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Friday, January 28, 2011

Ignorance + Fear = Death

Three months ago, in October, 2010, Rolling Stone, an Ugandan newspaper, featured a front page diatribe against homosexuality with a picture of human rights activist and gay man, David Kato, under the banner that read "100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos. Hang Them."

Mr. Kato, an advocacy officer for the gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), led the list of 100 homosexual men and women whose names, addresses, and photographs were published in the paper. Rolling Stone urged readers to kill those on the list. A Ugandan court ruling prevented the paper from publishing more names.

On Wednesday afternoon, January 26, 2011, Mr. Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in his own home. Police officials said the motive was robbery, but LGBT Ugandans disagreed and said Mr. Kato was singled out for his outspoken defense of gay rights. He had been receiving death threats ever since the October edition of the newspaper hit the stands.

Indeed, one SMUG spokesperson went straight to the heart of the matter.

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, said in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”

Ms. Kalende was referring to visits in March 2009 by a group of American evangelicals, who held rallies and workshops in Uganda discussing how to turn gay people straight, how gay men sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” intended to “defeat the marriage-based society.”
Those U.S. evangelicals include Scott Lively, the former head of the California affiliate of the American Family Association who has written the book "The Pink Swastika" about what he calls the links between Nazism and a gay agenda for world domination.

He and two others, including Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, have led conferences and workshops about the evils of homosexuality in Uganda.

A direct result of all this anti-gay evangelical rhetoric was the Anti-Homosexuality Bill introduced into the Ugandan legislature in 2009 which would prescribe the death penalty for gays and lesbians, though it has yet to be made into law.

The Americans who were involved forcefully asserted that they had "no intention" of stoking a violent reaction. The antigay bill, however, was drafted soon after. Some of the Ugandan politicians and evangelicals who wrote the legislation admitted that they had attended those sessions and that they had discussed the legislation with the American evangelicals.

Political Research Associates condemned the murder and demanded an end to “the export of homophobia to Uganda by American conservatives.”

“Kato’s murder is a heavy blow to the international human rights community,” said Rev. Kapya Kaoma, the director of PRA’s Project on Religion and Sexuality. “Those U.S conservatives who have lit the brushfire of homophobia in Africa have to bear some responsibility for this tragic death and for the conflagration that now threatens to consume all gay Ugandans.”

Some of you - okay, a distinct minority of those of you who read this blog - are saying, "Oh, pshaw! That's like comparing the so-called violent rhetoric of "a few" right-wingnuts to what happened in Tuscon. You can't blame the violent actions of criminals on evangelicals or politicians or conservative media. People have to take responsibility for their own actions."

Okay, let's talk about talking responsibility for own's actions - whether or not the consequences of those actions are "intended".

Let's review the time line here. In March, 2009, American evangelicals came to Uganda and gave impassioned sermons and lead workshops to educate Ugandans about the "evils" of homosexuality.

Eight months later, in November, 2009, legislation was introduced into the Ugandan Parliament which would include some of the harshest anti-gay regulations in the world, which includes jail sentences for those who "fail to disclose or report" known homosexual persons.

Even a reporter who privately interviews homosexual people - or their parents or medical staff to treat them - but keeps their identity anonymous could be found to have "promoted homosexuality," an act punishable by five to seven years in prison.

And were any Ugandans to have sex with someone of the same sex in another country, the law would mandate their extradition to Uganda for prosecution. Only terrorists and traitors are currently subject to extraterritorial jurisdiction under Ugandan law. Even murderers don't face that kind of judicial reach.

World wide attention by human rights activists focused on the proposed draconian legislation which resulted in provisions for the death penalty being dropped, but the bill continues, at this very moment, to simmer and stew in Parliament.

In October, 2010, the Rolling Stone published its "Homosexual Hit List".

The paper said homosexuals were raiding schools and recruiting children, a belief that is quite widespread in Uganda and has helped drive the homophobia.

Mr. Kato and a few other activists, who had endured months of death threats, sued the paper and won. This month, Uganda’s High Court ordered Rolling Stone to pay hundreds of dollars in damages and to cease publishing the names of people it said were gay.

On Wednesday, January 26, 2011, David Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his own home. He died on the way to the hospital.

Why yes, let's do talk about taking responsibility for our actions, shall we?

I would love it if someone would - indeed, could - explain to me how these events are NOT connected, one to the other.

Words have enormous power.

There is power in the fact that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and the President of the United States of America have soundly condemned the murder.

Ms. Clinton said, in part,
"His crime is a reminder of the heroic generosity of the people who advocate for and defend human rights on behalf of the rest of us -- and the sacrifices they make. And as we reflect on his life, it is also an occasion to reaffirm that human rights apply to everyone, no exceptions, and that the human rights of LGBT individuals cannot be separated from the human rights of all persons."
Mr. Obama said,
"At home and around the world, LGBT persons continue to be subjected to unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate. In the weeks preceding David Kato’s murder in Uganda, five members of the LGBT community in Honduras were also murdered. It is essential that the Governments of Uganda and Honduras investigate these killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.

LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights. My Administration will continue to strongly support human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad. We do this because we recognize the threat faced by leaders like David Kato, and we share their commitment to advancing freedom, fairness, and equality for all."
I am deeply grateful for their words.  I am especially grateful for Mr. Obama's assertion that "LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights."

Those are powerful words. Thank you, Mr. Obama.

I am grateful for the words of our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who issued this statement from Dublin, Ireland, where she is attending the meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion:
"At this morning’s Eucharist at the Primates Meeting, I offered prayers for the repose of the soul of David Kato. His murder deprives his people of a significant and effective voice, and we pray that the world may learn from his gentle and quiet witness, and begin to receive a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone. May he rest in peace, and may his work continue to bring justice and dignity for all God’s children."
I am even more grateful that The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has finally broken his silence about the deadly homophobia in Uganda. Dr Williams is also in Dublin for the Primates' meeting. He made the following statement regarding the murder of the gay human rights activist David Kato Kisule in Uganda:
The brutal murder of David Kato Kisule, a gay human rights activist, is profoundly shocking. Our prayers and deep sympathy go out for his family and friends - and for all who live in fear for their lives. Whatever the precise circumstances of his death, which have yet to be determined, we know that David Kato Kisule lived under the threat of violence and death. No one should have to live in such fear because of the bigotry of others. Such violence has been consistently condemned by the Anglican Communion worldwide. This event also makes it all the more urgent for the British Government to secure the safety of LGBT asylum seekers in the UK. This is a moment to take very serious stock and to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities.
It is, indeed, "a moment to take very serious stock" and "to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities."

It would also be a good thing, indeed, to make the connection between the words that convey those "attitudes of mind" and the consequences of such communication.
In 1987, six gay activists in New York formed the Silence = Death Project and began plastering posters around the city featuring a pink triangle on a black background stating simply ‘SILENCE = DEATH.’

In its manifesto, the Silence = Death Project drew parallels between the Nazi period and the AIDS crisis, declaring that ‘silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.’

The slogan thus protested both taboos around discussion of safer sex and the unwillingness of some to resist societal injustice and governmental indifference. The six men who created the project later joined the protest group ACT UP and offered the logo to the group, with which it remains closely identified.

Artist Keith Haring developed this theme into the above graphic which became one of the logos of ACT/UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power).

As dangerous as silence about oppression can be, 'coming out' as an LGBT person and breaking the silence about the reality of LGTB people among us is still a dangerous act.

Ignorance continues to bread fear.

Ignorance, combined with fear, can be deadly.

If Keith Haring were alive today, I suspect he might alter his image and cut right to the chase, as it were.
Ignorance + Fear = Death.

Ignorance killed David Kato. Bigotry and prejudice, under girded by hateful, false religious doctrine fed that ignorance and provided fuel to ignite the flames of fear and violence.

There were consequences to David Kato breaking the silence about the reality of his sexual orientation as part of the fullness of his humanity. He did not intend those consequences. Indeed, he recently said, that he wanted to be a “good human rights defender, not a dead one, but an alive one.”

I have a hard time believing, given the wording of the legislation crafted by American evangelicals and the Ugandan politicians they influenced, that they did not intend the death of someone like David Kato as a consequence of their preaching and teaching.

What they, in their ignorance, perhaps did not intend is that Kato's death has made him a martyr to the cause of the liberation promised by the Christ they say they follow.

History has shown that martyrdom is stronger than any force to oppress. That will be David Kato's legacy. I suspect that the pending Ugandan legislation now has an even slimmer chance of passing Parliament.

While American Evangelicals like Scott Lively and Don Schmierer and the Ugandan politicians they influenced did not place the hammer in the hand of Kato's assailant, nor did they directly commit his murder, the consequence of their teachings will be their legacy:  Ignorance, fear and death.

In the end, that will speak a message that may not find justice in the courtroom, but will resound loud and clear throughout the cosmos and into the very heart of God, whose peace and justice surpass all human understanding.

UPDATE:  Read ENS story: Episcopalians condemn murder of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato
Archbishop Henry Orombi has previously declined to condemn violence against homosexuals.

The Anglican Church of Uganda has said it believes that "homosexual practice has no place in God's design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation, or His plan of redemption."

UPDATE #2 COMMENTARY: David Kato's funeral illustrates schism of Anglican Church
As the Anglican Primates gather in Dublin, Ireland, the question they must ask themselves and ponder this weekend is what kind of Anglicanism are we really representing? What are we proud of from David Kato’s life and the rites our church provided over his dead body? And what are we ashamed of?


MarkBrunson said...

So much for the sanctity of life among conservative "christians."

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I forward this to Facebook, if I may...

Ahab said...

My heart goes out to David Kato's family and friends. I hope his murderer is brought to justice.

I hope this tragedy serves as a reminder of the dangers of homophobia. Also, it is showing people that American fundamentalism has being exported across the globe, with disturbing consequences.

One last thing -- Lou Engle from TheCall has also promoted homophobic attitudes in Uganda. Along with Lively, Smierer, and other fundamentalists, Engle needs to be taken to task.