Friday, February 4, 2011

Perry Brass: David Kato: One Death Makes A Huge Difference

                                                                  (picture by Steve Parelli, Other Sheep)

Two weeks ago, on a Wednesday, January, 26, 2011, a high school teacher named David Kato was murdered in his small house in a rundown section of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. His skull was bashed in by a hammer attack, and he died shortly afterward in a hospital. There have been a few theories (usually trying to justify it) about his death, like it was simply a garden-variety robbery, that his attacker had not broken open any doors, so he was probably known to Kato, that it was anything except a homophobic execution, which it doesn’t take a lot of horse sense to see it was.

Kato was a leader in SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda), and literally had a price on his head in this large country in East Africa which has become known as one of the most homophobic environments in the world.

First, because Kato’s name, picture, and address were published in October, 2010, in a revolting article in a tabloid, supermarket-style magazine called “Rolling Stone,” that reached 2,000 people in print (print in Africa is often passed around to dozens of readers, so it might have reached 10 or 20 times more readers).

The headline for the Rolling Stone article announced: ONE HUNDRED PICTURES OF UGANDA’S TOP HOMOS LEAKED.

The article went on to demand that these men be attacked and hanged; it went into the old Anita Bryant gay-baiting lies that all gays want to do is “recruit,” and that these 100 Ugandan “homos” have their sights on a million Ugandans. Kato and two other men who were mentioned in the article successfully sued Rolling Stone, winning the amount of $465 plus court fees, a few days before his murder, in his mid-forties (African birth records are scant).

SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) is Uganda’s main lgbt rights organization; amazingly enough gay liberation in Uganda has survived, and there are actually several dozen Ugandan liberationists, although many of them have had to leave the country. But David Kato now has become a real face of an issue that has been unsettling the world for close to a decade. Simply enough, it is the vehemence of East African homophobia, where did it come from, and how can it be changed?

The roots of Uganda's murderous level of homophobia which has received worldwide attention, are numerous, and perhaps in this piece don't have to be fully gone into. Uganda is an overwhelmingly conservative Christian, backward, and primitive country. It has been literally colonized by American Christian fundamentalists for years who go over regularly to preach hate against lgbt people. In other words, queer men and women of any stripe are a great target for white American Christian fundamentalists who will never preach against Uganda's huge rate of polygamy, HIV and AIDS, dire poverty, illiteracy, female abuse (female circumcision is still practiced), and other problems.

Foremost among these white Americans now colonizing Uganda for their own purposes has been Rick Warren, who gave the Invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. In addition, many of Uganda's laws concerning sex are direct hand-me-downs from its years as a British colony and the legal code is still in the Victorian age, when homosexuality of any sort, consensual or not, was a crime punishable by a long prison sentence and flogging (yes, flogging).

Still the death of David Kato has hit a huge response in America, and especially in New York, the home of the UN. Tonight there will be a vigil in front of the Ugandan mission to the UN, sponsored by many lgbt groups, such as MCC New York, and the International Gay and Lesbian Organization. On Monday, Riverside Church is planning a large memorial service for Kato. There have already been memorial services at other churches, like last Sunday's at All Soul's Church on 80th Street and Lexington Avenue, sponsored by the Love Alive International Sanctuary, a predominately black lgbt congregation; on Wednesday, there was a service at the UN Church Center which is planning still another service. All in all, New York will host half a dozen services for a man most of us never met, who died 6,000 miles away in the most awful way imaginable. As a poet, I was so moved by his death that a few days after it I wrote this poem. It seemed the only response I could give him; I miss that I never got to meet him. I really grieve for him, for this noble, good man murdered in Uganda.

For David Kato
Murdered in Uganda, Jan 26, 2011

David Kato, there must be a place

in heaven waiting for you, and

Jesus will be on your right, and I

will be on your left and all of the people

who know you now will not let you go

til you rest, til you find the groves

of waiting trees and the fields of blowing grasses

and the sweet water and peaches and purple plums,

the cakes and roast chicken you liked,

and the music will lift you there from your seat

and give you sweet dancing partners

and the safety of paradise will surely be there,

the safety of a loving heart, and most

of all the safety of truth which you

will bear as you did, before hate invaded

to hammer you to death, shattering

the fine bones of your face and the fine things

you needed to say without flinching,

when you looked into the depths of your soul

and told us what was there, and how

we could reach the plains of African sorrow

and the heights of gladness there, as you

have so kindly taken us, David Kato, our fine

                 David Kato—

                        without fear

without fear.

January 29, 2011

Bronx, NY

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful poem about dear David Kato. I am crying :-(

    Thank you for putting it here and may David rest in peace.