What does American Evangelicalism have to do with the murder of Uganda’s most prominent LGBT activist? More than you’re probably comfortable with.
A visiting neighbor found him lying on the floor. He was bleeding with serious wounds to the head where he had been struck with a hammer. The mysterious assailant had fled the scene. David Kato died on the way to the hospital.
The police quickly labeled it as a robbery - but those who knew the victim suspected otherwise. Kato was, after all, a marked man. Only a few months before, a local Ugandan tabloid called The Rolling Stone had released a list of “top homos” complete with names and addresses. Kato’s picture was on the front page, along with a banner that read “Hang Them.”
“When my brother wanted to do something then no one could stop him. He was very brave.” - John Malumba Wasswa, Kato’s brother.
Kato was a prominent LGBT activist in Uganda, a country where homophobia is reaching a fever pitch. It is a place where many believe that homosexuals are “recruiting children” and “raiding schools.” It is also where the “Kill The Gays” bill, a piece of legislation that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death, was proposed.
Kato’s murder and the controversial “Kill the Gays” bill caused international uproar and left human rights groups scratching their heads. What caused Uganda’s descent to violent homophobia?
The chilling answer traces hatred and violence in Uganda back to the United States and the religious right. David Kato, before his death, had spoken out against American evangelicals stirring up homophobia in Africa. His allies in Sexual Minorities Uganda have also cited the role of America’s religious right as pivotal in the rise of hatred against homosexuals in Uganda. And now we can attempt to answer the question: Who Killed David Kato?
“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009. The so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.” - Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups.
Homosexuality has long been a taboo in Uganda. Economic devastation and internal political strife, however, had taken precedence over the issue. It wasn’t until evangelicals took an interest in the African country that homosexuality and politics began to merge. And so the scapegoating of gays began - an export of America.
For American missionaries, Uganda was ideal. As the gay rights movement in the United States picked up steam and homosexuality was becoming increasingly more acceptable, anti-gay Christians on the far right began to feel that they were losing the culture war. And so they turned to a place where there ideals might take root a little better. Missionaries began visiting Uganda and preaching to the people there.
Unfortunately, they did not preach peace and love. They chose instead to conduct a little social experiment with Uganda by preaching intensely anti-gay rhetoric.
Three of those evangelicals and their actions are chronicled below.
1. Scott Lively
Scott Lively is an American author and attorney. He co-wrote a book called The Pink Swastika in which he states that homosexuals are the true inventors of Nazism. He is the former state director of the California branch of the American Family Association. He brought these radical ideas to Africa where they stirred up hatred of gays.
“If your definition of homosexuality is being able to do whatever you want to and that you should be able to go and engage in sex with another person and because of that the disease you have is going to spread to that person and they’re going to take it home and give it to their wife, how much tolerance should we have for that?…zero tolerance.” - Lively on homosexuality
Here is a clip of Lively detailing his role in the “Pro-Family” movement in Uganda:
2. Richard Cohen
Richard Cohen is an American conversion therapist. He is a leader in the ex-gay movement and is, in fact, an “ex-gay” himself. He is also an evangelical Christian. His book, “Coming Out Straight,” has been cited as an inspiration for the “Kill the Gays” bill.
“Homosexuals are at least 12 times more likely to molest children than heterosexuals; homosexual teachers are at least 7 times more likely to molest a pupil. 40% of molestation assaults were made by those who engage in homosexuality.” - Cohen in his book “Coming Out Straight.” His book has been criticized for being based largely on assumptions.
And just how much has his book affected homophobia in Uganda? Take a look at this video in which Stephen Langa, head of the Family Life Network in Uganda and the main proponent of the “Kill the Gays” bill, references Cohen’s book:
3. Lou Engle
Lou Engle is a charismatic Christian leader in America. He is best known for founding “The Call” which hosts twelve hour prayer rallies. His ministry is also featured in the documentary “Jesus Camp.”
“Today, America is losing its religious freedom. We are trying to restrain an agenda that is sweeping through the education system. Uganda has become ground zero.” - Engle, speaking to a crowd of Ugandans on making homosexuality punishable by death.
Engle traveled to Uganda to praise their government’s efforts to combat homosexuality - including the “Kill the Gays” bill. Here is a clip of him speaking out to a crowd of Ugandans:
So, who killed David Kato?
Homophobia, globalized culture wars, and Americans preaching hate.
None of the missionaries listed above actually struck Kato with the hammer, but they and others who brought their twisted anti-gay ideas to Uganda are responsible for his death. And they are also responsible for the rise of hatred and violence against LGBT people in the country.
Things like this:
are the direct results of American evangelicals stirring up homophobia in Uganda.
So what does this story mean for those of us who support gay rights here in America? It means we have to be vigilant. What anti-gay evangelicals did in Uganda is what they wish they could accomplish here: a culture that believes gays are evil. While many of them have tried to distance themselves from the controversial “Kill the Gays” bill, they remain unchanged in their view of homosexuality as a disease to be eradicated.
David Kato was buried by his close friends after the pastor who was supposed to oversee the ceremony chose instead to go on an anti-gay tirade. Even in death, peace seemed elusive for Kato. Indeed, for all gay people in Uganda, the road ahead is long and tumultuous.
To honor David Kato’s memory and to stand with our allies in Uganda, we must remember that we cannot afford to be complacent. The men on this list who caused so much damage to the gay community in Uganda reside right here in the United States where they continue to preach hatred. We must support gay rights and human dignity in America if we ever want to see a day where their vitriol cannot harm anyone else.
Would you like to see a film on the life and death of David Kato?