Five Reasons Why Nelson Mandela Is An Epochal Figure For LGBT Rights

Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)Nelson Mandela lived long enough to achieve the kind of respect that few political leaders ever reach. But then, few political leaders were as transformative as Mandela, who not only fought against a system that institutionalized racism but oversaw its peaceful transition to a democracy.

One of Mandela’s most important legacies will be his support for LGBT rights. Mandela made a point of identifying LGBT issues as an integral part of the civil rights movement. Given the monumental task of healing the wounds caused by years of apartheid, it is to Mandela’s eternal credit that he was visionary to see that all forms of discrimination are connected.

Here are six examples of Mandela’s leadership that have earned him a place of honor in LGBT history.

Led South Africa to become the first country on the continent to ban antigay discrimination. Mandela was a vocal supporter of antidiscrimination protections from the very beginning of his presidency, in 1994. The country finally banned discrimination in 1998.

Was a leader for marriage equality well before it was popular. Mandela never had to evolve on marriage equality. He was supporting it almost 20 years ago. As a direct result, South Africa become the first country in Africa and fifth in the world to recognize marriage equality in 2006.

Put his words into action. 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 Edwin Cameron, who has risen to become a judge on South Africa’s highest court. By comparison, how many openly gay justices are there on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Set an example for other countries. Homophobia remains a problem in many other African nations, but Mandela held such authority that he is a shame-inducing counterargument to state-sanctioned repression.

Showed the U.S. how it can be done. The nation that Mandela helped forge from the ruins of apartheid had marriage equality years before the U.S. and has formally banned antigay discrimination (which has yet to happen in the U.S.). In many ways the country has been far ahead of the U.S. on gay rights, at least politically.

Mandela had his flaws. For example, he was late to the fight against AIDS, despite the country’s high transmission rate. (He later became much more involved in the fight, admitting that his son had died from the disease.) And South Africa is not exactly a gay paradise. Murders and homophobia remain troubling parts of the nation’s fabric. But there’s no question that the country — and the world — has come a lot further on LGBT rights than it would have it Mandela hadn’t embraced them. For that, the community owes him an enormous debt.

Photo credit: http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/


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  • Franco C.

    What a great, patient, emotive man. He will be missed.

  • sejjo

    Rest you great, great giant.

  • Kangol

    One of the greatest leaders, statesman and visionaries of all time. And as Queerty points out, this African leader was far ahead of much of the rest of the world on LGBT rights.

    Bless you and may the world always remember how you responded with grace, dignity and vision to the very worst of humanity.

  • aequalitasTN

    @sejjo: Amen.

  • TheNewEnergyDude

    Thank you for this article. Wonderful, wonderful man.

  • hephaestion

    See the film “The Man Who Drove With Mandela” to learn about the gay friend of Mandela’s who inspired Mandela’s firm belief in gay rights.

  • Scribe38

    Mandela is an example of how good, thoughtful, and selfless a human being can be. Like Dr. King before him, Mandela represents the best attributes that mankind can offer against the cruelty of [email protected] and ignorance. I don’t have to wish you a safe journey to heaven Sir, because I know if there is one you are already there. I offer you the most sincerest thanks I can offer for being the man you were.


  • jwtraveler

    “Hero” is a word that is thrown around much too casually these days. Nelson Mandela was a man to whom the word truly applies. Farewell to a Hero.

  • Joetx

    Nelson Mandela helped make not only South Africa, but also the world a better place.

    P.S. I’m sure we won’t hear a peep from posters who like to chime in about how homophobic black people are.

  • the other Greg

    We’re all better off for him, wherever we are.

    To be totally fair to him re: AIDS – we had plenty of politicians in N. America & Europe who didn’t have the excuse of spending the 1980s in prison! Later the main problem was his successor Thabo Mbeki, a deranged HIV denialist who prevented effective meds from coming into the country, with whom Mandela broke over this issue.

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  • JennyFromdabloc

    RIP, Madiba.

  • Niall

    An actually good article. Quelle Surprise.

    R.I.P Nelson Mandela. He might have rejected the tag, but he’s as close to a saint as any human could get.
    And yes I know he had faults and the methods he used weren’t always peaceful.

  • Andrew Yang

    Mandela (Madiba) is the epitome of an evolved human being. I never make comments here, just read and learn, but today I have to add my voice to my brothers and sisters here who are celebrating the life and legacy of the erudite man and visionary. Enjoy your rest sir, you have earned it.

  • DShucking

    He became a good person in prison and a great man after he left. I guess that excuses him and his ex-wife from all the acts of terror they committed, not all of which were in the name of the cause of freedom and equality.

  • Sebizzar

    A true leader! He played a great part in changing this world for the better. No wonder he got to live so long :) I’ll be glad to reach 50! Rest in peace Mandela

  • 2eo

    We lost a genuinely great man, not only a man of action, but a man of peace. A true atheist until the end. Rest well Nelson, you’ve earned a place in the echelon where the greats are only fit to shine your shoes.

  • tjr101

    A remarkable individual indeed. He lived a long and triumphant life and shouldn’t be mourned but celebrated!

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