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David Kato: A Hero of Hope

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One year ago we lost a hero: David Kato was murdered in his home in Uganda. David did not become a hero because he died as an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people; he was a hero because he lived for equality, despite death threats and despite all apparent odds.

David Kato was a hero because he never gave up hope. As a young man, he worked against Apartheid in South Africa. He was a witness to that seemingly undefeatable system of racism and witnessed its collapse through the determined work of those who refused to give up hope.

This week, our worlds touched as South African President Mbeki was in Uganda at the same time as Sylvia Tamale and Frank Mugisha, who were there to lead a symposium on civil society in honor of David Kato. Pastor Joseph Tolton from the Global Justice Institute was there to support the movement.

It was Sylvia who stepped away from the symposium to be in the room with President Mbeki and ask what he would say to the Ugandan Parliament about the bill that could sentence her to death as a lesbian who is HIV-positive if she were to love another woman. Mbeki compared the proposed laws in Uganda to the laws under Apartheid that allowed the police to raid people's homes in the middle of the night if there was suspicion that people were being intimate across racial lines.

It was the fall of Apartheid that brought David Kato back to Uganda with hope in his heart. He came back to his home, back to the place where he knew few people would dare to hope for equality for sexual minorities. For more than a decade, David helped build the Ugandan movement to respect the diversity of humanity regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I have hope because of the work of Sylvia Tamale, Frank Mugisha, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Pastor Tolton, and so many others. Their embodied hope rings true with the history of the Metropolitan Community Churches, which was founded in 1968 by queer people to be open to all. Our first service was held in the home of Rev. Troy Perry and included 12 people with an offering of $3.68. Today, we have more than 200 ministries in 37 countries, with queer and straight people together in multi-generational, multi-racial settings that still surprise and thrill me -- it gives me hope!

We are all the heirs of hope, but the challenges that require hope are not gone. In so many places in the world, colonial Christianity has been the root of anti-LGBT laws and attitudes. Homophobia has become almost equated with Christianity in so many places. But, as my friend and colleague Bishop Yvette Flunder of the Fellowship of Affirming Churches says:

It is not homosexuality that is 'un-African' but homophobia. Before the colonizing of Africa, in terms of land, economics, religion, and culture, indigenous African religion did not teach shame about sexuality and body. In the end, it is homophobia that is really un-African. The hatred that breaks apart families and communities is neither African nor Christian.

Bishop Flunder is a woman of hope. As the presiding bishop of a network of dozens of primarily African-American congregations that support radical hospitality, she partners with people of all colors to challenge every lie that tries to destroy hope. Whether it is homophobia or racism that says somehow African people, Afro-Caribbean people, or African Americans are more homophobic, we stand up together and say, "This is deeply not true."

What is true is that there is a deep conversation going on about religion, sexuality, cultures, and the future of Africa and many places in the world. David Kato gained hope from the fall of Apartheid. We gain hope from him.

That's why the David Kato Vision & Voice award was established, and the first recipient was Maurice Tomlinson, for his work for LGBT and human rights in Jamaica. Maurice is a member of Metropolitan Community Churches and married to the Rev. Tom Decker, an MCC minister in Toronto.

Maurice risked his own life to organize the very first March for Tolerance in 2010 for people with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, and sexual minorities. In Jamaica people are still being killed with machetes for being gay. This is not our cue to give up hope; it is our cue to press on! It is all the more important to follow David Kato and Maurice Tomlinson by holding onto hope.

Jamaica and Uganda are both horrific examples of the lethal export of homophobia and transphobia. Conservative evangelicals pour money and misinformation into vulnerable countries. They buy spokespersons and allies for their cause, since they are failing in the United States. Their movement is losing hope because it is based in fear.

Anti-gay religious and political officials are still being challenged. The assassination of David Kato drives leaders like Frank Mugisha and many others who continue to stand up, continue to live in hope, continue to live their truth.

We can be part of that hope. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports our rights around the world, we cheer! When work remains, we challenge officials throughout the world to establish and implement policies that block violence against LGBT people in the name of religion, politics, or culture. When our people throughout the world need support to fight homophobia, especially in the name of religion, we reach out. Each of us can give.

If you believe you have more freedom than you did 10 years ago, make a donation to any of the organizations that are working globally. The Global Justice Institute is one of many. If you hear people speaking out across lines of race and nation to build bridges of understanding, drop a note to them and say, "You give me hope!"

We live in tumultuous and hopeful times. We remember David Kato in both sadness and determination to live the hope that he lived. We know that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.