- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2011

KAMPALA, Uganda | The bludgeoning death of a gay-rights activist here last month was greeted with worldwide condemnation, but over the past two weeks, it has galvanized anti-homosexual sentiment in this East African nation.

Religious leaders here have approved the brutal slaying, a state lawmaker has proposed legislation that would require parents to report their homosexual children to police and a local newspaper has outed several suspected gays with the suggestion that they be hanged.

As the United States struggles with gay marriages and civil unions, Uganda — where homosexuality already is outlawed — faces a crisis in drawing a distinction between opposing homosexuality and condoning violence committed in the name of that opposition.

During a Sunday service soon after David Kato’s Jan. 26 slaying, a prominent pastor, Martin Ssempa, told his congregation of mostly university students that the gay-rights activist had tricked his “victims” into getting drunk before molesting them and fleeing into the night.

Mr. Ssempa has been a leading voice against homosexuality here, framing it as a Western import designed to corrupt African culture and going so far as to show gay pornography in his church.

During Kato’s funeral, the presiding Anglican pastor shocked those in attendance when he called on gays to repent or else be “punished by God.”

“The world has gone crazy,” the Rev. Thomas Musoke said. “You cannot start admiring a fellow man.”

Ugandans’ response to the Kato slaying has created an almost palpable atmosphere of fear among homosexuals. Kato’s former colleague at the rights group Freedom and Roam Uganda, Kasha Jacqueline, said she has turned off her phone because of an increase in death threats.

“We’ve never been safe, but the threats are growing,” she said, adding that institutions that would be expected to defend gays’ struggle for equality have distanced themselves from the cause.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission has found no compelling reason to take action amid rising hostility. “We don’t want to single out a group,” commission Chairman Med S.K. Kaggwa told The Washington Times. “When you start identifying with one group, you stop doing your job.”

The Monitor newspaper, a leading voice of democracy and human rights in the country, relegated news of Kato’s killing to a sliver at the bottom of Page One, while Uganda’s top tabloid, the Red Pepper, referred to Kato as a “sodomy champ.”

One potential reason for the indifference may be the perceived motive for Kato’s slaying: The international media were quick to imply that he had been killed because of his sexuality, but police here say it appears he was killed in a personal dispute over sex and money.

Police say Enock Nsubuga, a friend of Kato‘s, confessed to killing the activist with a hammer after Kato refused to pay him as promised for sex. “There is nothing concrete to suggest that Nsubuga was motivated by hate, although we are not dismissing it,” Inspector General Kale Kayihura told reporters.

Gay-rights groups say they distrust the police and suspect anti-homosexual involvement.

But anti-homosexual activists have seized on the Kato slaying as evidence that gays are conspiring to corrupt the family and are more prone to sexual abuse than heterosexuals.

“Homosexuals are killing our children,” said David Bahati, a member of parliament. “Theirs is an evil cause for corrupting our youth.”

Kato’s murder is bringing the national debate back to where it belongs,” he added.

Mr. Bahati is the chief sponsor of a bill that would make it a crime for a landlord to offer housing to a homosexual and require parents to report their homosexual children to authorities. (Homosexuality is illegal in more than 30 African countries, including Uganda.)

He brushes off criticism of his legislation by saying, “God is the author [of the bill]. I am just an instrument.”

He also scoffs at the West’s growing acceptance of homosexuals. “The Western world has been blackmailed by money and the media to support homosexuality,” he said. “Uganda is providing global leadership to get back on course.”

Mr. Bahati predicts his bill will pass after presidential elections this month.

Uganda’s central government has issued no statements regarding Kato’s death.

No prominent leaders spoke out against the weekly tabloid Rolling Stone (no affiliation with the American music magazine) when it published the names and photos of suspected homosexuals, including Kato, next to a banner that read “Hang Them.”

The Rev. Mark Kiyimba of the Unitarian Universalist Church said the failure to draw a distinction between opposing homosexuality and condoning violence against gays deserves urgent attention, and he is holding a conference next week to promote understanding.

Pentecostal pastor Moses Solomon Male, who heads the National Coalition Against Homosexuality and Sexual Abuse in Uganda (NCAHSAU), says he too is concerned that the anti-homosexual cause is failing to make that important distinction.

“Wanting to make a contribution [toward ending homosexuality in Uganda] is one thing; how to do it is another,” he said last week from his office in downtown Kampala.

Mr. Male said he favors a strong emphasis on treatment to convert homosexuals to a heterosexual lifestyle and has proposed extensive changes to the anti-homosexuality movement to reflect that desire.

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