Image: David Kato
AP
David Kato was found with serious wounds to his head at his home on Wednesday. Kato and two other gay activists sued a newspaper over claims that it had violated their constitutional rights to privacy and won the case earlier this month
updated 1/27/2011 7:01:02 PM ET 2011-01-28T00:01:02

A prominent Ugandan gay rights activist whose picture was published by an anti-gay newspaper next to the words "Hang Them" was bludgeoned to death. Police said Thursday his sexual orientation had nothing to do with the killing and that one "robber" had been arrested.

Activists were outraged over the death of David Kato, an advocacy officer for the gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda. His slaying comes after a year of stepped up threats against gays in Uganda, where a controversial bill has proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts.

Kato, who had received multiple threats, was found with serious wounds to his head caused by an attack with a hammer at his home late Wednesday in Uganda's capital, Kampala. Kato later died on the way to the hospital.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and colleagues," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "We urge Ugandan authorities to quickly and thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for this heinous act. David Kato tirelessly devoted himself to improving the lives of others.

Human Rights Watch called for an urgent investigation, saying that Kato's work as a prominent gay rights campaigner had previously seen him face threats to his personal safety.

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"David Kato's death is a tragic loss to the human rights community," said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at HRW. "David had faced the increased threats ... bravely and will be sorely missed."

A Ugandan tabloid newspaper called Rolling Stone listed a number of men they said were homosexuals last year, including Kato. Kato's picture was published on the front page, along with his name and a headline that said "Hang Them."

Kato and two other gay activists sued Rolling Stone over claims that it had violated their constitutional rights to privacy and won the case earlier this month. A judge issued an injunction banning the publication of the identities and personal details of alleged homosexuals.

Story: Kenya leader: Homosexuals 'should be arrested'

A police spokesman, Vincent Sekatte, said Kato was killed by robbers who have so far killed more than 10 people in that area in the past two months. He said there was no indication the death was connected to any anti-homosexual sentiment. Kato was hit by a hammer that has been recovered by police, Sekatte said.

Police arrested one suspect, a driver for Kato, Sekatte said. A second suspect is being hunted. That suspect had been hired as a house helper and had recently been released from prison, Sekatte said.

Image: A man reads an anti-gay headline in Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone
AP
A man reads the headline of the Ugandan newspaper "Rolling Stone" in Kampala. Kato's photo, top left, was published by the anti-gay newspaper next to the words "Hang Them."


Kato's lawyer told The Associated Press on Thursday that his client had become noticeably more worried about his safety in the wake of the Rolling Stone publication.

"He was conscious that something could happen," said John Francis Onyango.

Family, friends and neighbors gathered to mourn at Kato's house on Thursday. Several women lay on the floor of the living room. The room where he had been killed was closed off by the police. A funeral is planned for Friday.

"I feel very lonely," said John Mulumba Wasswa, Kato's older twin brother. "My brother was a very brave person, very courageous."

Story: Gays in Uganda say they're living in fear

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and gay men and women face regular harassment. The controversial bill introduced in 2009 and still before the country's parliament would see the death penalty introduced for certain homosexual acts. The bill prompted international condemnation and hasn't come up for a vote

Human Rights Watch called on the Ugandan government to offer gay people in the country sufficient protection.

In a statement, the group said that witnesses had told police that Kato was hit twice on the head by an unknown assailant who had been spotted entering his property. The assailant was then seen leaving by vehicle, the statement said.

Frank Mugisha, the chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said he has asked religious and political leaders and media outlets to stop demonizing sexual minorities in Uganda.

"Across the entire country, straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Ugandans mourn the loss of David, a dear friend, colleague, teacher, family member and human rights defender," said Mugisha.

The introduction of the anti-homosexual bill in 2009 followed a conference in Kampala that was attended by American activists who consider same-gender relationships sinful. The U.S. evangelicals believe gays and lesbians can become heterosexual through prayer and counseling. Some gay Ugandans still resent that American intervention.

"David's death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S evangelicals in 2009," said Val Kalende, a Ugandan gay rights activist. "The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S evangelicals must take responsibility for David's blood."

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Video: Anti-gay slippery slope sadly not hyperbole

  1. Transcript of: Anti-gay slippery slope sadly not hyperbole

    MADDOW: us .

    MADDOW: The slippery slope is the idea that if one thing happens, inevitably, a whole bunch of other things will happen as well. So, if the president wants to give a speech to schoolchildren, then that means the president is indoctrinating schoolchildren with his political ideology, which means our schools are political indoctrination centers. And since indoctrination breeds zealots and zealots will do anything for the cause about which they are zealous, then public schools are becoming camps to breed child soldiers for Obama -ism, which means Obama is doing what Hitler did, so presidential speech to school kids equals Fourth Reich .

    Slippery slope: A leads to B, B leads to C, eventually A leads to Z, and you're not washing your hands before dinner means you're on death row . You hear this kind of argument all the time in American politics . It's a "be afraid" argument, explaining to a patient their option to fill out a living well, that should be a reimbursable expense for doctors under Medicare , that's death panels, pulling the plug on grandma. Don't do thing A now because hypothetically that could lead to thing Z down the road. Sometimes, though, it's not hypothetical. Sometimes you don't need to imagine the hyperbolically awful thing that might happen someday as a consequence of some smaller step you take now. Sometimes you can just watch life careen down the slippery slope right in front of your eyes. In the late '70s, a former second runner-up Miss America and sort of popular singer named Anita Bryant became the nation's celebrity spokesperson against gay rights . She led a campaign for Dade County , Florida , to repeal a county nondiscrimination policy. Anita Bryant argued that the county must be allowed to fire people for being gay because gay people are predators who recruit schoolchildren into homo sexuality.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bryant Drew attention with statements like, quote, "Gays can't reproduce, they have to recruit," end of quote.

    ANITA BRYANT, GAY RIGHTS OPPONENT: The war goes on to save our children because the seed of sexual sickness that germinated in Dade County has already been transplanted by misguided liberals in the U.S. Congress .

    MADDOW: This is one of the foundational myths of anti- gay activism . Gay people are out to get kids. That's the gay agenda . To recruit kids to be gay because that's how gay people get this way. They're lured into it by recruiters who sexually abuse them as kids and thereby, turn them gay. So, opposing gay people 's rights is a means of protecting the children from the gays. I say this is a myth because the people whose job it is to know these things say it's a myth. They've proved it. The American Psychological Association says homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are. Quote, "No specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified, including histories of childhood sexual abuse ." That, of course, does not stop anti-gay activist from making that assertion that gay people are out to recruit kids, making that assertion over and over again. Jerry Falwell telling supporters of his "Old Time Gospel Hour" by direct mail in 1981 , quote, "Please remember, homosexuals do not reproduce. They recruit. Many of them are after my children and your children ." Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina pushing for years for anti-gay restrictions in federal education law because the homosexuals are out to recruit in the schools. In 1995 , Congressman Pete Hoekstra 's committee holds hearings on parents, schools and values, hearings that, in part, investigated -- yes, homosexual recruitment in the schools. The proponents of Proposition 8 in California , the proposition to rollback gay rights in that state, making their case just last year --

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can't reproduce, so they got to recruit. And they're trying to recruit our kids. They're trying to promote their lifestyle to our kids and I say no.

    MADDOW: Here's how you fall down the slippery slope . You make this argument. Anita Bryant , Jesse helms , random anti-gay orator guy. You make this argument that you opposed gay people 's civil rights because gay people are out to get kids, never mind the facts. You like making the case. We're out to save the children from the homosexuals who prey on them. What's the next logical step? If gay people are out to get the kids, how are you going to protect the kids? Keep gays away from the kids. Keep gays from being declared normal. Protect people's rights to fire people for being gay if they don't want to work with them. Protect people's right to kick somebody out of their housing for being gay if you don't want to live near them. Protect the children . Counteract the recruitment. Show that homosexual is wrong. Make homosexuality illegal. Make homosexuality have severe punishments. Make it have really severe punishments. Make being gay punishable by death. It is not a logical fallacy, the slippery slope , if it really happens. If the arguments made by anti-gay activists ultimately go down to serious legal proposals to kill people for being gay. In October 2008 , Uganda held its national prayer breakfast . The national prayer breakfast is an event started by the Family , mostly known as C Street here in the U.S. , a powerful secretive religious organization in the U.S. with ties to many members of Congress . One of the founders of Uganda 's national prayer breakfast , a member of the Family , floated the idea at an event associated with that breakfast that Uganda should have a "kill the gays" law, that homo sexuality should be punishable by life in prison or in the case of aggravated homosexuality, it should be punishable by death. A few months later, in March of last year, the guy from the Family who drafted the bill hosted a delegation of anti-gay activists from the United States preaching, surprise, that gay people are a threat to children . They're out to recruit in the schools. And they also said nobody is stuck being gay if they don't want to be. It's a learned behavior. It can be cured. A few weeks after their visit, the "kill the gays" bill was introduced. Meanwhile, the anti-gay populist press in that country started campaigning. This publication published a list of allegedly gay Ugandans along with, in many cases, their addresses and their photos. You can see a small yellow banner under the word -- underneath the S in Uganda 's. It says, "Hang them." Because of the American connections to this, the fact that the author is a member of the Family -- which is tied to a lot of American politicians, there's C Street and elsewhere. Because the resultant publicity earned criticism for the "kill the gays" bill from our president, secretary of state, lots of politicians associated with C Street , it is fairly widely believed because of the coverage that the kill the gays thing is over. It's not. Its author expects it to be voted on in a matter of weeks, and its author is here in the United States promoting Anita Bryant 's old line that he's only doing this to save the children . The author of Uganda 's "kill the gays" bill joins me at the bottom of the slippery slope -- next.

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