Exactly one year ago, David Kato, a longtime advocate and friend, was bludgeoned to death in his home in the middle of the day. He was murdered just days after he had won a court case against a Ugandan newspaper that had published his photo — along with those of 99 other alleged supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality — next to a noose and the directive "Hang Them."
As the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella LGBT-advocacy organization based in Kampala, David had spent years engaged in international wrangling over an anti-gay bill in the Ugandan Parliament that called for the execution of gay and lesbian people who are open about their sexual orientation. Despite David's efforts, and despite some international outcry, that bill is still pending.
In Uganda, too often anti-gay politicians and religious leaders condemn, persecute and inspire violence against the LGBT community while stifling the voices of people like David, who are simply trying to stand up for themselves. Those anti-gay strategies lead to harassment, physical attacks and, for some of our LGBT brothers and sisters, death.
Unfortunately, the practice of suppressing the voices of fair-minded people is not completely unfamiliar to African Americans. Here we are in another election year in the United States, and this time, conservative voices are trying to silence black opposition with voter-ID laws that unfairly target minority and lower-income voters.
Conservative forces are working diligently to disenfranchise people of color, or to "block the vote," in the words of the NAACP. According to a recent report by the civil rights group, some states that saw unprecedented levels of electoral participation by black and Latino voters in the 2008 presidential election are now being targeted for voting restrictions. The restrictive measures include enforcing the aforementioned photo-ID requirements, as well as increasing disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions.
At the same time, those on the far right are once again attempting to use the backs of gay and transgender people to launch their careers. Religious forces that align themselves with the most conservative elements on the political landscape promote constitutional bans on marriage for gay couples, fight tooth and nail against anti-discrimination proposals and would rescind equal protections for thousands of families.
They preach anti-gay sentiments and long-debunked myths in their own backyards — but they don't stop there. These same anti-gay activists then export their scare tactics and stereotypes to places like Uganda, where they foment misinformation and extreme anti-LGBT beliefs, then ride those beliefs to power and prominence.
As leaders in the global movement for LGBT equality, we know all too well that elected officials have a big impact on people who are targeted for discrimination based on whom they love and how they express their gender. That is why it is critical that we examine how politics and religion are used to pit Africans and African Americans against our own.
We must continue reaching out and talking to one another. We must expose the blatant manipulation of our highest religious commitments to turn us against our sons and daughters who are gay or transgender. And we must recognize when political and religious figures try to exploit our deeply held beliefs (and perhaps our even more deeply held anxieties and stigmas) for the sake of power, monetary gain or both.
From Harlem to Kampala, as black people of African descent, we must have these conversations. Our children and their children are depending on us to find reconciliation and healing. From Harlem to Kampala, David Kato's life and legacy must be honored so that his tragic death will not have been in vain.
Joseph Tolton is a pastor in Harlem (Rehoboth Temple) and the managing director of Blur Advertising, which provides consulting services to Sexual Minorities Uganda and St. Paul's Reconciliation & Equality Center in Uganda. Tolton is also the national minister for global justice for the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries & the Global Justice Institute. Frank Mugisha is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Mugisha was honored with the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, as well as the 2011 Rafto Prize/Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for work in human rights.