On Wedndesday 26 January, David Kato, a Ugandan LGBT activist was murdered in his home in Kampala. Almost a year ago, Kato arrived in York at the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights as part of the centre’s protective fellowship scheme, designed to provide support for human rights defenders at risk.
At the time, the Ugandan government had provoked international outrage through its proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which is best known for its assertion that the death penalty should be imposed on homosexuals with previous ‘convictions’ and those that are HIV-positive. The bill also proposed an enhancement of pre-existing discriminatory measures including penalties for individuals, the media and other organisations that demonstrated support for LGBT rights. The bill remains under discussion in the Ugandan parliament.
Kato was a human rights defender who worked for Sexual Minorities Uganda, an organisation he helped set up in 2004. Homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda since laws were introduced under British colonial rule in the 19th century. Kato had been subjected to repeated verbal and physical abuse. Last October, the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone published Kato’s name and photo on their front page under the headline “Hang them”.
In November, Kato successfully won a case against the paper after challenging the publication of the photos at Uganda’s high court. The judge asserted that the Rolling Stone article constituted “an infringement or invasion of the right to privacy”. Despite this, on 26 January, Kato was murdered in his home. At David’s funeral the presiding pastor called for homosexuals to repent or be “punished by God” before the microphone was grappled away. The international press’s response to Kato’s story is unusual. Front page headlines and a statement from President Obama are not the typical responses to the death of a local human rights defender. However, the response Kato received in death did nothing to protect him from suffering a violent death.
Homophobic comments in themselves don’t kill, but they contribute to a societal response that condones a discriminatory approach
Discrimination as a response to sexual orientation has been largely regarded as a waning problem for ‘developed countries’. However, Kato was keen to highlight the parallels between US Christian fundamentalists’ reactions to homosexuals and the stirring up of anti-homosexual sentiment in Uganda.
In the last few weeks, two people were jailed for a homophobic attack that resulted in the death of Ian Baynham in South-East London. One does not have to go far within the British press to find homophobic sentiments. This week the ‘Daily Mail’ published an article by Melanie Philips who asserted that the “gay lobby” was destroying “the very concept of normal sexual behaviour” by bombarding children with “homosexual references” of emperor penguins and sea horses. Apparently, images of the animal kingdom emphasising the nurturing role of male members implicitly suggests that children should ‘choose’ to become homosexuals. While Melanie Philips’s article may verge on the ridiculous, her point is very serious.
Homophobic comments in themselves don’t kill, but they contribute to a societal response that condones a discriminatory approach. While this may not always lead to violence, it does marginalise, exclude and dehumanise human beings. This emphasises the importance of the Centre’s fellowship scheme, as it recognises the contribution made by those who seek to assert their own rights and fight for others’. The centre’s efforts underscore our collective need to actively pursue an end to the discrimination of homosexuals around the world, whether it be in York, London or Kampala.