Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eulogy text "In Memory of David Kato," delieverd by Rev. Steve Parelli, January 30, 2011, in New York City

In Memory of David Kato
Delivered at the
Love Alive International Sunday Memorial Service,
January 30, 2011, 4 PM
--meeting in the sanctuary of All Souls Church,
1157 Lexington Ave., New York, NY--
by Rev. Stephen Parelli
Executive Director

Early Thursday morning a human rights activist, with whom I had been corresponding by email, phoned me from Uganda to tell me what I had just read in an email from Rev. Michael Kimindu of Kenya: David Kato had been brutally murdered. “You know,” the Ugandan activist told me over the phone, “David took pride in saying that it was he who brought Other Sheep to Uganda.”

Other Sheep is the worldwide ministry I work with to “connect people with people and people with resources” around the needs and concerns of LGBT people of faith in order to empower one another, and for the purpose of working together for the full inclusion of sexual minorities within their respective faiths.

It was true. It was David Kato who introduced Other Sheep to Uganda. In 2007 my husband and I were in Nairobi with the ministry of Other Sheep. Our plans had called for staying in Kenya, but a Kenyan clergyman with a mainline denomination, who was a closeted LGBT activist, was informing us that there was a David Kato, the Secretary of Integrity Uganda, who was urging us to come to Uganda. It was like the “Macedonian call” from the book of Acts: “Come over and help us.” We decided to use our last days in Kenya to make a short five-day visit to Uganda. Traveling by car and then by bus, we arrived in Kampala on Friday, August 17, 2007, between noon and one, and met David according to plans.

Rev. Stephen Parelli delivering
"In Memory of David Kato"
January 30, 2011
in the sanctuary of All Souls Church
New York City, NY
 For three days we were closely tied to David. He took the first afternoon to help us settle in, to find an ATM machine, and, over pizza, to brief us on the previous day's press release given by Victor Mukasa, leader of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), and others. He proudly showed us the published news articles with photos of LGBT people with their faces covered. David further assisted us by sharing his residence with a Rwandan we met through the Internet in Rwanda who came to Kampala to meet us.

On the following day, from noon to five o’clock, David and three others – Larry of Nairobi, our friend from Rwanda, and a Pentecostal gay man from Kampala who had heard about Other Sheep through the Rwanda contact – spent these five hours together with Jose and me at an Ethiopian Restaurant, eating and drinking and talking activism and just getting to know each other. It was wonderful. At the end of the day, Jose and I invited the part of four – which included David – to come with us to our two bedroom Red Chile Hideaway cottage to spend the night and the following day with us. They did, and it was pure joy to be with other LGBT people of faith, - one from Kenya, one from Rwanda, and two from Uganda – all together.

That evening, David initiated putting me through on a phone call to the pro-LGBT Anglican Bishop, Christopher Ssenyonjo, and the Bishop and I spoke briefly by phone. Later that year, a book published in Uganda, featured an article written by the Bishop in which he mentioned “other sheep” and the book that Other Sheep distributes, The Children Are Free.

We had only been in Uganda a mere 24 hours and David was hosting a friend of ours from Rwanda, settling us in, briefing us on the recent activities of SMUG’s press release, socially engaging us and others, and connecting us with Bishop Ssenyonjo. In all of this, it was easy to observe that David was intense, a serious leader, active and aggressive, thinking ahead to the next step, as well as interactive socially, a team player, and part of the group. He was an initiator in investigating new possibilities, new materials, new resources. That’s how we experienced him.

But there’s more. It was on the following day (all of us up from a good night’s sleep – and yes, we did sleep –although some did talk late into the night) that David spoke to me about his wanting to write an editorial. He wanted to see if he could publish something in a paper in Kampala. He wanted to address the religious resistance already raising its ugly head in their collective effort. Remember, this was 2007. David was serious about this task and wanted my help. While the others in our group were somewhere about the Red Chile Hideaway compound, David and I sat ourselves at the cottage dining room table and applied ourselves to the task he insisted we do.

Steve Parelli, right, with David Kato
August 19, 2007, Red Chili Hideaway,
Kampala, Uganda
Working on the "unpublished" editorial
  At my laptop, I opened a document I had created while in Nairobi some days earlier. Observing firsthand the anti-gay sentiment coming from the religious community in Nairobi, I had written my thoughts on toleration, the liberty of conscience, and the imperative that government and the church has no God-given prerogative to molest people because of their religious beliefs and practices – including the religious views and practices of sexual minorities. Of course, writing an essay like this was very therapeutic for a Baptist like me.

David was immediately drawn into the essay. He took it in like a sponge. Of course, the ideas expressed therein were not at all foreign to him. He was, after all, a human rights defender and he very aptly pointed out where the addition of a certain phrase or wording would serve to improve the writing. And it did. So, together we customized the article according to his comments and suggestions.

Even with David’s experience as a human rights defender, however, he found something in the writing that connected with him in a new way. He said to me, “How can I learn more about this.” The idea that two individuals could totally disagree on religious matters and be solely accountable to God without having to answer to either the government or to the church, but rather their right to believe differently would be protected by the civil government, this was, I could see, a powerful concept for David. Something we take for granted in the West, but something about which David said, “How can I learn more.”

The first paragraph of the editorial which we fashioned together, read thusly:
“Certain views from different religious leaders against the fundamental rights of homosexuals have been brought up in reaction to the LGBTI press release of Friday, August 17, 2007. A spokesperson of Integrity Uganda, a faith based Christian organization that maintains that the Bible does not condemn same-sex relationships, says the question of gay rights in Uganda is a fundamental human rights question and not a theological question.”
And, of course, the editorial went on to argue for and develop the main idea that “the question of gay rights in Uganda is a fundamental human rights question and not a theological question.”

"He saw the need for
African religious voices
to be joined and raised together
in defense of the liberty of conscience."
  David said the editorial needed to quote some religious leaders in Africa. He said he wanted to ask Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo of Uganda, and Rev. Micahle Kimindu of Kenya to each provide a statement to be written into the editorial. He saw the need for African religious voices to be joined and raised together in defense of the liberty of conscience.

It was a remarkable afternoon with David and I will never forget it. It stands as one of the highlights of my experiences with Other Sheep in my travels worldwide – interacting with David that afternoon.

On the following day, while Jose and I were in town, we got a call from David over our cell phone to come immediately to the SMUG headquarters to advise them on how they might be able to answer the media with regards to questions on Christianity and homosexuality.

We spoke with five – including David – eager-to-know (all taking notes) SMUG members on how to respond to the Pentecostal community which was presently staging public protests against homosexuals. We gave them a two-track strategy. And again, all because of David’s interest in, and desire to connect the ministry of Other Sheep with SMUG.

--Jose Ortiz, left, with David Kato--
"And I have a picture of David with
his arm around Jose,
both of them eating their chicken on a stick
 and David smiling a huge smile.
I caught it on camera."
 Following that impromptu meeting with SMUG, Larry of Nairobi and David walked Jose and me back to a main part of town where we could get transportation. It was a bit of a walk. We chatted and talked, walking two by two, Jose with Larry, me with David. Larry and Jose were laughing some, happy, I recall, but David was still his serious self. I insisted we stop and eat “chicken on a stick” cooked over an open fire that one purchases on the street sidewalk. Jose was reluctant, but I begged him and won. It was at a busy intersection with people walking all about. So, together we got some chicken. And I have a picture of David with his arm around Jose, both of them eating their chicken on a stick and David smiling a huge smile. I caught it on camera. You didn’t see David smile much. He was a serious person; always looking as if the battle for freedom was constantly at hand. Anyway, that’s how he was with us these three days. But now, the four of us standing around a vender’s “chicken on a stick”, as if the battle was won, though perhaps not the war, David was smiling, he was happy, he was throwing his arm around Jose. As if the last few days of the intensity of the battle, in which he was in, was over for a moment, and the battle was won.

In heavy traffic he would take our hand or wrist; if he wanted us to move along fast he took our hand or wrist and led us, dragged us, and once I remember, just to show his affection , he took our hand just to take our hand – a common enough expression in many-a-lands around the world. A natural enough expression that says, “We are friends.”

But I wish to return to the editorial David insisted we create. It was never published in a Kampala newspaper. But, of course, I did publish it on the Other Sheep website, leaving the original form that indicates where David said statements from Tutu, Ssenyonjo, and Kimindu should be inserted. Leaving the title just as he wrote it, and leaving the heading that says: “News Release/ For Immediate Release/ Contact Person: David” [with mobile number and email address stated].

“For Immediate Release/ Contact Person: David.”

I would like to read a short segment of the editorial David and I customized together that Ugandan afternoon at the Red Chile Hideaway cottage. It reads:
"It must be said again and again in any society where religious teachings on homosexuality dominate, that the view of the religious majority is not to be legislated onto the views and practices of the sexual minority. As long as a gay man or woman does not infringe upon the rights of other individuals, the homosexual (who is often Christian) has the same right as his [or her] heterosexual counterpart, to interpret the Bible according to his or her understanding and to answer only before God (and not to the government or to the church)."
And the writing was headed: “For Immediate Release/ Contact Person: David”

David Kato immediately following
the SMUG - Other Sheep meeting,
Agust 20, 2007.
Kampala, Uganda
It says David, just David. David who? David Kato, born around 1968, died January 26, 2011, considered by many to be a father of Uganda’s gay rights movement. This week, The New York Times reported that David “was a high school teacher who had graduated from some of Uganda’s best schools. He moved to South Africa in the mid-1990s, where he came out.” The Times article also said, “A few years ago, David organized what he claimed was Uganda’s first gay rights news conference in Kampala, the capital, and said he was punched in the face and cracked in the nose by police officers soon afterward.”

Upon hearing of David’s death, Jose, my husband, wrote: “David was a determined, committed and diligent servant for the cause of equality for God's LGBT children in Uganda. He was one of God’s shining lights for justice. The embers of his fire will revive into a roaring blaze in all of us who remain to stand against the darkness of bigotry rooted in ignorance and arrogant religious fervor.”

David, we love you, we will miss you, we will never forget you. Thank you for your activism, for the life you lived and gave, on our behalf. As Jesus said, and did: “No greater love is there than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.”

I will always see you as smiling David, like you were with Larry and Jose and me that afternoon after your intense three days – and more – of activism. Our figures stood golden by the rays of a sun beginning to close out the day. The vender and others cast glances our way. Who were we, the four, the laughing and smiling, eating our chicken as if it were a heavenly banquet prepared just for us? We were and are the victors, those who live for justice for all. We were smiling then, we are smiling now, thanks to Jesus who gives us the victory in loving our neighbor as ourselves. You were then, you are now, the victor.

Oh, and David, I hear the voices all across Africa. They are joining in with Desmond Tutu, Bishop Ssenyonjo and Rev. Kimindu – these whom you wanted to submit a statement to your editorial. The voices are coming, David. Africa is rising up. We know. We hear it. Because we see it through your persistent, patient, prophetic eyes.

For now, David, good night. The day is over. The huge golden, African sun is setting. We will join you in the morning and it will be a new day then for all.   END

Above photo, left to right:
Rev. Joseph Tolton, Rev. Steve Parelli,
Rev. Stacey Latimer - host pastor, and Perry Brass. 

Rev.Tolton preached,
 Rev. Parelli gave the eulogy (above), and
Peryy Brass delivered a poem he wrote in honor of David Kato

January 30, 2011
Memorial Service for David Kato