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Murder in Uganda, Light a Candle

27 Jan Posted by in • Guest Writers | Comments Off on Murder in Uganda, Light a Candle
Murder in Uganda, Light a Candle

Ugandan Gay rights activist David Kato was asleep in bed when an unknown assassin entered his home and beat him to death with a hammer.  Uganda is a country that was the target of several decades of fundamentalist Christian proselytizing that featured the strongest condemnation of same sex love, combined with affirmation of the threat of violence against LGBT people.  It is a capital crime to have gay sex in Uganda.  Giles Muhame, editor of Ugandan Rolling Stone magazine is quoted in the press in support of the capital punishment law that sentenced gay people to death.  Imagine if Rolling Stone in California, New York or Illinois issued this statement like Muhame, quoted in the BBC World News, “We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not for the public to attack them.” There would be riots.  Yet even here in the safety of Chicago with its LGBT business community, supportive colleagues and even representatives in government, I cannot forget that the threat of violence against us was real.

The last “gay” riot in New York City took place in 1998 after the death of Matthew Shepard in October of that year.  He was a 21 year old young man beaten and left to die hanging on a barbed fence in Wyoming.  At that time I was in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  Someone left a flier about a demonstration to remember Matthew Shepard that would meet at the Plaza Hotel and Fifth Avenue during the rush hour.  Everyone would receive a candle to carry and raise overhead in memory.  The flier did not say that the demonstration would form into an illegal mass march that would go south toward the village, splitting into different columns, disrupting traffic in three avenues, leaping over barriers, confusing attempts by the New York City police to stop the protest, and picking up people who joined the demonstration as they left work or school.  It was one of the largest demonstrations of its kind that I have ever seen.  I held several candles on the march downtown.  As one sputtered or died, I picked up another from the ground.  The candle wax burned my fingers but the lights warmed in the coming darkness of nightfall in Manhattan.  A rally in Madison Square Park just to the north east allowed the marchers to regroup, the real moment of remembrance over, because we saw and heard the police line forming, and each one of us held a candle or a sign up high.  It was time to move on.  I could see the police forming a roman line across Fifth Avenue and Broadway to stop the march from reaching more people in the Villages downtown.  Tap, tap, tap, we could hear batons on riot shields.   Some gay men had worn suits and ties for the riot.  They entered the crossroads in the shadow of the Flat Iron Building dressed for success and ready to fight their way downtown.  Someone in a wheelchair decided to fight.  As a graduate student living on my public university stipends and fellowship, vulnerable, alone, classes to teach, feeling exhausted by the emotion of the demonstration, I needed to escape.  I walked to the very end of the police line on the east side where a young cop in full riot gear saw me trying to leave and pushed an elbow in my direction as if that could arrest me.  Arrest me for tears and candle wax and sometimes stepping off the sidewalk? Live to fight another day.

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