The morning of 26th January 2011 was just another ordinary day for many LGBT Ugandans. By sundown, it had turned into a gruesome day after one of the movement’s frontline activists, David Kato Kisule was murdered in cold blood. The community was shaken and 10 years later, this date is now celebrated annually as the Kuchu Memorial Day in commemoration of all queer lives that have been lost at the hands of the intolerant society we live in.
David Kato was a leader whose close associates describe as fearless and daring. To mark the 10th anniversary of his passing, we spoke to some of the people he worked with to shed light on who David was as a man, what was at the heart of his activism and what his vision for the entire movement was.
The excerpts below are taken from online conversations we had with Dr Frank Mugisha, the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, Sam Ganafa, the Executive Director of Spectrum and Naome Ruzindana, an activist that was on the frontline of Uganda’s movement until she left the country.
KT: How did David’s death impact the community as a whole?
NR: David’s death impacted the movement both positively and negatively. David was very dedicated to the struggle, his genuine passion made him focus on people’s wellbeing and this included their health, security movement and their arbitrary arrests. His dedication ensured that the movement and the functional organizations at the time had updated information and handled the relevant issues as they arose.
He also played in a big role in pushing organisations to engage our allies and donors on what was going on. This approach brought Ugandan activism on map worldwide and gave more insight and enlightened the world about the injustices that were being inflicted on LGBTQ Ugandans.
From a negative perspective, many activists retracted from the front line because it the danger and possibility of death became real. For a while, we lost direction and became isolated because his murder was on the news daily. Many people migrated after this incident.
SG: David’s death was a shock to the LGBTI community and all peace-loving people, as many grappled with the loss, resolve to continue with the sexual minority advocacy took root in many people including allies. This determination has since grown by day including the young people.
FM: At first there was so much fear in the Ugandan LGBTQ movement but then the murder of David created resilience, and strengthened the movement further. That is when we realized that we had to fight harder for our rights not only to be free but also to survive and be safe.
KT: What was David's dream for the movement and what steps is the community leadership taking to actualise these dreams?
FM: David’s biggest dream was “visibility" hence some of his favorite quotes, “Of late, we are here “and “They said we are not there but we are here.” The movement today is so visible, there are so many colleagues in the struggle and most impressively, groups coming up at the grassroot level. We are also still aiming at supporting movement building and creating more visibility.
SG: The core value David stood for was freedom for sexual minorities in Uganda through transparent organizing to tackle emerging issues. The sexual minorities of Uganda and allies have continued to organize in defense of human rights of sexual minorities in Uganda. The impact of this organizing is manifested in the visibility of the community on local, regional and international level.
NR: The dream was to secure safety for LGBTQ in his country and I must say that the living activists in Uganda have taken an initiative and carried on with his dream through defending and reclaiming their spaces.
KT: Besides the David Kato awards, what else has been done to keep his legacy alive?
FM: Each year, we remember David with prayers and coming together as a community and we also remember other fallen comrades on the same date. In solidarity to David Kato, there are books that have been written, film documentaries, monuments, and buildings named after him etc
SG: The continued remembrance keeps reminding everyone that we still have an evil in the name of discrimination and homophobia that we must face together if we’re to overcome
NR: The legacy is Obuntu that he left behind. Many have carried his memory through sharing his good deeds on 26/1 every year.
KT: Anything else you’d like people to know about David?
FM: David was so keen on security and safety of individuals within the LGBTQ community, and at times like this when the LGBTQ community is so vulnerable due to political scapegoating, it’s a good moment to remember that safety and protection is important."
SG: As we celebrate the life of Kato David today, we must energize ourselves to continue defending the rights of all. It’s also important to remember other comrades that have lost their lives due to evils of intolerance and homophobia.
NR: My one wish for David’s legacy is to hear him celebrated among activists in Uganda and the rest of the world.