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February 11, 2011

Worldwide vigils mourn murdered Ugandan leader

Mukono, Uganda--A prominent gay civil rights activist was bludgeoned to death in his home on January 26, leading to vigils across the globe and a near-riot at his funeral.

David Kato, advocacy officer with Sexual Minorities Uganda, was the target of increased harassment after a judge issued a permanent injunction against the newspaper Rolling Stone, which ran the names and faces of gay men and lesbians last fall, including Kato, with the headline, “Hang Them.”

Kato and two others sued, and the court barred the newspaper from publishing any other names and pictures of the sort.

Kato also worked against a bill in the Ugandan parliament that would have criminalized gays, and included a death penalty for “repeat offenders.” The bill was proposed after prominent U.S. anti-gay evangelicals visited the nation.

President Barack Obama praised Kato’s work.

“David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate,” Obama said in a written statement. “He was a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom. The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David’s work.

“At home and around the world, LGBT persons continue to be subjected to unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate,” the president noted.

The European Parliament issued a strong condemnation of the murder, and of Uganda’s anti-gay attitudes in general.

“David was a brave and courageous man who stood as a giant, together with others, against the homophobes in government, parliament, in the Church and in the media that preached for hatred and persecution of homosexuals,” said Michael Cashman and Ulrike Lunacek, the co-presidents of the Intergroup onn LGBT Rights in the European Parliament. “His death is an awful and tragic loss. No words are strong enough for us to urge the Ugandan government to investigate this assassination, and urge the Ugandan parliament to fully decriminalize homosexuality.”

The letter was also sent by Subcommittee on Human Rights chair Heidi Hautala and Louis Michel, the co-president of the Africa Caribbean Pacific Joint Parliamentary Assembly of the European Parliament.

At Kato’s funeral, the pastor warned gays to repent or face hell. Mourners stormed the pulpit and took away his microphone before police intervened and took him to safety. An excommunicated Anglican bishop then completed the ceremony, laying Kato to rest.

Police first said that they believe the death was a robbery gone wrong, pointing to the rough neighborhood in which Kato lived. A Ugandan newspaper then wrote that a man who was arrested by police in the case claimed that Kato forced him to have sex, and the suspect killed him because he did not want to any more.

In New York City, speakers including the head of the International Gay and Lesiban Human Rights Commission, clergy, city council members and LGBT Ugandans spoke to protesters. The attendees of the vigil then lit candles and walked two blocks to the Uganda U.N. Mission, where a letter of demands and flowers were left outside the entrance.

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