vestiges of apartheid and anti-sodomy laws were still in place, he saw them dismantled through activism, witnessing firsthand the power of individual conviction grouped by a common cause for the creation of a greater good. Struggle against apartheid gave birth to a multiracial democracy; social justice based on activism lead to the growth of South Africa's LGBTQA movement. By the time Kato returned to his native Uganda in 1998, he was equipped with a cause, schooled in commitment, armored with an agenda, focused on its execution. He spent a week in police custody for activism the very year he returned. Once released, he plunged head and heart into Uganda's underground LGBTQA movement.

In 2009, American evangelical Dr. Scott Lively led an anti-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda. Days after the conference, an Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced to Uganda's parliament. The Bill proposed the death penalty for some homosexuals. The Bill came under intense pressure from human rights activists and governments around the world; its ratification is pending, shelved. But homophobic sentiment, national bigotry and hatred was fueled and justified along religious grounds from then on.

Case in point: a short while after the 2009 anti-gay conference, Kato's picture was placed on the front page of Uganda's tabloid magazine Rolling Stone where the headline written in bold capital letters read as follows: "100 PICTURES OF UGANDA'S TOP HOMOS LEAKED". Above the front page photo of Kato was an urging by the paper: "Hang them". Death by execution, the paper suggested, would rid Uganda of gays like Kato. His photo was plastered on the front page for the country and world to see; his name listed among one hundred others to be targeted. Kato sued the paper on grounds of violation of privacy and won, but often spoke of violence and death threats thereafter, making police allegations that his murder was actually a robbery gone awry, not a hate crime spurred by fearless advocacy for freedom of sexual expression and orientation, somewhat suspect.

There are many, like Rachel Maddow, who argue the recent influence by white American evangelicals in Uganda is what led to Kato's death. Their terror tactics awakened something in Ugandans that was never there to begin with. After all, gays have been in Uganda since the beginning of time. What American evangelicals did was manipulate Ugandans because of their devotion to the Christian faith, manipulated the Bible, adopted terror tactics through religious-speak where hatred targeted an easy scapegoat--homosexuals. Kato's colleagues say to rid Uganda of foreign intervention is to free their country for the better.

Africans tolerate homosexuality in much the same way they tolerate extramarital affairs or polygamy. Desire is tolerated, understood, even accepted; but a homosexual lifestyle, abandoning the duty of marrying someone of the opposite sex for a lifelong commitment to someone of the same sex, is what African social norms find moral reprehensible. Why? Because the desire is human but the lifestyle is foreign. Why? Because infant mortality is so high in Africa so children need to be born and, traditional African families do not adopt outside the family structure. So, an African family may raise children from a deceased cousin or sister, but they won't take a child off the street into their home and adopt: this is very rare, and even forbidden in the Koran. A homosexual lifestyle without adoption threatens the family structure; homosexual desire, if married with children, does not. The conflict between homosexual desire as acceptable but a homosexual lifestyle as intolerable is at the heart of the African debate. In other words, the lifestyle makes someone gay, not the desire, some Africans argue, so tolerate same-sex desire so long as it does not lead to same-sex partnership, commitment, a lifestyle like David Kato's.

At age 46, Kato left a powerful legacy that speaks to all but perhaps most loudly to queer Africans of non-conforming genders on the continent and in the Diaspora. It accents our fundamental mission here on earth: which is what? To learn about each other and, in so doing, learn more about ourselves. We are not all the same, though the professional, adult world asks us to be. But we are different, all of us, and different people relate differently to this world, which is what makes the world better and life richer. No one person, no one sexuality, no gender expression, no one gender, no one creative form of being is more important than another. And killing does not rid the world of difference. One less Kato in Uganda does not make Uganda any less gay, believe me. One living Kato alive and breathing in Uganda does not make Uganda any more gay. Just as one more woman does not add to sexism or one more person of color adds to racism. We only assume it does or would because our investment in making the world as we want it, denies the world from being what it truly is: diverse, complex, unscripted, multifaceted, nontraditional, untamed, unrehearsed, unpackaged because it is human human human.

David Kato is not dead. He soars to our Maker, the One who birthed him gay, radiant, warrior, lover, eternal. And his sword remains in the arena, sharpened for struggle, alive among the smoldering ash heaps that make up its ruins. And so he survives: spirit warrior eternal. David Kato is not dead.

Bio: Nick Mwaluko was born in Tanzania, raised mostly in Kenya and other east African countries. Nick came to New York, transitioned from anatomically female to male, and writes plays. S/He, the story of a man in a woman's body, has its second run in southern Florida on February 27, 2011. Waafrika, a lesbian love affair set in a rural Kenyan village in 1992 immediately following Kenya's first multi-party elections, will have a showcase run in October 2011 following a reading March 30, 2011. Other of Nick's plays include Blueprint for a Lesbian Universe, Asymmetrical We, Brotherly Love, Trailer Park Tundra, Are Women Human?, and others.