“…bury me in the Rainbow Flag”

373

Frank Mugisha, executive director, SMUG, speaking at memorial service for David Kato. Photo by Ocean Morisett.A Harlem Memorial Service for David Kato

Speaking softly at the memorial service for David Kato, his close friend and colleague, Frank Mugisha said, “It’s a sad time for me, because he seems to still be here with me.”

Appearing diminutive, dressed in a black and white sweater/cardigan, and standing in front of more than 150 people at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church on Monday, Feb 7, Mugisha, said that Kato’s death was a sad time for all those who worked for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and human rights in Uganda.

Rev. Stacey Latimer, pastor Love Alive International, offering a prayer. Photos by Ocean Morisett.

Rev. Stacey Latimer, pastor Love Alive International, offering a prayer. Photos by Ocean Morisett.

“David wouldn’t stop at supporting anyone who needed help, including those who were imprisoned. At the time of his death he was following three cases of people in remote villages who were arrested and was trying to organize a lawyer for them,” Mugisha, who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), said.

He spoke of Kato’s commitment and loyalty to his friends and his family, to his work as an advocacy and litigation officer for SMUG, the needs of those who were marginalized, and the dangers he faced in an increasingly religiously fueled homophobic environment. As if sensitive to the hateful atmosphere in his homeland, Mugisha recalled, Kato had spoken presciently when he said, “When I die, these are my family and I want them to bury me in the Rainbow flag.”

Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor, Metropolitan Community Church New York; Rev. Steven Parelli, pastor, Other Sheep; Frank Mugisha; and Jose Ortiz, coordinator, Other Sheep. This photo by Antoine Craigwell.

Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor, Metropolitan Community Church New York; Rev. Steven Parelli, pastor, Other Sheep; Frank Mugisha; and Jose Ortiz, coordinator, Other Sheep. This photo by Antoine Craigwell.

Kato, 46, was beaten over his head with a hammer in his home by a suspect now in police custody and died on his way to hospital on Wednesday, Jan 26. Together with two others, he sued Rolling Stone newspapers in the Ugandan High Court and won for their violation of his privacy. In October 2010, the newspapers had published Kato’s photo and 99 others with a banner “Hang Them” emblazoned over the front page. Many believe that his death was in retaliation for winning the case and the increased homophobia that had become prevalent in the country and not as the police had suggested, that his death was a pay for sex gone wrong.

Several representatives from Christian religious organizations gathered under the sponsorship of the Global Justice Institute, and led by Joseph Tolton, pastor, Rehoboth Christ Consciousness Church. The memorial was led by Abyssinian’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, III, and featured prayers and orations by Rev. Stacy Latimer, pastor Love Alive International (LAI), Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor, Metropolitan Community Church New York, and Rev. Dr. Michael Waldron, Jr., pastor, First Corinthian Baptist Church, and included musical renditions by the combined Resurrection and LAI choirs and a violin solo by Juliette Jones.

Rev. Dr. Michael Waldron, Jr., giving the call to understanding

Rev. Dr. Michael Waldron, Jr., giving the call to understanding

Charles Radcliffe, chief, Global Issues, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his tribute said, “We don’t need a judge’s ruling to know that without change, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender will never be free to enjoy their human rights on an equal footing with their fellow human beings. Today, it would be unthinkable to tolerate laws criminalizing people simply because of their gender or the color of their skin. Yet more than 70 countries around the world retain laws that criminalize people for no other reason than that they are gay or lesbian. Those laws are an affront to the very principles of equality and non-discrimination, a serious violation of the human rights of those whose conduct they seek to sanction. They also legitimize homophobia, giving it a State-sanctioned seal of approval, reinforcing stigma, and fuelling hatred and violence.”

Representing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Kihani Brea said, “His [David’s] death is a reminder that every single individual has the power to promote equality and stand up against injustices both near and far.”

And, delivering the call to social justice, Tolton said he was placing Kato’s death in a larger macro context, looking at the various forces at work and at play. He began by referring to an Old Testament passage which named the rivers of origin, then he recounted the evolution of human from a single cell to complex cellular beings, and to the rise of competition, power, domination and control humans exert over each other, including the role the church has played in racism and the slave trade. It’s the same church, he said, which has participated in the persecution of LGBT people and Kato’s death.

Bringing the service to an end, Butts said that Kato was a brave man and his living was not in vain, “Nobody should be killed, be beaten, or cursed because of their orientation. We haven’t done enough to close the chasm which separates us. This is a call to those who are prejudiced, biased, and bigoted, like David Kato or Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; I’d want to have a long life.”

Frank Mugisha, executive director, SMUG, speaking at memorial service for David Kato. Photo by Ocean Morisett.A Harlem Memorial Service for David Kato

Speaking softly at the memorial service for David Kato, his close friend and colleague, Frank Mugisha said, “It’s a sad time for me, because he seems to still be here with me.”

Appearing diminutive, dressed in a black and white sweater/cardigan, and standing in front of more than 150 people at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church on Monday, Feb 7, Mugisha, said that Kato’s death was a sad time for all those who worked for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and human rights in Uganda.