42 year-old David Kato, by all accounts a tremendous LGBT rights advocate from Uganda, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer on Wednesday, months after he was prominently featured in a local newspaper as a man who deserved to die for being gay. This, of course, in a country whose legislature is considering a "kill-the-gays" bill drafted with the help of right-wing Evangelical preachers from the United States.
His death, understandably, has elicited worldwide repudiation in what seems to be a turning point for the global LGBT rights movement. Sometimes it's difficult not to make facile assertions about a specific moment, but this moment certainly reminds me of the immediate outrage that followed the beating and death of Matthew Sheppard in the United States, if on a global scale.
Today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement which reads, in part, as follows:
We are profoundly saddened by the loss of Ugandan human rights defender David Kato, who was brutally murdered in his home near Kampala yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and colleagues. We urge Ugandan authorities to quickly and thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for this heinous act.Hours later, U.S. President Barack Obama also released a statement. An excerpt:
At home and around the world, LGBT persons continue to be subjected to unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate. In the weeks preceding David Kato’s murder in Uganda, five members of the LGBT community in Honduras were also murdered. It is essential that the Governments of Uganda and Honduras investigate these killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.Last week I posted my latest update on the horrible string of brutal murders that have been happening in Honduras involving, for the most part, victims who are transgender women. In that post, I noted that the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Lllorens, had made the Honduran authorities responsible for the proper investigation of these crimes.
What I did not say in that post was that in my years covering LGBT rights in Latin America, I could not remember the last time an U.S. ambassador had spoken up specifically on the issue of human rights violations against a Latin American country's LGBT population.
Well, tonight, add the voice of a sitting United States president to that list. And words do matter.
Time will tell if the senseless brutal murder of David Kato will bring upon the sort national soul-searching and re-evaluation of common-held beliefs that needs to happen for Uganda to counter the virulent homophobia of its political leadership (it's too soon to tell but click here for a hopeful editorial from Uganda's The Monitor).
As for Honduras: Following today's statement by United States President Barack Obama, the Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa held a press conference today and announced that the United States Department of State had committed to send trained personnel to investigate the recent number of transgender murders, even as he took the opportunity to play down the number of transgender murders.
According to La Tribuna, Lobo said that the U.S. Department of State had committed to send an expert on police investigations and a legal adviser who would evaluate all internal investigations on these crimes so far. The Honduran president said that the assistance would come at his request and added that they would help to investigate "the murder of journalists and what is alleged to be one or two gays who were murdered".
Unites States pressure on certain countries, when it comes to human rights violations, can be very effective. I am glad to see the Obama administration take these steps and hope that they show a new and open willingness to engage Latin America and, particularly, the LGBT rights movement in the region.