We can try and change the tide of hate through education but will we if fail to hold leadership accountable?
By Melanie Nathan, July 26, 2013.
The United Nations is launching an unprecedented freedom, equality and anti-homophobia campaign amidst clashing ideologies in Southern Africa, not to mention the rest of Africa too. The launch of the new pro-human rights campaign comes on the heals of a war of words.
While Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe continues to bash gays calling for their violent demise at a ‘rah rah vote for me again’ rally, South Africa’s Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Constitutional Court Justice Edward Cameron participated in the new global anti-homophobia campaign launched by the United Nations at The Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town.
The Free & Equal campaign – which aims to encourage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality around the world was hosted by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, with speeches by Tutu and openly gay and openly HIV+ SA Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron.
Free & Equal, is a global public education campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. A project of the United Nations Human Rights Office being implemented in partnership with the Purpose Foundation, Free & Equal will raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and encourage greater respect for the rights of LGBT people. The campaign noted:
“This timely and significant campaign will engage millions people around the world in conversations that will help promote the fair treatment of LGBT people everywhere.”
Tutu, when speaking, noted:
that he refuses to worship a God that does not acknowledge gay rights. “I cannot worship a homophobic God,” Tutu told journalists at the launch. I wouldn’t even go to a homophobic heaven. In such a case I would say: ‘Sorry! Let’s rather go to the other place.’ “
Cameron described the project, the first of its kind, as a “huge breakthrough”.
Tutu also said: “This campaign is making me want to jump for joy. In this country, we’ve had so many children who have been made to feel uncomfortable in their own skins. You don’t choose your race, your gender, or your sexuality. For goodness’ sake, homosexual people are not a peculiar breed, they are human beings. We will be less human if we deny their humanity.”
Tutu’s vehement support brings into focus the degrading and homophobic remarks of Mugabe who when speaking at a pre-election rally in Mutare, claimed that gay people are “worse than pigs and dogs”, and who also threatened to force straight relationships and behead anyone who failed to produce a child within five years.
Pillay highlighted the importance of leaders in shaping tolerance. “We desperately need the voices of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu. We also need media and a push from civil society,” noted Pillay.
Pillay inadvertently noted the paradox of South Africa when stating the UN had picked South Africa for the launch of the campaign because of concerns over anti-gay violence in the country. South Africa is the only country in Africa that has a Constitution that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, leading to full equality under the law. Yet, though hate speech is against the law, it remains without hate crimes legislation, is homophobic and horribly violent against gays, lesbians and transgender people, especially those living in Townships.
In 2011, when the UN published its first official report on violence and discrimination against LGBTI people, It noted that 76 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, with widespread homophobia and anti-gay violence in others.
The campaign hopes to educate people on LGBT rights through videos and social media messages that will be distributed over the next year.
In the meantime while we honor the work of the UN and this proactive campaign, we still wonder about the likes of the religious Christian extremists who are still exporting the hate of gays to Africa and leaders such as Mugabe, who have taken a bite from Draconian American political strategies thinking that anti-gay rhetoric will get them votes, when all it does is exacerbate the very violence the UN is seeking to curb. At what point will leaders in Africa be held responsible for the persecution of gays in their countries. African cases in point right now include, Uganda, Cameroon, South Africa and Zimbabwe.