David Kato LGBT Uganda martyr

David Kato, Ugandan LGBTQ rights activist, is considered a father of Uganda’s gay rights movement. He was beaten to death on Jan. 26, 2011 in a case that some blame on anti-gay religious rhetoric.

It is especially important to carry on Kato’s legacy now with legal rights diminishing for LGBTQ people in many places across the Africa. Laws against homosexuality made news in Africa countries such as Uganda, Nigeria and Gambia. (See links at the end of this article.)

Many have heard of the 45 Ugandan Martyrs who were killed for their Christian faith and canonized as saints. Kato can be seen as a new kind of Ugandan martyr, killed for the cause of LGBTQ equality.

American evangelicals helped stir up the hostility that led to Kato’s death because they promoted a law imposing the death penalty for homosexuality. The influence of the US evangelical movement in promoting the anti-homosexuality law is explored in the award-winning 2013 documentary “God Loves Uganda.” Watch the trailer below or on YouTube.

Shortly before his murder, Kato won a lawsuit against a Ugandan magazine for identifying him as gay and calling for his execution. Kato’s murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but the anti-gay motive for the murder was covered up in the trial.

A documentary about Kato, “Call Me Kuchu,” premiered in 2012 at the Berlin Film Festival. Watch the trailer for the video below.  “Kuchu” is the term used in Uganda for LGBT people.


Call Me Kuchu – Trailer from Call Me Kuchu on Vimeo.

Below is a news video about Kato from “The Rachel Maddow Show.” It includes scenes from Kato’s funeral, where Ugandan clergy speak both for and against LGBT rights, and David’s own voice in an NPR interview about homosexuality in Uganda.

David Kato by Rod Byatt LGBT Uganda martyr
Australian artist Rod Byatt drew a stark portrait of David Kato. Its unfinished quality conveys the sense of a life cut short. Byatt posted it on his blog **gasp!** (Gay Artists’ Sketchbook Project) with a reflection that begins, “We grieve over the loss of David Kato. We know that being gay is anathema to Family, Church and State, and increasingly The Media…” Byatt is part of the Urban Sketching movement that seeks to link personal identity to broader social issues.

Hope for change is expressed in the 2016 book “In Defense of All God’s Children: The Life and Ministry of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo.” It is the life story of Uganda’s bishop who advocated for LGBTQ rights. He is featured in the film “God Loves Uganda.” After his retirement as an Anglican bishop in 1998, Senyonjo started a counseling practice. His compassion and understanding of human sexuality soon attracted LGBTQ clients. His faith compelled him to speak out against Uganda’s proposed death penalty and other harsh policies for LGBTQ people, risking his life for justice. Now at age 83, he has written a highly readable memoir revealing the unlikely and inspiring path that led him to international activism for LGBTQ rights in Uganda, in the Anglican communion, and around the world.

On the anniversary of his murder, may those who honor David Kato’s legacy continue to work for justice and equality for all. May he find peace with all the other LGBTQ martyrs and saints who have gone before.

David Kato links

Portrait of David Kato by Random Salmon

David Kato Kisule at the Legacy Project

Uganda Martyrs raise questions on homosexuality, religion and LGBT rights (Jesus in Love)

They will say we are not here (New York Times, Jan. 25, 2012)

In Uganda, a “Fearless Voice” for Gay Rights is Brutally Silenced (Wild Reed Blog)

David Kato: A new Ugandan martyr (Queer Saints and Martyrs – And Others)

Martyrs of Uganda (Walking with Integrity Blog)

Ugandan Activist David Kato Never to be Forgotten (O-blog-dee-o-blog-da)

Recent news reports on anti-LGBTQ laws in Africa

Report: Anti-LGBT persecution increased under Uganda law (Washington Blade 2016)

Mapping anti-gay laws in Africa (Amnestry International)

Uganda planning new anti-gay law despite opposition (BBC.com)

Another African nation to enact anti-gay law (Gambia) (msnbc.com)

Nigeria Tries to ‘Sanitize’ Itself of Gays (New York Times)

Shock Amongst Gays in Nigeria as President signs Jail-The-Gays law (O-blog-dee-o-blog-da)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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Kittredge Cherry

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Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality. She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.
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