Saddened but determined, activists gathered Thursday in New York City to call for justice in the murder of Ugandan gay rights leader David Kato and to demand an end to the deadly climate of homophobia in the African country.
Some 150 people, many holding photographs of the slain gay rights advocate, gathered in the bitter cold late afternoon at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations in Manhattan where they heard from speakers including New York City council speaker Christine Quinn, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission executive director Cary Alan Johnson, and Val Kalende, board chair of Freedom and Roam Uganda.
"David was everyone's friend, and to most of us he's a father," said Kalende, who met Kato in 2004 through the founding of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), for which he served as advocacy officer. "I don't know a single day that David called me by my name. He always said 'my daughter.' And every LGBT person in Uganda feels the same way."
Kato, who was 46 years old, was beaten to death with a hammer last week at his home in Mukono district. He had received death threats for being a plaintiff in the landmark legal decision against Rolling Stone newspaper, which published personal information about prominent gay activists including Kato under the headline "Hang them."
This week Ugandan police arrested Nsubuga Enock, 22, whom they claim has confessed to killing Kato because the activist forced him to have sex for pay. On Thursday, at the vigil in New York City and in other cities including Cape Town, skeptical attendees refuted the allegations and called for an impartial investigation in the murder.
"It was a premeditated attack to kill a gay man because he is a gay man," said Speaker Quinn. "Often, governments are the last people who will ever tell the truth, and the way the truth often gets ripped out of government is by public citizens all over the world standing up and demanding it," she said.
Johnson spoke about saving more than 150 e-mails from Kato, who wrote IGLHRC to express concern about the activities of American evangelical leaders in support of a bill that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality. Kato also worried about the scarce resources for LGBT activists in Uganda. The United States sends more than $500 million in foreign aid to the country, where 84% of the population identifies as Christian.
"We are not going to stand by and let that assistance go without making some demands, without saying, 'There are responsibilities. There are commitments to human rights,'" said Johnson.
Uganda, he indicated, is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes protection for sexual orientation as held by the Toonen v. Australia decision before the UN Human Rights Committee in 1994.
Other speakers pointed blame at American evangelical leaders including Rick Warren and Scott Lively and asked them to return to Uganda and call for LGBT human rights.
"I was there. I heard them lie to Ugandans," said the Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia. "I heard them tell lies about people, lying that gays and lesbians are evil people out to kill, out to recruit in schools. Those were their words. They can't say they're not responsible for David's death."
Following the vigil, mourners walked in a silent, candlelit procession a few blocks south on Second Avenue to East 45th Street to Uganda House, the Ugandan mission to the United Nations. They left flowers, a photo of Kato, and a letter of demands for Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda to share with his government. Behind barricades within earshot of UN headquarters, activists shouted, "Stop the violence, stop the hate! Do your job, investigate!"
The letter, signed by at least 25 human rights and HIV/AIDS organizations, said in part, "We urge your government to thoroughly investigate this killing and prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law; to recognize and respond effectively to the climate of hate that surrounds it; to reject the proposed 'Anti-Homosexuality Bill'; and to ensure the enjoyment of constitutional and human rights protections by all Ugandans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Five men came to the window at Uganda House and looked at the protest, but no one from the mission came outside to talk. Friday morning, a woman who answered the phone at the mission said that no spokesperson was available.
Vigils were also held for Kato in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Click here for photos and info.