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GRASSROOTS: The GMT Initiative Blog

Grassroots reports on the work of amfAR-supported research teams and advocates responding to the devastating impact of HIV among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT).

Remembering David Kato

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Posted by Kent Klindera, January 28, 2011


Perhaps some of you have heard of the violent murder of David Kato, an LGBT activist in Uganda.  David was a friend of mine, a former MSM Initiative grantee, and a brave voice in an extremely challenging environment.  Wednesday, that voice was silenced. 

I first met David though my husband when we lived in South Africa.  David was visiting from Uganda, and he jokingly asked my husband how many cows it would cost for his “bride price.”  Clearly, David had a wonderful sense of humor, and it helped him immensely in his day-to-day of life in Uganda. 

As many of you know, Uganda is struggling through deep homo- and transphobia, with members of Parliament championing increasingly harsh legislation against same-sex behavior, including life sentences for “aggravated homosexually.” Uganda’s laws are already among the world’s harshest in this regard. In October 2010, David was featured in a front-page article in a tabloid that printed pictures and profiles of Uganda’s “Top Homos” (with a tag line saying “Kill Them”).  David stepped up with two other brave LGBT activists to sue the publication and the result was a victory in court.  However, that victory also increased the number death threats he received. 

We don’t know if this heinous crime was the result of hate speech against the Ugandan LGBT community, a death threat acted upon.  Some news reports document similar crimes taking place throughout David’s community that were not necessarily linked to sexual orientation.  Clearly, this crime must be investigated thoroughly. However, to me it doesn’t matter–David’s voice has been silenced.

David was very open about his sexual orientation, recognizing how his public stance gave strength to the thousands of LGBT Ugandans who currently live in the shadows of society, fearing for their lives.  David challenged both the formal legal structures and informal cultural norms about sexual orientation, both of which increase the risk of HIV infection among MSM.  A few years ago, amfAR supported David and his colleagues at SMUG on an HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy campaign.  In an effort to reduce the overall HIV epidemic in Uganda, they informed LGBT communities about their risk for HIV, empowered LGBT individuals to protect themselves, and urged the often-homophobic Ugandan government to address the HIV needs of LGBT people. SMUG’s motivations for this project came from seeing too many friends die and a desire to be “good citizens”—to reduce the spread and impact of HIV for all Ugandans. 

We have lost an excellent friend, a human rights champion, an unflagging advocate against HIV, a good citizen, and loud voice of sanity in a Ugandan environment that sometimes borders on insanity.