As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela — who was oftentimes affectionately referred to by his Xhosa clan name “Madiba,” or as “Tata” (“Father”) — I, too, like so many LGBTQ activists across the globe, give thanks for his unwavering support on behalf of our civil rights.
During his tenure as president Mandela modeled for the world what an LGBTQ-inclusive democracy entails.
For example, under Mandela, South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The country was the fifth in the world, and the first in the Motherland, to legalize marriage equality. While in office Mandela appointed an HIV-positive gay man, Edwin Cameron, to the nation’s highest court. And long before his son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS-related causes at 54, Mandela was the country’s most vocal and visible HIV/AIDS prevention advocate campaigning against both its stigma and silence.
But, sadly, Nelson Mandela’s LGBTQ advocacy and his impact on the Motherland as well as African diasporic countries and communities across the globe have shown little or no light.
Much of the opposition to LGBTQ civil rights in these countries and communities around the globe — Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas — when not fueled and funded by Western, right-wing, homophobic Christian groups, was that no credible heterosexual, Alpha-male role model could possibly exist and also be African of a royal patriarchal warrior/chief lineage.
But as a former boxer and a great-grandson of the king of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in South Africa, Mandela was the quintessential paragon of African royalty, black power and black masculinity. However, Mandela’s forward thinking and actions neither tamped down nor stemmed anti-gay rhetoric, murderous acts or homophobic witch-hunting.
For example, to hear of human rights abuses in Uganda is sadly not new. The country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, dubbed the “kill the gays” bill, criminalizes same-sex relations. And depending on how your homosexual behavior is classified — “aggravated homosexuality” or “the offense of homosexuality” — you’ll either received the death penalty or, if you’re lucky, life imprisonment.
However, David Kato, father of Uganda’s LGBTQ rights movement, didn’t live to receive either punishment. After appearing on a list of 100 LGBTQ Ugandans whose names and photos were published in an October 2010 tabloid newspaper calling for their execution, Kato was murdered in January 2011.
Throughout the African continent there are numerous stories of homophobic bullying, bashing and abuses of its LGBTQ population. None of us will forget Zimbabwe’s despot Robert Mugabe, who has fostered a torturous environment for LGBTQ Zimbabweans and has yet to be brought to justice. Mugabe’s condemnation of his LGBTQ population holds that they are the cause of Zimbabwe’s problems, and he views homosexuality as “un-African” and an immoral culture brought by colonists and practiced by only “a few whites” in his country.
If truth be told, Mandela’s advocacy has shown very little light even in his country, the one country where you don’t expect to hear anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and human rights abuses. But South Africa has a serious problem with its LGBTQ population, and especially with lesbians. And its method to remedy its “problem” with lesbians is “corrective rape.”
Corrective rape is a hate crime that, for the most part, goes unreported and unprosecuted in South Africa. And these rapes are the major contributor to the HIV/AIDS epidemic among South African lesbians.
In the Caribbean, Jamaica is not the most homophobic island country; it’s simply the most infamous for its anti-LGBTQ crimes.
Homophobia in Jamaica goes unchallenged in that a person can simply speculate about a persons’ sexual orientation or gender identity and then plot to kill him. The intent to murder LGBTQs is unabashedly announced without fear because the police won’t protect them from mob-led murders and violence. As a matter of fact, the police incite the country’s homophobic frenzy, by either being present and inactive during these assaults or by following and watching the members of the LGBTQ community.
And in Jamaica, like other anti-LGBTQ countries, homophobic violence drives the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Here in the U.S., Mandela’s LGBTQ advocacy was, for the most part, ignored by most black churches and their cadre of homophobic African-American ministers who professed to have marched with MLK during the black civil rights era.
In 2013 our first black president, Barack Obama, has, like Mandela, modeled and legislated on behalf of LGBTQ civil rights, helping end DADT, pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and bring about the repeal of a key section of DOMA, to name a few of his efforts. But there is still a huge, vocal and visible anti-LGBTQ contingent of black Christian ministers and churches.
These ministers, some of whom support LGBTQ civil rights but draw the line on same-sex marriage, say their opposition to same-sex marriage is a prophylactic measure to combat the epidemic of fatherlessness in black families. In scapegoating the LGBTQ community, these clerics intentionally are ignoring the social ills behind black fatherlessness, such as the systematic disenfranchisement of both African-American men and women, high unemployment, high incarceration, and poor education.
Mandela’s LGBTQ advocacy and his impact on the Motherland as well as African diasporic countries and communities across the globe has, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears.
We all need another Mandela to help us evolve.
But as Obama stated in his eulogy to Madiba, “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”