The murdered gay Ugandan activist David Kato, 42, is remembered by friends and colleagues as loud and proud. “He used to say that he was the first ‘out’ gay Ugandan,” blogger GayUganda posted after he heard the news of his murder. A school teacher, he became a prominent campaigner in recent years, especially taking on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which called for the death sentence to be imposed for some homosexual acts.
“David was always proactive and also very authoritative. He seemed to want to be a leader in every way,” close friend Poline Kimani, from the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, told the BBC. His colleague Julian Pepe said he came out to his family, particularly his twin brother, Waswa, just before he went to spend a few years in South Africa.
“But the brother was really not shocked, he was like: ‘Come on I could tell that you’re different, but I respect you,'” she told the BBC. On his return,David Kato felt galvanised by his time in South Africa, where until the end of apartheid homosexuality had been banned. “In South Africa I fought for their liberation in Johannesburg, so when I came home that was in 1998 I had the same momentum – I tried to liberate my own community,” he said in an interview last year posted on YouTube. “I didn’t know anyone but I knew there were people there.”
Not long afterwards he spent a week in police custody for his activism – the start of a career that saw him become a leading member of the gay rights community in East Africa. Ms Kimani said he was one of the most visible gay campaigners in Uganda, serving as the litigation officer for the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug).
This often caused him problems with his career in schools. “He was getting a lot of problems with people where he was employed – especially with the media visibility he had gained,” she said. He often faced accusations that he was trying to groom children, which Ms Pepe, who worked with him at Smug, blamed on “religious propaganda”. “These allegations were of course were false,” she said.
In the end he gave up teaching last year to concentrate on his work with Smug. He then took on Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper, which last October began publishing photographs of people it said were gay – including Mr Kato – next to a headline reading “Hang them”.
His complaint was upheld and a judge ordered the paper to stop publishing the photographs, saying it contravened their right to privacy. Mr Kato, who was passionate and outspoken about his views, said that the life of a gay activist in Uganda was like playing “hide and seek”. Offices were often changed so they did not become targets.
Smug’s executive director Frank Mugisha said the threats against Kato had increased. One his colleagues, who asked to remain anonymous, remembered him as “a brave man”. “He wasn’t afraid to speak out and would always put himself out there,” he told the BBC. “He took a lead role in developing HIV/Aids policies for a number of organisations.”
Rebecca McDowall, a student in London who met Mr Kato at an event recently, said he was aware that what he was doing was dangerous. “He was so inspirational as a public speaker,” she told the BBC. “He looked like a small unassuming person but when he got up, you couldn’t help but sit up and listen.”
Ms Pepe said Mr Kato’s family and friends are still in shock. “We spoke to Waswa yesterday, he’s equally devastated – he’s trying to hold it together but he’s shattered because of course they were really close,” she said. She and Mr Kato were chatting on the phone about an hour before he was attacked – and he had been laughing and joking. “I keep hearing his laughter in my head – it breaks my heart,” she said