by David J Meyer
Humanitarian is a term thrown around quite a lot these days. Mostly deserved, often hyperbolic. True humanitarianism means to respect and love all people as both separate and beautiful entities and as one population of equal souls. On December 5th, the world lost an altruistic soul in Nelson Mandela. The irony was never lost in Mandela’s pursuits. His nearly 30-year stay in South African prisons would surely harden any man, innocent or not. But Mandela remained a friend to all. Very importantly: the LGBTQ population.
His incarceration began in the early 1960’s when his group rallied against the current totalitarian government. Racial Segregation was the norm to such an extent that funding for white schools not only far outweighed black schools but was also encouraged regularly via incentives. Sexism and the stripping of women’s rights, trial and/or execution of those participating in lesbian or gay acts were the model of the Apartheid for nearly 50 years.
They often say older generations have a hard time accepting gay marriage or gay rights in general due to old values, however the 95-year old Mandela never faltered in his support and walked hand-in-hand in the pursuit of equality. After he was elected as President of South Africa, he lobbied for and penned various laws which were not only ahead of their time but also forward-thinking. Gay men and women were now allowed to serve openly in the armed forces and in any other profession without fear of termination by way of discrimination. This was the first country of its kind, a truly free nation.
Mandela’s lobbying continued well after his time in office and in 2006, same-sex marriage was legalized in South Africa, the first country on the continent to do so. The rights that exist due to his hard work still far exceed the ones bestowed on gays and lesbians in these United States. His focused opinions on broad spectrums such as freedom of speech and universal healthcare became a model for future politicians. While he supported the press and their right to report, he disliked intrusive and out-of-touch reporting, arguing their merits and consistency. A true people’s president, he even refused help to make his bed in the mornings.
Mandela was as private as he was political. Denying most interviews, particularly in his later years, he saw the presidency as a job and not a photo-op. His work did not stop at lesbian and gay rights. Transgender rights are equal to the rest of the population. Surgery is not required to be recognized as a different sex, just an application and hormone replacement. Men identifying as gay are allowed to donate blood after a brief wait, an honor denied in most countries due to primitive notions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
One had to wonder what Mandela could have accomplished if not for years in prison and his own mortality.
But for one man, it was enough.
Every fight for equality, every sign painted in a basement and readied for protest, and every same-sex kiss on courthouse stairs. It all begins with one idea and one action.
Thank you, Mr. President.