KAMPALA — Ugandan gay rights activists braved hostility and stigma Thursday as they gathered to commemorate the first anniversary of the murder of their fellow campaigner David Kato.
"We are here to celebrate and thank God for our beloved friend and human rights activist David Kato," former Anglican bishop and gay rights campaigner Christopher Senyonjo told a crowd of around 100 activists and family members.
Kato, former advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), was found bludgeoned to death at his home outside Kampala on January 26, 2011.
In November, a Ugandan court sentenced Enoch Nsubuga, 22, to 30 years in jail after he admitted beating Kato to death with a hammer. Nsubuga had claimed he was reacting to to unwanted sexual advances.
Gay rights activists speaking at the event called Kato, 46 at the time of his death, "the godfather" of the Ugandan gay movement and said that his passing had left a large void in the life of the country's gay community.
"He always looked out for all of us even at times when we thought it was too difficult," Frank Mugisha, director of SMUG, said at the function in the garden of a hotel in central Kampala.
Kato's killing drew worldwide condemnation, coming after a newspaper in Kampala had published a picture of him in the same issue as a headline demanding that homosexuals be hanged.
Kato's family members at the event spoke of the support that they had received from campaigners both in Uganda and the international community following his death
"It is not easy when a loved one dies but thanks to all the friends inside and outside Uganda who worked with David ... when I get down they lift me up and help me," said Nalongo Kisule, Kato's mother.
Homophobia is widespread in Uganda and gay men and women in the country face frequent harassment and threats of violence. Homosexuality is punishable by up to life in prison.
A controversial bill that calls for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts was recently re-introduced in the Ugandan parliament after lawmakers failed to debate it during the last session of the legislative body.
It brings in the death penalty for anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts for the second time as well as for gay sex where one partner is a minor or has HIV.
It also proposes to criminalise public discussion of homosexuality and would penalise an individual who knowingly rents property to a homosexual.
Talking at the memorial event, international gay rights supporters pledged to help defeat the proposed legislation.
"We will not be crushed by the (anti-gay) bill, we will not be crushed by other people's fears," John Talton, a pastor from the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries in the US, said.
Homosexuality is outlawed in many African countries and discrimination against gays and lesbians is rife on the continent, with South Africa being the only country that recognises gay rights and same-sex marriage.
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