Spartacist South Africa No. 7

Winter 2011


US Reactionaries Stir Up Anti-Gay Terror

Uganda: Gay Rights Activist Brutally Murdered

The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard (No. 977, 1 April 2011), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., section of the International Communist League.

David Kato, a courageous fighter for gay rights, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his home in Kampala, Uganda, on January 26. He was 46 years old. A co-founder of the gay rights organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, Kato was repeatedly beaten, harassed and jailed by police. In October 2010, his picture appeared on the front page of a reactionary local newspaper, Rolling Stone, together with an article showing photos, listing names and revealing the whereabouts of hundreds of “known” homosexuals and gay rights activists under the banner “Hang Them!” In a landmark case, Kato sued the paper and won the equivalent of US$640 [R4 500] in damages. Just weeks later, he was murdered.

In Uganda homosexuality—defined as “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”—is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. President Yoweri Museveni, in power for 25 years, has called for gays to be tracked down and jailed. He continues to fuel homophobic violence by publicly claiming that gays are recruiting Ugandan schoolchildren. Now, a proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”, written by parliament member David Bahati, would give the state sanction to kill gays by imposing a death sentence for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality”, including those who engage in homosexual sex with disabled persons or with persons under the age of 18 and also including those labeled “serial offenders”. The law would also bring a three-year jail sentence for anyone who fails to report homosexuals to the police within 24 hours.

Bahati boasts of his ties with powerful American evangelicals and has been to the U.S. to study the “Christian leadership principles” of an outfit known as “the Family”. A clandestine group of prominent politicians, CEOs and others, “the Family” has long exerted considerable political influence both in Washington, D.C., and abroad. It organizes the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, which has been attended by every U.S. president since Eisenhower.

In a meeting with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, Bahati openly stated that his aim is to “kill every last gay person”. His Anti-Homosexuality Bill was written one month after a March 2009 conference in Kampala featuring a group of well-known American Christian fundamentalists. As described in a New York Times (4 January 2010) article, “Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push”: “For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how ‘the gay movement is an evil institution’ whose goal is ‘to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity’.”

Obama's Crocodile Tears for Kato

Shortly after Kato’s murder, President Barack Obama, who personally opposes gay marriage, released a statement laden with hypocrisy. Saying he was “deeply saddened to learn of the murder of David Kato”, Obama continued: “My Administration will continue to strongly support human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad. We do this because we recognize the threat faced by leaders like David Kato, and we share their commitment to advancing freedom, fairness, and equality for all.”

One need look no further than the carnage in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, or the cruise missiles raining down on Libya, for a measure of such “commitment to advancing freedom” by Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism. In the service of Washington’s global “war on terror”, Uganda’s police Rapid Response Unit engages in “torture, illegal detention and extrajudicial killings of its citizens”, according to a Human Rights Watch study reported in the New York Times (23 March). As for Obama’s sermonizing about human rights, it is the imperialists’ subjugation of neocolonial countries that perpetrates economic deprivation and other misery. Such conditions feed the religious reaction and social backwardness that brutally oppress women—seen in the prevalence in Uganda of female genital mutilation, traditional polygamy and the bride price—as well as gays.

There is much being written about the links between evangelical Christians in the U.S. and the “kill gays” law in Uganda. In fact, Christian missionaries served in the second half of the 19th century as the advance guard for British imperialism’s conquest of the territory. The rampant homophobia in Uganda today is in good measure a remnant of British colonialism, whose laws punished locals for participating in “unnatural sex”—the same proscription under which Oscar Wilde was sent to prison in Britain. To this day, “sodomy” laws are still on the books in more than 35 former British colonies around the world.

Moreover, the industrially advanced Christian West is not exactly a safe haven for gays and lesbians. The U.S., one of the most politically backward “advanced” capitalist countries on earth, is saddled with a huge burden of puritanism and religious fundamentalism. Bible-thumping bigots, “family values” crusaders and other reactionaries serve to ensure that homosexuals continue to endure violence, persecution and abrogation of their rights. This can literally be a death sentence: In 1998, Wyoming university student Matthew Shepard was beaten and left hanging on a barbed-wire fence to die; in 2002, Gwen Araujo, a transgender California youth was savagely beaten and then strangled to death by a rope.

The oppression of gays is directly related to the subordination of women and youth in the social unit of the family. The main institution for the oppression of women in class society, the family instills obedience to authority and bourgeois morality, resulting in widespread bigotry that is further propped up by the considerable power of organized religion. In capitalist society, anything or anyone who deviates from male/female gender roles in the family is seen as a threat to the social order. The International Communist League fights for full democratic rights for gays. This is part of our commitment to the revolutionary struggle to eradicate all oppression based on sex, race, ethnicity and class through the overthrow of capitalist rule and the establishment of an egalitarian socialist society.

Anti-Gay Bigotry in Neo-Apartheid South Africa

In an interview, David Kato, who taught in South Africa for several years, spoke to the inspiration he drew from the fight to bring down the hated white-supremacist apartheid regime, under which homosexuality was banned: “In South Africa I fought for their liberation in Johannesburg, so when I came home…I had the same momentum—I tried to liberate my own community.” On paper, the constitution in post-apartheid South Africa, one of only ten countries in the world that legally recognize gay marriage, opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation. But a look at the reality on the ground shows a far different picture, with violence against homosexuals both frequent and widespread. Lesbians are often targeted for what is called “corrective rape”. One high-profile case involved the brutal April 2008 killing of Eudy Simelane, a star of the South African women’s soccer team. An open lesbian, Simelane died after being gang-raped and stabbed 25 times.

South African president Jacob Zuma, leader of the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress, has himself promoted anti-gay violence. In a 2006 speech, he proclaimed that “when I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay person) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out.” Zuma has also decried same-sex marriage as “a disgrace to the nation and to God”. Most recently, he appointed a well-known homophobe who calls for the criminalization of gay marriage as South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda! This is rightly seen as a statement of open support for Uganda’s anti-homosexual law.