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Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key LGBTQ ally, dies at 90

Anti-apartheid figure participated in U.N. Free and Equal campaign

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Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (Courtesy of U.N. Free and Equal campaign)

The Rev. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who had compared anti-LGBTQ laws and violence to the apartheid laws and violence of his native South Africa, died early Sunday in Cape Town. He was 90.

Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his impassioned campaign against apartheid in South Africa while Nelson Mandela languished in prison, was a moral beacon not only in the deeply troubled South African nation but became a respected beacon and a tireless advocate for human rights around the globe.

Tutu’s human rights work led to prominent honors and global recognition. In 2009, then-President Obama awarded him the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The outspoken Tutu was considered South Africa’s conscience by both its Black and white citizens, an enduring testament to his faith and spirit of reconciliation in that divided nation.

The apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993 and through unilateral steps by F.W. de Klerk, the president of South Africa. The negotiations resulted in South Africa’s first non-racial election, which was won by the African National Congress, after which Tutu managed to irritate the ANC government that took power after as much as he had angered the apartheid regime previously.

As a ranking prelate in the Anglican communion (church), the Archbishop worked for universal suffrage, equal rights for women, and pressed hard for the recognition for full equality of LGBTQ people.

Tutu pressed for equal access for LGBTQ people, participating in the U.N. Free and Equal campaign, the international body’s global campaign against homophobia and transphobia, in a recorded video said;

“I have to tell you, I cannot keep quiet when people are penalised for something about which they can do nothing.

“First, gender. When women are excluded, just simply and solely because they are women.

“But more perniciously, more ghastly, is the fact that people are penalized, killed, all sorts of ghastly things happen to them, simply, solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid.”

“If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.”

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

When Tutu’s daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth, who had followed her father into the ministry, married her long-term Dutch girlfriend, Marceline van Furth, in a small private ceremony in the Netherlands, the church announced that it was stripping her of her position as a priest in the Anglican communion.

Tutu van Furth’s marriage to van Furth, a Dutch pediatric infectious disease scientist, also was her first public acknowledgement of her sexual orientation. Tutu van Furth had previously been married to a man with whom she had two children.

In a June 2016 interview with the BBC, Tutu van Furth said;

“My marriage sounds like a coming out party,” she explained. “Falling in love with Marceline was as much as a surprise to me as to everyone else.”

Asked about the revocation of her minster’s credentials she said; “It was incredibly sad for me. A few years ago I celebrated the Eucharist with my father … and now to be in a position that I cannot serve at the alter with him … I was surprised by how much it hurt,” she added.

Tutu van Furth, along with the rest of the global LGBTQ community, has had the uncompromising support of her father.

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” the archbishop added.

In a statement released Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his heartfelt condolences to Mam Leah Tutu, the Tutu family, the board and staff of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, the Elders and Nobel Laureate Group, and the friends, comrades and associates nationally and globally of the iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner:
 
“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.
 
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.
 
“As Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness.
 
“He placed his extensive academic achievements at the service of our struggle and at the service of the cause for social and economic justice the world over.
 
“From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights.
 
“In his richly inspiring yet challenging life, Desmond Tutu overcame tuberculosis, the brutality of the apartheid security forces and the intransigence of successive apartheid regimes. Neither Casspirs, teargas nor security agents could intimidate him or deter him from his steadfast belief in our liberation.
 
“He remained true to his convictions during our democratic dispensation and maintained his vigor and vigilance as he held leadership and the burgeoning institutions of our democracy to account in his inimitable, inescapable and always fortifying way.
 
“We share this moment of deep loss with Mam Leah Tutu, the Archbishop’s soulmate and source of strength and insight, who has made a monumental contribution in her own right to our freedom and to the development of our democracy.
 
“We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation.”

The White House released a statement from President Biden and first lady Jill Biden reacting to the news of Tutu’s death:

“On this morning after Christmas, we are heartbroken to learn of the passing of a true servant of God and of the people, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
 
We were blessed to spend time with him on several occasions over the past many years. His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa. We felt his warmth and joy when we visited him during the 2010 World Cup that celebrated the diversity and beauty of his beloved nation. And, just a few months ago, we joined the world in celebrating his 90th birthday and reflecting on the power of his message of justice, equality, truth, and reconciliation as we confront racism and extremism in our time today.
 
Born to a school teacher and a laundress and into poverty and entrenched racial segregation, Desmond Tutu followed his spiritual calling to create a better, freer, and more equal world. His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages.
 
On behalf of the Biden family, we send our deepest condolences to his wife Leah and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And on behalf of the people of the United States, we send our deepest condolences to the people of South Africa who are mourning the loss of one of their most important founding fathers.
 
May God bless Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”

********************

In this video released by the Free and Equal campaign, Tutu calls for an end to punishing people because of who they are or whom they love, saying “I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid.”  Free and Equal is the United Nations campaign for LGBTQ equality.

Desmond Tutu calls for a world that is Free & Equal

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Africa

Protesters vandalize Zimbabwean LGBTQ rights group’s offices

GALZ has reported the incident to the police

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Protesters vandalized GALZ's offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, with homophobic graffiti. (Photos courtesy of GALZ)

A handful of protesters over this past weekend vandalized the offices of Zimbabwe’s largest LGBTQ rights organization.

Although they did not enter GALZ (an Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe)’s building in Harare, the country’s capital, they did gather at the gate and sang homophobic songs. The protesters also left anti-gay graffiti on the gate and walls.

Several people after the incident started to question the authenticity of the protesters, arguing GALZ itself organized the protest in order to get funding. They said some of the protesters “looked gay” and even argued the organization had yet to approach the police.

GALZ has sought to discredit some of the reports, while calling the protest disrespectful and uncalled for.

“We categorically condemn the acts of vandalism and intimidation that occurred on Sunday afternoon,” said GALZ in a statement. “A group of individuals claiming to represent various Christian churches descended at our offices. They proceeded to vandalize the property, painting hateful graffiti on the walls. While we respect differences in values, it is utterly unacceptable to deploy acts of vandalism and intimidation against communities who hold different values.”

GALZ said it has filed an official police report, and is “cooperating fully with the ongoing investigations.” 

“We call on the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable for these criminal actions,” said the organization. 

GALZ also said it remains steadfast in its commitment to LGBTQ rights, and urged religious and political leaders to be at the forefront of fostering unity in Zimbabwe.

“This act of violence has not been committed in isolation, it is a stark reminder of the ongoing discrimination and hostility that our community faces,” said GALZ.

“We urge religious and political leaders to condemn such acts of hate and to uphold the  constitutional rights and freedoms for all citizens to be protected by law regardless of their diverse backgrounds including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. We encourage Zimbabweans to resort to open and respectful dialogue to address indifferences,” added the organization.

Several United Methodist Church parishioners last month held a protest in Harare during which they protested the church’s recent decision to allow LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages. James Kawadza, one of the protest organizers, said it was un-African to engage in same-sex relations.

“Homosexuality is unlawful in Zimbabwe and marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “The church has aligned with the rainbow movement, and this is also a threat to our African traditions and human existence at large. Homosexuality is not contextual, it is an abomination where Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire.”

Section 73 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on sexual crimes and crimes against morality says any “male person who, with the consent of another male person, knowingly performs with that other person anal sexual intercourse, or any act involving physical contact other than anal sexual intercourse that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act, shall be guilty of sodomy and liable to” a fine, up to a year in prison or both.

Cases of people being arrested under this provision are rare.

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Africa

What’s next for LGBTQ rights in South Africa after the country’s elections?

African National Congress lost parliamentary majority on May 29

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Pretoria and Cape Town are the first cities in Africa to install Pride crosswalks. Activists are wondering what the outcome of South Africa's May 29 elections will mean for LGBTQ rights. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Walker/Pretoria Pride)

More than 50 independent candidates and political parties participated in South Africa’s national and provincial elections that took place on May 29. The Electoral Commission of South Africa declared the results on June 2.

No independent candidate or political party managed to secure the outright parliamentary majority of more than 50 percent of the votes, which prompts the creation of a coalition government. None of the 18 political parties that managed to win at least one seat in the National Assembly wholly represented the LGBTQ community.

Although South Africa is the only African country that constitutionally recognizes the rights of the LGBTQ community, some of the political parties that managed to secure seats in the National Assembly had signaled they would reserve these gains.

Former President Jacob Zuma, who leads the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, during a January debate said the thought of dating within the same gender was unpalatable and un-African. The MK is now the country’s third largest political party after it won 14.58 percent of the vote, making it a pivotal player in the formation of a coalition government.

Dawie Nel, the executive director of OUT LGBT Well-being, said undermining the constitution is “a dangerous, misguided, and populist strategy to avoid acknowledging the failures of governance and the lack of implementation of constitutional values that are meant to improve the lives of South Africans.”

“South Africa’s constitution is celebrated as one of the most significant achievements of our transition to democracy, ensuring that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights are protected in all aspects of life,” said Nell. 

There now seems to be an impasse on who becomes the government’s next leader because of some of the demands that political parties made before they entered into any negotiations.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride said the best possible outcome for the preservation of LGBTQ rights in South Africa would be if the former governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC), which garnered the most support with 40.18 percent of the vote, partners with the Democratic Alliance (DA), which finished second with 21.81 percent of the votes, to form a coalition government.

“I think it will be a good outcome for the community if the DA has some power in a coalition government,” said Walker.

Rise Mzansi, which managed to secure 0.42 percent of the votes with two seats in the National Assembly, said it will continue protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.

“Rise Mzansi reaffirms its commitment in protecting LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa, as outlined in Section 9 of our constitution,” said the party.

Zubenathi Daca, program coordinator for student employability and entrepreneurship development in Nelson Mandela University’s Department of Student Governance and Development said the fight for LGBTQ rights in South Africa will continue.

“The battle has not yet been won,” said Daca. “Queer people are still being killed and homophobic remarks are still being made towards us daily, and we need people who have found the confidence to voice out their dissatisfactions against how they are treated and also speak out for the voiceless.” 

“This society is ours just as it is everyone else’s,” added Daca. “We are in corporate spaces, leadership positions, and political spaces to show that we belong here, and that we are here to stay.” 

The constitution says National Assembly members should be sworn in within two weeks of the elections. They will then meet for the first time and elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and president.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who will preside over the entire process, on Monday said the National Assembly will meet for the first time since the elections on Friday.

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European Union

The 2024 European elections: A turning point for LGBTQ rights in the EU?

Right-wing parties made electoral gains

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European Union President von der Leyen addresses the European Parliament in October 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of the European Council Press Office)

As the dust settles after the 2024 European Parliament elections, right-wing parties are gaining substantial ground and concerns about the potential impact on LGBTQ rights are growing. The projected surge in support for far-right parties, however, was not as pronounced as some had expected.

Monday morning’s estimates indicate the far-right’s presence has, however, undeniably increased. 

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) gained four seats, bringing their total to 73. The Identity and Democracy group saw a significant rise, gaining nine seats to reach 58. Together, these nationalist, anti-immigrant parties now hold around 130 seats, reflecting their growing influence. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, which clinched over 32 percent of the vote, and the Alternative for Germany securing approximately 16 percent of the vote and becoming the country’s second-largest party, ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, in particular could affect the broader political dynamics in Europe.

Despite the gains for the far-right, the mainstream conservative European People’s Party (EPP) emerged as the largest group, securing 189 seats, an increase of 13 seats. The two other centrist parties, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and Renew Europe, however, experienced losses that eroded the political center. S&D finished with 135 seats, losing four, while Renew Europe saw a significant reduction, finishing with 83 seats.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen celebrated her party’s victory and called for cooperation among centrists to ensure a “strong and effective Europe.” She emphasized the responsibility that comes with the election results, noting the need for stability amid growing support for extremist parties.

The election’s biggest losers were the Greens, who saw their support decrease by 25 percent, ending with 53 seats. The Greens, despite this setback, could still play a crucial role in supporting centrist majorities as an alternative to further-right parties.

All eyes are now on the election winners, the EPP. 

Von der Leyen has indicated her readiness to work with certain parties sitting with the hard-right ECR. Initial signals from the EPP camp, however, suggest it will stay true to its traditional allies at the center. Von der Leyen has offered to work with socialists and liberals to build a “majority in the center for a strong Europe,” underscoring the importance of maintaining a united front against extremism.

The narrow margins in the new parliament could lead to issue-by-issue coalitions, especially for sensitive issues such as those related to the European Green Deal. This limited room for maneuver could see the EPP relying on partners to its right on an ad hoc basis, including for critical decisions that include ushering in a new commission president. Von der Leyen’s future hangs in the balance as she seeks re-election. National delegations within her EPP grouping and support from lawmakers of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which clinched 24 seats, will play a crucial role in her bid to secure an absolute majority of 361 MEPs.

The implications for LGBTQ rights in Europe are significant. 

Far-right parties, known for their conservative social values, might push for policies that restrict LGBTQ rights, opposing marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, and challenging the legal recognition of gender identity and access to healthcare for transgender people. Such potential policy reversals represent a significant setback for the LGBTQ community.

The rising popularity of far-right ideologies also poses a risk of heightened discrimination and hate speech against LGBTQ people. 

Hate-motivated violence and exclusion are likely to become more prevalent, along with more frequent and aggressive hate speech targeting the LGBTQ community. Additionally, far-right parties often promote traditional gender roles and family structures, potentially undermining the visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ identities. Nonbinary, transgender, and intersex people could face increased stigmatization.

The 16th annual Rainbow Map that ILGA-Europe publishes underscores the importance of legal protections for LGBTQ people. 

Authoritarian leaders across Europe continue to use the scapegoating of LGBTQ people to divide and mobilize their electorates. Several countries, however, have demonstrated robust political will to advance and protect LGBTQ rights. Some countries — Germany, Iceland, Estonia, and Greece — have made significant strides in protecting LGBTQ rights through improvements in legislation and anti-discrimination measures. Belgium, Cyprus, Norway, and Portugal have introduced bans on conversion therapy practices.

Countries such as Italy, on the other hand, show the consequences of stalling legislative protection for LGBTQ people. Moreover, EU accession countries, including Turkey and Georgia, are actively eroding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Rainbow Map illustrates the stark differences in how European countries handle LGBTQ rights. 

While some nations are making significant progress, others are regressing, influenced by the far-right’s growing power. Germany, Iceland, Estonia, and Greece, for example, have made noteworthy improvements in their legal frameworks to protect LGBTQ people. Germany prohibited hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, while Estonia and Greece amended their laws to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

In contrast, Italy, which has dropped in the rankings due to stalling legislative protections, exemplifies the risk of complacency that many activists in Europe fear. The far-right’s influence can quickly lead to the erosion of rights if proactive measures are not taken. The situation is even more dire in EU accession countries such as Turkey and Georgia, where LGBTQ rights are actively being rolled back.

The stakes are high as Europe moves forward from these elections. 

The EU must address the rise in political hate speech and new tools of oppression that include Russia’s criminalization of the LGBTQ movement. Without strong laws and policies to protect LGBTQ people, the foundation of safety, rule of law, and democracy in Europe is at risk.

The balance of power remains delicate as the European Parliament prepares for its new term.

The first major test will be the approval of the new European Commission president, which is set for July. Von der Leyen, who narrowly won her position five years ago, will need to secure broad support among centrists while navigating the complex dynamics of the new parliament. The secret ballot process adds an additional layer of uncertainty, making her re-election far from guaranteed.

The 2024 European elections have set the stage for potentially significant changes in the legislative and social landscape of the EU. As right-wing parties gain power, the fight for LGBTQ rights becomes more crucial than ever. The next few years will be pivotal in determining whether Europe can uphold its commitment to human rights and equality or if it will see a regression influenced by nationalist, conservative ideologies.

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