December 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela, Gay Rights Activist

As the world's leaders gather in South Africa today for the funeral of activist, politician, hero, and icon Nelson Mandela, millions around the world are reflecting on how he changed the world and touched our lives.

In addition to his breathtaking activism in ending apartheid in South Africa, and promoting forgiveness, tolerance and equality everywhere, what I have learned from internet reading over the past week is how much Mandela was an activist for lesbian and gay equality as well.

Mandela made a point of identifying LGBT issues as an integral part of the civil rights movement. Mandela saw that all forms of discrimination are connected. 

Some of what he did:

1- Led South Africa to become the first country on the continent to ban antigay discrimination. Mandela was a vocal supporter of antidiscrimination protections from when he became president, and the country  banned discrimination on 1998 (something the US has not yet done).

2- Was a leader for marriage equality well before it was popular. Mandela never had to evolve on marriage equality… he supported it 20 years ago, and South Africa become the first country in Africa and fifth in the world to recognize marriage equality in 2006.

3- Walked the walk --  Mandela didn’t just pay lip service to LGBT issues. He was willing to appoint gay people to high positions at a time when the country was far less accepting. Among his early appointees was E Cameron, who has risen to become a judge on South Africa’s highest court... how many openly gay justices are there on the U.S. or Canadian Supreme Court?

As Kevin Cathcart of Lambda Legal said, “Every one of us who continues the fight for equality and civil rights in our own communities labors in the shadows of this man.”

RIP Mr Mandela...