(888) 277-4253

COMMENTARY: A tribute to David Kato, the latest martyr for human rights

David Kato, advocacy officer with Sexual Minorities Uganda since 2004, was brutally attacked with a hammer to the head and died Wednesday on his way to a Kampala hospital.

David became the latest victim in the senseless culture wars fueled from the pulpits and checkbooks of Christian fundamentalist churches in the United States. He is the latest Ugandan martyr who worked bravely for restoring the God-given right to be fully human that elitist and neo-colonialist organizations like The Family and the more populist ex-gay movement continue to ruthlessly deny.

David Bahati and Scott Lively will, no doubt, sleep soundly in their beds tonight while David’s family and the LGBT community and its allies weep for the sacrifice he has made.

I just spoke by telephone with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who is conducting his funeral as I write this. Friends and family have gathered at the family home in Mukono and we are expecting a statement from the bishop within the next couple of hours.

As David is laid to rest and we committed him to God’s loving embrace, the real work of undoing the hatred and fear that has permeated Ugandan civic life needs to begin in earnest. It needs to begin in the United States.

The Christian right is, of course, “not accountable” for this tragedy and will distance itself from what appears to be a cold-blooded assassination of a high profile and effective human rights advocate. Déjà vu -- it is Sarah Palin/crosshairs and the Tucson massacre played out on a global stage.

“Born Again in the Blood of the Lamb” apparently makes these so-called followers of Jesus accountable to no one. Good Christian people cannot be held responsible for this man’s death, washing their hands like Pilate. They will claim that Kato’s “in your face” gay lifestyle obviously brought this upon himself. No accountability and much more tragedy has yet to come.

The Christian eight has created a mass-produced army of soul-less Teflon. Gay teen suicides, Sarah Palin and Uganda represent a frightening trinity of contemporary apocalyptic signs of the real “Beasts of the Book of Revelation” – the ultimate nihilism of the Christian right. Jeff Sharlet’s chilling account of The Family theological reflection that leads to the equation -- “Jesus plus nothing.” America needs to confront its own religious bigotry and its negative global implications.

Motives for the assassination are still not clear, even thought we all know David’s pictured appeared on the front cover of Uganda’s Rolling Stone tabloid less that four months ago with headlines reading “100 Top Homos - Hang Them.” The magazine has been shut down by court order and is allegedly financed by American fundamentalists. But who cares? Tomorrow, the American taxpayer will still join with our European allies in giving half the Ugandan government millions of our dollars, pounds and euros to make sure they continue NOT to protect human rights advocates like David Kato.

All of us share in the martyrdom of David Kato. We did not strike him with a hammer, but our English colonial anti-gay laws and rampant American theocratic homophobia shaped the national closet he refused to recognize as his reality. His vision was of a different and multicultural Uganda.

We have his blood on our hands. Our words dehumanized him enough that he was fair game for anyone take out at any time. As an international community, we have not learned a damn thing from the same dehumanizing processes that happened in Rwanda. The Church was up to our eyeballs in that mess and all the Pope could claim was the actions of a few bad apples should not stain the pristine reputation of the Church. No accountability. Who are we kidding?

We Christians had devalued and destroyed this young life long before the assassin finished him off. What is so wonderful about institutional homophobia is that no one can be held accountable for a process that began maybe 20 years ago – (not the president of Uganda or the Anglican Church, nor even the quiet anti-gay respectable Truro church in Virginia who loves David Bahati and hosted him recently).

In the “Screwtape Letters,” C. S Lewis reminds us that genocide always needs the efficiency of cleanly vacuumed offices and managers with manicured fingernails. This is the devil’s work. Christian institutions have, after all, successfully ducked responsibility for Germany, Rwanda and will get away with Uganda -- the latest and lowest notch on the well-charred stake of Christian violence against LGBT people.

We still kill fags in the name of God. Bahati is on public record through the recent Rachel Maddow interview saying death to gays is inevitable -- either man-made (killing) or natural (AIDS and suicide) -- “the wages of sin is death.”

The fact that David Kato studied at the University of York to equip himself for his short but passionate commitment to human rights internationally will never be of significance to them – he was primarily a “fag.” Yet, the washing of hands of any responsibility conjures up another Christian memory -- Pilate. He is forever held in community memory as the representative of the power elite whose collusion in the death of Christ will never be forgotten.

We will never forget the role in The Family of the Doug Coe’s and others on the wrong side of justice during this dark chapter in the human story that somehow the killing of gay and lesbian people around the world and in Uganda in particular is part of God’s justice and plan. Their collusion and darkness will never quench the light and the truth that David and others lived and died for. We mourn with David’s family and friends. The international community has lost a great human rights advocate.

"David Kato's death is a tragic loss to the human rights community," said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "David had faced the increased threats to Ugandan LGBT people bravely and will be sorely missed."

As the National Prayer Breakfast gathers in Washington, D.C., on the morning of Feb. 3, the very epicenter of the fundamentalist war machine directed at Uganda – the model “purpose-driven country” of the Christian right and its sinister The Family, I cannot think of a more fitting focus for our anger and grief. Millions of people holding silent vigil across this planet in cities, churches, cathedrals, synagogues, in front of Ugandan Embassies – in solidarity with David and others who are criminalized for simply being gay. Just imagine doing that for a week for Uganda and the other 120 nations who criminalize homosexuality. A week of solidarity inspired by the Ugandan martyrs, like David Kato. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Should the president attend this gathering while we mourn our brother? President Barack Obama can boycott it in solidarity with David and what he sacrificed, or he can use the opportunity to make his administration’s position clear for governments who “fail to protect” their citizens and tax-exempt Christian institutions who export hate and fear. Is this the America we want to emulate internationally?
David’s Facebook page has his bold epitaph:

Determined to struggle till a yard done to the journey of liberating the LGBTI community from the discrimination and oppressional laws in the name of sodomy!

My prayer for David who has his “yard done” comes from the Book of Common Prayer celebrating the young men who were martyred by a Ugandan despot in the 188o’s and Archbishop Janani Luwum, murdered by Amin – all of whom had the courage to stand up to the state in the name of the people of Uganda and gave their lives that others may be free:

O God, by your providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant that we who remember before you the blessed martyrs of Uganda, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience, even unto death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Donations can be made in David’s memory to bring more legal and human rights work to Uganda, as well as providing safety and sanctuary for other Ugandans facing persecution by clicking HERE.