Feb. 3 U.N. Vigil for Slain Ugandan Gay Rights Activist

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday February 2, 2011

The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is organizing a massive candelight vigil and demonstration to protest the murder of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 3, at 5 p.m. at the corner of Second Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan.

The site, known as Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, is the focal point for human rights activists who want to make their case to member nations of the United Nations, as well as the media. The keynote speaker will be Val Kalende, who heads Freedom and Roam Uganda, which works toward gay rights in that African nation.

The protest is part of an international series of such events to mark the murder. Kato had been bludgeoned with a hammer, suffering two blows to the head after his name and photo appeared in a local newspaper advocating the murder of known homosexuals.

The murder is only the latest outrage in a nation that has been heavily influenced by right-wing American evangelists. Uganda's legislature has been seriously considering a bill that would not only outlaw any openly gay activity, but make being gay itself a criminal offense, punishable in some cases with death.

Other speakers at the rally include IGLHRC's head Cary Alan Johnson, African human rights activists, New York City government officials and religious leaders.

"David Kato was a hero not just to LGBT Ugandans, but to all Ugandans, and to all supporters of human rights," said Frank Mugisha, Kato's colleague in Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an LGBT rights organization in Uganda. "As we mourn him, we must also ensure that his killers are brought to justice and that no LGBT Ugandan ever faces the same deadly violence again."

Johnson called Kato's murder "a line in the sand. We will be standing outside the United Nations and Uganda's embassy to demand an end to this unspeakable violence and homophobia in Uganda and around the world."

Rev. Kapya Kaoma, the director of Public Research Associate's Project on Religion and Sexuality, put the blame for Kato's death squarely on the shoulders of U.S. Christian leaders like Scott Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge. "Those U.S conservatives who have lit the brushfire of homophobia in Africa now have to face their guilt," he said. "They must speak out against the violence that now threatens all gay Ugandans."

Over 35 organizations are co-sponsoring the event. They range from ACT UP to the African Services Committee; the American Jewish World Service to Gay By God.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).