Wednesday, January 11, 2012

While there are many crucial reasons to be suspicious of open access projects, I can't help but be a bit proud of this one (although I am on record as an objector to the name) that brings fantastic feminist work to the internet (relatively) sans frontières

In the latest issue, a fabulous piece on immaterial labour (esp. Negri's debt to its conceptual development via Italian feminists ) by Donatella Alessandrini and a video featuring a great lecture by Dean Spade on critiques of equality claims and the limits of law from the 2011 PECANS conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Also check out Dean's new book Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law available from South End Press 2011. 

A cross the Liberal Party has to bear...

RE: (MP who backed Mulcair for NDP leader defects to Liberals)

Lise St- Denis’s floor crossing would be far more legitimate if she had been a well-known local MP that had earned the respect and trust of her constituents. The naked fact is that the people of Saint-Maurice-Champlain in particular, and Quebec in general, voted for whoever was carrying the banner for Jack Layton. The Liberal party earned an abysmal 12% of the vote in her riding. St-Denis’ change of heart could hardly be considered a principled political decision - it is a slap in the face to the people who elected her.

Written hastily by David Hugill and Stacy Douglas
For more on floor-crossing and the legacy of attempts to stop it. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Hijackings and other Colonial Tropes

On 27 October 2011, dozens of independent African activists and organisations released a statement on the threat of Britain’s 'aid cut' to African countries that violate lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) rights. This letter came on the heels of a widely reported story that the UK was to stop funds going to countries that were reportedly ‘anti-gay’ and was signed by 56 organisations and 86 individuals self-identified as African social justice activists. Anyone that has attempted to write such a well-written co-authored letter knows how much time and effort would have gone into this endeavor long before we saw its release. The letter carefully outlined the problematic assumptions that undergird Britain’s proposed aid cuts, such as its:

  •         assumptions ‘about African sexualities and the needs of African LGBTI people’;
  •        ‘disregard [for] the agency of African civil society movements and political leadership’;
  •        potential to ‘exacerbate the environment of intolerance’;
  •        ‘reinforce[ment of] the disproportionate power dynamics between donor countries and         recipients’;
  •        ‘further[ing of] the divide between the LGBTI and the broader civil society movement; and
  •        support of ‘the commonly held notion that homosexuality is “unAfrican” and…that countries like the UK will only act when “their interests” have been threatened’, disregarding the colonial legacies of the British Empire in criminalizing same-sex practices in Africa, as well as the prevalence of homophobia in contemporary Britain itself.
Throughout, the authors draw out the ways in which such threats play out old colonial legacies that bolster the role of the UK in making economic decisions for African countries, and further instantiate their imagined place at the head of the global regulation machine. In what couldn’t be a more ironic turn, this message was quickly picked up coopted by similar aggrandizing voices within the UK gay movement.

On 22 November 2011, the Peter Tatchell Foundation issued a press release claiming that Peter Tatchell presented the Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell with the letter. In this characterisation of the events, the Tatchell Foundation seems to suggest that they were working collaboratively with the African social justice activists in this regard. This is blatantly not the case. Although the authors have not publicly released their own opinion on this offensive portrayal, many of the signatories have good reason to keep their distance from the Tatchell Foundation.  

Furthermore, other gay activist groups in attendance participated in a problematic cooptation of the letter’s original intent. After the Minister claimed that aid would not be ‘cut’ but euphemistically ‘redirected’, the Kaleidoscope Trust entered into a full-blown endorsement of the plans, releasing a statement that actively collaborated with the UK government’s agenda. The Director of the Trust stated that:

Andrew Mitchell clearly understands the importance of setting LGBT rights into a wider context and of avoiding any risk of harm to those that British policy is designed to help. We are fortunate to have a government that takes these issues seriously and is prepared to speak out when necessary.

What’s more, in their complimentary releases both the Tatchell Foundation and the Kaleidoscope Trust failed to question the UK’s assumed position as a primary funding agent for African programs aimed at poverty reduction and human rights violations, out rightly ignoring the signatories’ main concerns.

As such, within a month of the release of the powerful African activists’ statement, as one of my comrades pointed out, the original intent of the letter had been effectively ‘hijacked’. Of course, hijackers are always portrayed as brown and black ‘terrorists’ of various kinds, ruining white people’s holiday vacations/providing the introduction to every Tom Cruise action movie when they seize control of an airplane. However, this scenario offers an important alternative perspective on the history of hijacking - one that predates human flight. This is the old colonial trope of cooptation.

While we’re wheeling and dealing in the realm of colonial legacies, let me point out that the Oxford English Dictionary defines hijacking as the action of illegally seizing something in transit and forcing it to a different destination. In this case, my comrade was spot on. The letter was in transit, carrying a message of autonomy and anti-colonialism to eyes and ears around the world but re-routed by the self-authorised voices of the UK gay liberation movement. Rather than reflect upon and absorb the transformational message of the letter, these organisations ignored and then buried it under their panicked effort to prioritize their own interests. In a situation almost too ripe with colonial legacies to be believable, we need not ask ‘can the subaltern speak?’, but rather, ‘can the colonizers please shut up?'.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Constitutionalism & the Time of the Political

(This post originally appeared on Critical Legal Thinking on 19 September. It is an abridged version of a paper given at the 2011 Critical Legal Conference in Aberyswyth, Wales).

by: Stacy Douglas

In his book The Idea of Public Law Martin Loughlin outlines three ‘orders of the political’ that underpin and orient public law. The first order begins with Carl Schmitt’s famous formulation of the distinction between friend and enemy. Loughlin contends that it is this decision or ‘deed’ that forms the foundations of the political, upon which the second and third orders rest. As such, this distinction comes before the creation of the state and before the creation of law. The second order goes beyond this stage to include a state-based program of governance. Here politics takes its place as the system that operates between the governors and the governed in order to achieve a common goal of security and stability. The third order of politics comes in the form of constitutional law. Loughlin claims that this third register functions to smooth out and balance the systems of state-government via a fair, non-partisan framework. For Loughlin, constitutional law is the result of a collective political bargain. It establishes the ‘rules’ that the people have agreed will guide and orient the relationship between government and governed. It is these three orders of the political, and their attendant relationship that, according to Loughlin, help us to understand how public law ‘works’.

My response here is a very brief foray into the temporality that undergirds Loughlin’s conception of how public law ‘works’. I will pose a few preliminary questions about the use of time in Loughlin’s theory. Namely, I want to point to the problems and pitfalls of i) positing an ‘origin’ or concrete foundation of law, ii) consigning the time of ‘the political’ to a past (the original ‘decision’) upon which governmental institutions are built upon, and iii) using the discourse of empirical history to draw out a boundary of a ‘true’ or ‘actually existing’ community of willing subjects that can perform this original deed. In addition, I want to ask how this narrative of temporality allows us to understand law as something that ‘works’ in the first place.

The Time of Law or How Law ‘Works’

Firstly, Loughlin’s description of public law perpetuates a conception of law as a transcendent force, ‘outside’ and autonomous from a subsequently insinuated ‘inside’. Peter Fitzpatrick has long since demonstrated how this trope fits into a deeply entrenched pattern of origin stories that posit a mythical time of pure beginnings. He argues that law is commonly described in these terms, thereby rendering a projection of it as a coherent and singular entity. He claims that such descriptions “elevate a particular and official interpretation of law and invest this law with abilities and values which render it transcendent and constant” (Fitzpatrick 1992: 5). The assertion of an origin deploys an authorizing temporality of law and its presence – one that scuttles the murky questions about the paradox of this inaugural moment and, indeed, its very impossibility.

Secondly, in Loughlin’s theory set out above, the time of the political has already taken place. If the first order of the political undergirds the second and third then Loughlin has invoked a particular form of temporality into his so-called ‘objective’ description. This temporality relegates the political to a prior time and place upon which governing institutions and constitutional law can be built. Certainly, the emphasis on the foundational ‘decision’ invites a reading of the double meaning of ‘deed’ here. Loughlin clearly is referring to the political decision/action as deed. But ‘deed’ might also be thought of as a type of ‘license’ or legal agreement and it certainly does function this way in Loughlin’s work. With striking similarity to the form of a contract, Loughlin’s ‘deed’ legitimates the institutional politics that are erected on top of it.

Thirdly, in the introduction to the book The Paradox of Constitutionalism: Constituent Power and Constitutional Form (2007), Loughlin stresses the importance of ‘real life’ examples in thinking through theory. As further evidenced in his solo contribution in the same book, as well as in his latest book The Foundations of Public Law (2010), Loughlin’s proclivities for empiricism run deep. In both pieces, Loughlin’s argument relies heavily on the historical contexts that underpin and give rise to contemporary constitutional problems. By delving deeply into these historical contexts Loughlin believes that history can act as a tool for making sense of what is otherwise overly abstract.

Loughlin’s historicist empiricism represents a pinnacle example of what philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy writes against. Where Loughlin uses historicism to create and legitimise a knowable and containable community at the centre of constitutional theory, Nancy would draw attention to Loughlin’s use of history as myth. Where Loughlin posits an ‘actually-existing’ constitutional community, Nancy draws attention to the dangerous culmination of this mode of thinking. Instead of closing down imagined conceptions of community, Nancy argues that we must imagine the ways in which community is always already open, between, and shared. Moreover, beyond Loughlin’s predilection for founding ‘the political’ on an original ‘deed’, Nancy advocates for thinking community outside of contractual obligations in ways that illuminate the truth of being-in-common.  

The Mythical Time of Law

So what is the consequence of invoking this particular temporality to tell a story about law, constitutionalism, and political community? I claim there are at least two outcomes that critical readers of Loughlin (and other social contract theorists) should take note of.

Firstly, the story of law’s origins in a social contract – or to use Loughlin’s language, a ‘deed’ – tells us that there is an authorizing moment and, indeed, an authorizer to political community. If we consider the possibility that such foundations are false – the possibility that there is no origin story – then the authorizing force that inaugurates and maintains political community is called into question. Loughlin’s imagined ‘deed’ is a story that does not function neutrally as an objective account of ‘what actually is’ but actively creates an imagination of law’s (central) place in the creation of political community.

The second part of Loughlin’s mythological narrative is his account of the place of the political - ‘the political’ is consigned to the time of the founding ‘deed’. Although Loughlin argues that the ‘deed’ has continued presence and potential after the fact (i.e., it legitimizes the political community’s measures to break with or challenge existing institutional juridical forms), it remains that the political is tied to this contractual moment. In his account, the ‘deed’ legitimizes and authorizes the actions of the political community. This is where and when the political took place and from which it continues to wield its power. As Emilios Christodoulidis remarks in Public Law and Politics: The Scope and Limits of Constitutionalism (2008), this conception of the political runs counter to Schmitt’s decisionism by dropping the crucial element of reflexivity – that is, the ongoing process of deciding the political – and instead relegates it to one moment.

In sum, as Loughlin ‘objectively recounts’ the foundations of public law, he recasts it as inherently tied to this narrative of the political. As he paints this picture, his narrative silently elides the ever-present potential of the political to be in any place and at any time. Instead, this social contractualism confines the political to a ‘proper’ place. As I have argued elsewhere, this demand for ‘proper’ political expression is intimately tied to the discourse of civility. This is most markedly obvious in its constant characterization as the opposite of savagery. As I state in my recent article on the London Riots,
These stories, proffered by the likes of Rousseau, Hobbes, and Locke, assert the necessity of a social contract to establish authorized governmental relations that can then approve or condemn particular political action(s)...According to these liberal narratives, law is what civilizes the state of nature, it is what safeguards the people, it is what assuages the problems of living in anarchy. What these narratives actively remove from the story, of course, is the way that law does not protect but in fact is an active perpetrator of violence. ('Race, Civility, and a Good Cup of Tea: Considering the "Political" in the London Riots', Canadian Dimension, 25 October 2011; also below)
Dwelling on the civilizational undergirding of social contract theory can assist in thinking through the ways in which, for example, the London Riots were deemed ‘not political’. Given the heavy hegemony of the liberal legal schema it is indeed easy to see how actions taken outside of this framework cannot be read as ‘political’. This illegibility, I contend, is linked directly with the temporal undergirding of the social contract theory like that found in Loughlin. As such, analysing the time of this narrative means re-asking questions about the time of ‘the political’, the time of ‘community’, and perhaps most importantly, the time of political community. More pointedly, if we consider that the temporality mythically consigns the political to an imagined past, we might then ask: ‘what are we waiting for?’.

Race, Civility, and a Good Cup of Tea: Considering the ‘Political’ in the London Riots

(Although written in August 2011, this post was first published with Canadian Dimension on 25 October 2011).

by: Stacy Douglas

Rioting began in London, UK on Saturday 6 August after a march on the Tottenham Police Station in north London surged into a violent conflict between demonstrators and police. The protestors were marching for answers about the death of Marc Duggan, a local young black man who had been shot and killed by police in a pre-organized stop and search of a minicab on Thursday 4 August. Following a poorly handled communication (or lack thereof) with Duggan’s family and girlfriend over the next two days and an increasing number of suspicious rumours, angry locals marched to the police station to ask questions on Saturday afternoon. Amidst the rising tension on the Tottenham High Street that day, a young teenage girl was surrounded and assaulted by numerous police brandishing riot shields and batons. This was the act that set the already angry crowds off. That night Tottenham High Street smashed and burned at the hands of a raging community.

After that Saturday, rioting spread throughout various London boroughs. National and international media announced that London was under ‘mob rule’ while showing images of people they deemed ‘criminals’ smashing and looting high street stores. In response, many observers tried to comment on the situation, drawing out grand theories of the political, social, and economic context behind the events. Some blamed social spending cuts brought on by the new Tory budget. Others drew attention to the centrality of consumerism in peoples' lives. Still others decided to call the rioting pure and simple hooliganism, denouncing those involved as criminal thugs. It is to the third set of observers, those who describe the events as the result of a rampaging bunch of heathens, that I focus my attention on here. However, instead of attempting to forward another grand theory of the riots and rioters, this analysis will turn attention to the observers of said riots, or rather, the notion of the ‘political’ in these responses.


The failure to see the riots as political comes as a result of a normalized conception of the political that assumes it is synonymous with liberal parliamentary democracy. As one Canadian journalist asserted to me in a recent radio interview – ‘these rioters weren’t targeting government buildings’. For this journalist, the images of the events in circulation did not correspond to what she imagined to be a ‘political’ demonstration; they did not correspond to a framework of liberal democracy that sought government as its aim, nor that had a political program, manifesto, or legible purpose as its mobilizing force.

Moreover, this assumption is racially coded as the discourse of law and ‘proper’ political action are deeply enmeshed in conceptions of civility that undergird the very notion of the social contract and it’s upholding. As such, I argue against those who claim that ‘race’ and ‘racism’ have faded away from this story. Amidst David Cameron’s threats to call in the army, Boris Johnson’s decries of the violence as ‘mindless vigilantism’, and self-aggrandizing volunteer clean-up squads, this story has important things to tell us about race, civility, and the idea of the ‘political’ in western liberal democracy.


The first way in which race persists in this story comes from my own observational experience of the riots. On the day following the first eruption in Tottenham, the neighborhood was strewn with anti-police graffiti. Spray-painted signs on the road, walls, street signs, bus shelters, and store-fronts forcefully conveyed to any onlooker what the take home message of the violence was – ‘fuck the police’. These messages were ignored by mainstream media outlets. After five days of following the rioting on all social networking and mainstream media websites, I have yet to see a single photo of this graffiti.

Nor was this merely a visual message - shouts of ‘fuck the police’ and ‘you know you’re racist’ resounded in confrontations on Mare Street and Clarence Road in Hackney. On Monday 8 August, one of the largest street confrontations between rioters and police happened just north of Pembury Estate, an event now dubbed ‘The Battle for Pembury’. At approximately 8:30pm, a mass of 300 largely black youth fought the police with vicious intensity, splitting the police lines and rendering the riot suited defense force impotent. No shops were looted, no innocent bystanders attacked – this was a well-mounted and virulent attack on the police. Outside of London the following night, a police station was fire bombed by rioters in Nottingham, petrol-bombs were hurled at police in Coventry, and police were attacked on the streets in Gloucester and Liverpool.

While opportunistic looting also took place in and around these events, the portrayal of rioters as mindless and without cause actively ignores the persistent anti-police sentiment that undergirded many of the events, especially in north London. This attitude stems from a long history of racialised communities fighting systemic racism in the London Metropolitan Police Service and cannot be disassociated from legacies of police violence that were also the subject of riots in Brixton in 1981 and Broadwater Farm in 1985. People who try to play down these realities fail to see the ongoing police violence and state-endorsed criminalization of racialised communities that groups such as the Newham Monitoring Project, Cageprisoners, the English Collective of Prostitutes, and Medical Justice continue to fight against.

The second way in which this story continues to be about race can be witnessed in many of the mainstream responses to the riots that appeal to ‘civility’. This response comes from both expected and unexpected places – from the mouth of the Conservative Prime Minister to those involved with the self-appointed ‘London Cleanup’ entourage. The latter, a combination of voluntarist hipsters and do-gooding citizens with a few hours to spare in the middle of the day, took to the streets with brooms and garbage bags to both physically and symbolically ‘clean’ up the streets. This makeshift group of citizens, exalted by widely circulating photographs showcasing their arsenal of sterilizing weaponry, epitomize the civilizational discourse that is at play in the varied conversations about the riots. These citizens are cleaning up the ‘mess’ that looters left behind. However, this ‘mess’ is not merely a physical one consisting of broken glass and garbage, but it is also a ‘mess’ that rioters have made of the supposed social fabric of British society. In this light, the riots are portrayed as mindless and without intention, while the law – the social contract that legitimizes institutionalized politics confined to parliamentary democracy – is the bastion of reason and civilization. These voluntarist street cleaners affirm that the law that they uphold with the force of their brooms is not only the singularly legitimate route to vocalize dissent, but is proper and good. In another example, a Facebook page called ‘Operation Cup of Tea’, that invited Brits to show their disdain by staying at home and ‘having a cup of tea’, was a top Twitter trend and had over 330,000 members by day four of the riots.

This demand for ‘proper’ political expression is intimately tied to the discourse of civility. Indeed, law is a civilizing force. This is most markedly obvious in its constant characterization as the opposite of savagery – a narrative well known by indigenous populations the world over who experienced the force of legally-sanctioned colonialism by the world’s various empires. These communities and its encroaching settler populations were and continue to be told that the legal violence – often termed ‘negotiations’ or ‘settlements’ by the occupiers – were a necessary element of creating order and founding a legitimate nation. Of course, these narratives have a deep resonance with the contemporary constitutional and political theory that undergirds the political imaginations of most of the globalized world today. These origin stories, proffered by the likes of Rousseau, Hobbes, and Locke, continue to assert the necessity of a social contract to establish authorized governmental relations that can then approve or condemn particular political action(s). This contractual relation and its ensuing establishment has been widely normalized as the pinnacle form of political association. According to these liberal narratives, law is what civilizes the state of nature, it is what safeguards the people, it is what assuages the problems of living in anarchy. What these narratives actively remove from the story, of course, is the way that law does not protect but in fact is an active perpetrator of violence.

While I do not have the space or local knowledge to list a great number of examples of the way in which the law perpetrates violence in Tottenham, the existence of popularly documented institutionalised racism in the London Metropolitan Police, not to mention the devastating conjunction between racialised neighborhoods and poverty, unemployment, and poor public services, works to further state-violence in these communities. Here the myth of law as a saving force is well known. In Tottenham, Clapton, and Hackney, the bourgeois liberal trust of the state – and especially the police – is revealed for the ideology that it is.

Significantly, the erasure of this narrative of race and civility leads us to difficulty in explaining the connection between the riots and the response by the English Defense League and other racist ideologues who are using the events as a vehicle to promote civilizational narratives about the encroaching threat of so-called immigrants and the need to return to an imagined vision of an original ‘great’ Britain. Of course, the riots were not entirely about race either. As excellent reports from The Guardian’s Paul Lewis, among others, clearly demonstrate, rioters were people of many different colours, ages, and motivations. However, when legacies of racism are actively removed from both the events as they unfolded as well as the subsequent analysis, we miss the chance to not only understand how the riots were racialised but, how western liberal democracy is too.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

sticking with the ndp

a few years ago i had a disagreement with the ndp over their stance on the second durban conference (the letter i wrote can be found here). i vocalised my concerns to jack layton and he called me on the phone to talk about it. we chatted for 20 minutes. we asked questions of each other and had an intense, yet fruitful, exchange. jack thanked me for the conversation. a few months later, after much inter-party debate, the ndp changed their position. i say this now because i want to highlight that i believe jack layton to be a thoughtful politician that reflects on, and sometimes changes, his decisions - a true sign of leadership. moreover, the party's history and current platform reflect many of my hopes for canada - they are anti-war, pro-universal health care, and committed to working towards better environmental policies. their entire platform is available online.

although some of us may long for other possibilities (i.e., more candidate options, different voting systems, or consensus-based revolutions that do not rely on electoral politics, nation-states, or parties at all), the reality is that this election is going to happen. moreover, it is going to have consequences for us. this is not a declaration of defeat. some may be concerned that investing hope or time in elections means siphoning energy that is better placed in autonomous organising at a distance from the state. these folks would rather see us create our own conditions of existence, imagine alternatives to equating sporadic ballot-casting with democracy, and rid ourselves of the hegemony of liberal-democratic state apparati that often violate us as much as they assist us. and i say, right on. i have said these things myself in other places.

however, voting in this election does not preclude the potential to realise these possibilities in the future. but we cannot yet abandon the state-structure as it continues to dominate our daily lives and political imaginations. it is not yet possible to think about broad-based political change without parties and without elections. and i do not think that simply ignoring the process (i.e., the election) will necessarily help in shifting our imaginations away from state-based politics. we are not ready. and so i am not advocating that we abandon these aspirations but that we recognise that, like it or not, one, or some combination of these parties, is going to have a lot of money and decision-making power in its hands for the next four years. i think that if we can ensure that the ndp is a major player in this configuration, we can expect to see a government that reflects the type of leadership and soft-left policies mentioned above. it is not revolutionary, and it certainly does not constitute the climax of our political demands or our imaginative capacities. our energy will not be drained because our energy has endless potential. rather, with an ndp (or ndp imbued) government, we will continue to think, and act, and organise as before, and we can hope that the only left-of-centre mainstream political party in canada can animate the background, legislating in favour of affordable housing, pensions, and the minimum wage while we continue to think and realise other possibilities. while conservative regimes are drafting up and implementing draconian austerity measures in the uk, portugal, italy, ireland, australia, and elsewhere, cracking down on public protest and ramping up cuts to public services, canada has the chance to do something different.

in short, on may 2, and in the words of stumpin' tom, i'm sticking with the NDP.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Beyond Barbarism: David Kato, Uganda, and the American Right

(This story was also published by Truthout on 17 February 2011)

I, like many, am deeply saddened by the news of the violent death of David Kato, a prominent Ugandan LGBTI activist. David was murdered in his home on 26 January in a village near Kampala. Although the motives for his murder are not yet confirmed, it is highly suspected that David was the target of homophobic violence due to his vocal criticism of the proposed Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and LBGTI rights in Uganda more broadly.

The bill, before parliament since 2009, further criminalizes homosexuality (it is already illegal thanks to the combined force of lingering British colonial law and governments’ unwillingness to eradicate it ) making it punishable by fine, imprisonment, and in certain cases, death. It is significant that in late 2010, David’s picture - along with numerous other gay Ugandan activists - was published in Rolling Stone (unconnected to the US magazine) alongside a banner that read “hang them”. In light of David’s murder, appeals have been made by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), Behind the Mask, the Africa Regional Dialogue on Sexuality and Geopolitics, Human Rights Watch and others for a full and impartial police investigation into David’s death. This would include an analysis of any possible links to organized violence against LGBTI individuals and communities – a crucial next step in the aftermath of David’s death. However, while identifying the person or people behind David’s murder is of great symbolic significance, it is unlikely that a police investigation will be able to address the larger issue at stake - the complex landscape of homophobic violence in contemporary Uganda.

David was a vocal critic of racist and orientalist readings of Uganda as barbarically backward and hopelessly homophobic. On a trip to the UK last year, David gave a series of talks on the problems with predominantly white gay and queer organizations in the UK painting African countries as blocking the civilizational progress towards the global recognition of LGBTI rights - a road which modern western countries were supposedly paving. For David and his colleagues at SMUG, this overly simplistic perspective of the situation in Uganda erased the ongoing violence that queers continue to experience in the modern western world. David spoke of his shock when he heard stories of gender-queer people being attacked and harassed in London when international gay rights activists in Uganda had portrayed an image of the United Kingdom as the land of the free for LGBTI individuals and communities.

Moreover, David challenged the preconception that somehow homophobia was the ontological property of Africans. Not only was this patently wrong, it also neglected to recognize the campaign of homophobic hatred being pushed by right-wing American church leaders and politicians in Uganda for the past decade. Since 1999, organizations such as the Institute for Religion and Democracy and the Family have been ideologically and economically invested in circulating this narrative as a way of cementing their own political and moral agendas in Uganda. Although most American religious leaders now deny their initial support for anti-gay legislation, David held that these well-funded institutions and individuals (backed in some cases by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR funds) had already helped sow the seeds of homophobic hatred. He challenged the double standard of some gay rights movements to denounce the actions of African nations while ignoring their own governments’ implication in the political, historical, and economic factors of the situation.

As the world learns about the shocking murder of this inspirational young man, there is a danger that it will be inserted along a larger narrative about “homophobic Africa” that perpetuates problematic civilizational discourses of “moderns” vs “pre-moderns”. As cultural critics like Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Jasbir Puar have pointed out, this foundational myth has been the justification for imperialist ventures, colonial intervention, and outright war for centuries, and has particular currency in the contemporary “war on terror”. Gay liberation has successfully been used to bolster the force of the invaders in many contexts, a popular pattern that Puar has termed “homonationalism”. The term describes the resonance between gay rights movements that, for example, deploy narratives of African countries as inherently backward with nationalist mythology used to justify imperial invasion (i.e., saving the women of Afghanistan). These stories mutually enforce each other, building a national imperial project in the name of (supposed) gay liberation. It is my hope that in light of David’s brave intellectual and activist work, international onlookers will not capitulate to the hegemonic propulsion of this narrative by ascribing David’s death to a problem with “Uganda”.

Of course, this is not to deny the agency of the Ugandan government in the worrying escalation of homophobia. President Yoweri Museveni and his parliament need to distance themselves from proposed legislation that further threatens the rights and lives of LGBTI people living in Uganda and to take proactive steps towards greater acceptance of sexual diversity there. But we may also combat the rise in homophobic violence in Uganda by understanding the web of historical, political and economic connections that make up the landscape we are looking at and by putting pressure on those inculcated within it. This, for me, is what David Kato was fighting for.