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Nelson Mandela dies at 95

LGBT activists mourn former South African president



Nelson Mandela, South Africa, gay news, Washington Blade

Nelson Mandela (Photo by South Africa The Good News; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday passed away at the age of 95.

“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” said South African President Jacob Zuma as he announced on South African television that Mandela had passed away at his Johannesburg home. “Nelson Mandela brought us together. And it is together that we will bid him farewell.”

Born in Cape Province on July 18, 1918, Mandela spent 27 years in jail for opposing South Africa’s apartheid-era government until his release in 1990. Mandela was the country’s president from 1994-1999.

South Africa in 1994 became the first country in the world to add a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation into its constitution.

Mandela in 1994 nominated Edwin Cameron, a gay man with HIV, alongside four others to sit on South Africa’s highest court.

“I became the first openly gay judge in South Africa’s history and, at that time, one of the very few openly gay judges anywhere in the world,” wrote Cameron in an op-ed for the South African website Mambaonline in July that he provided to the Washington Blade. “Mr. Mandela was not only happy to appoint me — he did so with emphatic personal warmth, which he personally expressed to me and to others.”

South African LGBT rights advocate Phumzile Mtetwa also recalled Mandela’s LGBT legacy in an op-ed the South African newspaper Mail and Guardian published in July while the former South African president was in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital for what his doctors described as a recurring lung infection.

Mtetwa noted Mandela was president of the African National Congress in 1993 when it added the extension of rights to LGBT South Africans to its platform. The ANC in 1997 adopted a resolution opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Mtetwa wrote Mandela “became an important icon of the movement” in contrast to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and other anti-LGBT African heads of state.

“As a queer activist I will remember uTatu Dalibhunga for the dreams of freedom he symbolized,” Mtetwa said.

Gavin Hayward, editor of Exit, a South African LGBT newspaper, told the Blade from Johannesburg on Friday that LGBT South Africans continue to acknowledge Mandela’s pro-gay legacy. He noted his own interracial relationship would have been banned under Apartheid.

“He was such a great man, with such compassion and selflessness to devote his life to a cause really for the benefit of others,” Hayward told the Blade. “That’s huge and of course I admire him immensely. God knows where the country would have been if we hadn’t had a great man like that around.”

Obama described Mandela as one of the “most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.”

“Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa — and moved all of us,” the president said. “His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray are among those who also mourned Mandela’s death.

“Nelson Mandela tore down oppression, united a rainbow nation and always walked arm-in-arm with his LGBT brothers and sisters — and with all people — toward freedom,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. “Though every man, woman and child who seeks justice around the world mourns this loss, his vision of an equal future lives on undimmed.”

Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, described Mandela as “one of the greatest leaders in history.”

“Because of Nelson Mandela, South Africa became the first country in the world to include constitutional protection for same-gender loving persons,” she said. “As the head of a church with many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer members in 40 countries, including South Africa, I honor the liberator, Mandela.”


District of Columbia

Bernie Delia, attorney, beloved Capital Pride organizer, dies at 64

Activist worked at Justice Department, White House as attorney



Capital Pride, No Justice, No Pride, gay news, Washington Blade
Bernie Delia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bernie Delia, a founding member of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. LGBTQ Pride events, and who served most recently as co-chair of World Pride 2025, which D.C. will be hosting next June, died unexpectedly on Friday, according to a statement released by Capital Pride Alliance. He was 64.

“It is with great sadness that the Capital Pride Alliance mourns the passing of Bernie Delia,” the statement says. “We will always reflect on his life and legacy as a champion, activist, survivor, mentor, friend, leader, and a true inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement says that in addition to serving six years as the Capital Pride Alliance board president, Delia served for several years as president of Dignity Washington, the local LGBTQ Catholic organization, where he helped create “an environment for spiritual enrichment during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

“He also had a distinguished legal career, serving as one of the first openly gay appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice and later as an appellate attorney,” the statement reads.

Delia’s LinkedIn page shows that he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice for 26 years, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2019. Prior to that, he served from 1997 to 2001 as associate deputy attorney general and from 1994 to 1997 served as senior counsel to the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which provides executive and administrative support for 93 U.S. attorneys located throughout the country.

His LinkedIn page shows he served from January-June 1993 as deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel during the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which he was part of the White House staff. And it shows he began his career as legal editor of the Bureau of National Affairs, which published news reports on legal issues, from 1983-1993.

The Capital Pride Alliance statement describes Delia as “an avid runner who served as the coordinator of the D.C. Front Runners and Stonewall Kickball LGBTQ sports groups.”

“He understood the value, purpose, and the urgency of the LGBTQ+ community to work together and support one another,” the statement says. “He poured his soul into our journey toward World Pride, which was a goal of his from the start of his involvement with Capital Pride.”

The statement adds, “Bernie will continue to guide us forward to ensure we meet this important milestone as we gather with the world to be visible, heard, and authentic. We love you, Bernie!”

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Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2



Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, the country’s second largest political party, formed a coalition government.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26



First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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