Kalende honors gay rights activist David Kato
Val Kalende, an out lesbian rights activist in Uganda and friend of well-known gay rights activist David Kato, who was murdered in January, spoke on the Hill Thursday April 7 to honor Kato and his work.
In March 2009, U.S evangelicals organized a conference in Kampala, Uganda to educate Ugandans about the dangers of homosexuality. The conference included talks of “recruit-proofing” children, the vicious lie that homosexuals prey on children, talks on “curing” homosexuals by advocates for the ex-gay movement and the promotion of the ideology that homosexuality will destroy traditional society.
The same year, a bill was introduced into Ugandan parliament to “establish a comprehensive consolidated legislation to protect the traditional family” by criminalizing homosexuality. Gay relationships are not recognized by the bill and the death penalty is even suggested for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Walter Hatch, director of the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights, an organization at Colby that provides a sabbatical for activists said Kato had applied as an Oak Fellow for this upcoming academic year. He read Kato’s responses from his fellowship application, which were regrettably poignant. One of the questions on the application asked about how the personal risks have changed in the applicant’s situation.
Students Pat Adams ’13 and Ellen Morris ’11 of The Bridge and the Oak Institute, respectively, organized Kalende’s visit to the College. Kalende elaborated on her own work as well as Kato’s, the dangers activists face and how to protect activists from these dangers. She began talking about the lack of support from her family and her church—she was raised Pentacostal—and being unable to even speak about homosexuality.
She discussed the legacy of colonialism in perpetuating homophobia. Many Ugandans are suspicious of the GLBT rights movement in Uganda as being subject to Western influences. “People don’t see us as independent voices…[because] they think we’re controlled by the West,” she said. At the same time, Kalende explained, Ugandans are also susceptible to U.S. evangelicals who perpetuate homophobic myths.
During the question and answers session, Kalende spoke passionately about this latter development. She explained that people in the United States must condemn the role of U.S. evangelicals in the spread of homophobia in order to help the GLBT rights movement in Uganda without compromising its integrity with the taint of the West. “The only reason [Scott Lively] thinks he can say the things he says is because he’s speaking to a bunch of black Africans who believe what a white man says. And it has a bit of racism in it and I find it very offensive for a white person to tell us how to address homosexuality and influence the most odious bill I’ve read,” she said.
Kalende fondly reflected on Kato and the work he has accomplished, especially in terms of his coalition building. He often would bail out his fellow activists from prison, document human rights violations and discrimination.
Kalende spoke angrily about the mismanagement of Kato’s murder investigation by the Ugandan police, who did not take seriously activists’ concerns about Kato’s safety. His email account had been hacked two days before his murder, which Kalende takes as a sign that his life was threatened. She said authorities still haven’t spoken to Kato’s friends and have pegged the murder on Kato coming onto another man, just another perpetuation of homophobia.
However, Kalende remains confident that Uganda can make great strides in terms of GLBT and human rights. Because of activists’ work in Uganda and the international community’s support, the anti-homosexuality bill has been tabled. Coalitions exist between other social justice movements in Uganda and the GLBT movement and more activists are coming out as openly GLBT. “Every time something negative happens, there is new energy…people organize, people become angry,” she said.