Are we serious and important enough to find our Mandela?
By Melanie Nathan, October 18, 2013.
In his first speech upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela acknowledged the importance of the sanctions and boycotts against the Apartheid regime. Newly free, he asked that those sanctions NOT be lifted until apartheid was completely eradicated and South Africa was a place where everyone was equal. The international community, including the United States, helped in the final stages of that struggle; they boycotted South Africa until the very last moment when they knew all South Africans would be equal under the law. We fought for South Africa but we have yet to fight for ourselves.
LGBT Americans are not equal citizens of the United States of America, and nor are we equal citizens in many countries around the world. We are criminalized in 76 countries around the world. We are emotionally persecuted, beaten, raped, tortured and murdered. The same arguments used to justify apartheid and segregation are used to justify our inequality. Some use religious laws to maim, behead and hang, others use religious dicta to justify persecution and promote civil laws that give license to the mayhem. And while they do it we hold Olympics in their countries, buy their oil, and pay rich white gay men to stand on their stage at Miss Universe contests.
As Americans there are 2 factors that make us complicit in all this:
- We fail to take LGBT equality seriously enough through its fullest realization – so we have yet to set the benchmark for full equality; and
- We are silent and play footsie with those who persecute.
The only way to break our silence is to do all of the following:
- For the USA to grant us our absolute right to full equality through express legislation; and
- The International community, while embracing domestic equality, must launch sanctions and boycotts against countries who fail this critical human right – the recognition that all are entitled to their sexual orientation and gender expression/ identity.
Asking for anything short of this is complicit in our marginalization and I am afraid we the gay community of the U.S.A. lead this charge with shame. Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. would never have started out by asking for anything but everything! They set the goal at the impossible and it was accomplished long before anyone expected.
It matters not who is in Congress, the majority or the minority, the Tea Party or the Progressives, we must still set the benchmark for the seemingly impossible. And why did anyone take Barney Frank seriously when it came to our rights, he may be gay but he is not our leader.
LGBT activists and those in leadership positions are complicit because they have participated in our marginalization by assuming a piecemeal fight that fails to set the ultimate benchmark or goal: that of full equality.
So we have made dents and while they are to be applauded on some level, on another those very dents have established and served our marginalization – because we have not asked for more.
And we should not ask but insist.
Wondering or assuming whether something is attainable is not what is relevant. What is relevant is the road that leads to the goal one sets– however far away that may be. If it is there we will step off the sidewalk and onto that highway. As Nelson Mandela said.:-
“We must always use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”
The time is now to insist on our full equality and that does not mean trudging 50 States over a 5 year period asking for marriage. We must establish the principle of full recognition of our rights to our sexuality as a matter of principle, because without that principle firmly in place, we are in no position to argue for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the rest of the world. We sell ourselves short and our global community is put to further risk.
The words of David Bahati, the author of Uganda’s Kill the Gays Bill, still ring in my ears. In one of our many conversations he asked me, “Nathan, my sister, how can you say being gay is okay, when your own U.S.A. Government disagrees because it does not recognize you?”
When examining the words of Mandela on the day he was released, who together with his comrades set the seemingly impossible benchmark and yet succeeded, I am reminded of just how un-seriously we LGBT people take our rights and how un-seriously we view those of us who are criminalized:-
“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment., “ noted Mandela. “We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts. It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured.”
And he continued: “We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid.
Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. Universal suffrage on a common voters’ role in a united democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.
In conclusion I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are true today as they were then:
‘I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Let us remember our denial, silence, our self marginalization and it all leads to complicity and for many in our LGBT community this is indeed a matter of life and death.