The Rev. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who had compared anti-LGBTQ laws and violence to the apartheid laws and violence of his native South Africa, died early Sunday in Cape Town. He was 90.
Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his impassioned campaign against apartheid in South Africa while Nelson Mandela languished in prison, was a moral beacon not only in the deeply troubled South African nation but became a respected beacon and a tireless advocate for human rights around the globe.
Tutu’s human rights work led to prominent honors and global recognition. In 2009, then-President Obama awarded him the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The outspoken Tutu was considered South Africa’s conscience by both its Black and white citizens, an enduring testament to his faith and spirit of reconciliation in that divided nation.
The apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993 and through unilateral steps by F.W. de Klerk, the president of South Africa. The negotiations resulted in South Africa’s first non-racial election, which was won by the African National Congress, after which Tutu managed to irritate the ANC government that took power after as much as he had angered the apartheid regime previously.
As a ranking prelate in the Anglican communion (church), the Archbishop worked for universal suffrage, equal rights for women, and pressed hard for the recognition for full equality of LGBTQ people.
Tutu pressed for equal access for LGBTQ people, participating in the U.N. Free and Equal campaign, the international body’s global campaign against homophobia and transphobia, in a recorded video said;
“I have to tell you, I cannot keep quiet when people are penalised for something about which they can do nothing.
“First, gender. When women are excluded, just simply and solely because they are women.
“But more perniciously, more ghastly, is the fact that people are penalized, killed, all sorts of ghastly things happen to them, simply, solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid.”
“If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.”ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS DESMOND TUTU
When Tutu’s daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth, who had followed her father into the ministry, married her long-term Dutch girlfriend, Marceline van Furth, in a small private ceremony in the Netherlands, the church announced that it was stripping her of her position as a priest in the Anglican communion.
Tutu van Furth’s marriage to van Furth, a Dutch pediatric infectious disease scientist, also was her first public acknowledgement of her sexual orientation. Tutu van Furth had previously been married to a man with whom she had two children.
In a June 2016 interview with the BBC, Tutu van Furth said;
“My marriage sounds like a coming out party,” she explained. “Falling in love with Marceline was as much as a surprise to me as to everyone else.”
Asked about the revocation of her minster’s credentials she said; “It was incredibly sad for me. A few years ago I celebrated the Eucharist with my father … and now to be in a position that I cannot serve at the alter with him … I was surprised by how much it hurt,” she added.
Tutu van Furth, along with the rest of the global LGBTQ community, has had the uncompromising support of her father.
“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” the archbishop added.
In a statement released Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his heartfelt condolences to Mam Leah Tutu, the Tutu family, the board and staff of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, the Elders and Nobel Laureate Group, and the friends, comrades and associates nationally and globally of the iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner:
“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.
“As Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness.
“He placed his extensive academic achievements at the service of our struggle and at the service of the cause for social and economic justice the world over.
“From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights.
“In his richly inspiring yet challenging life, Desmond Tutu overcame tuberculosis, the brutality of the apartheid security forces and the intransigence of successive apartheid regimes. Neither Casspirs, teargas nor security agents could intimidate him or deter him from his steadfast belief in our liberation.
“He remained true to his convictions during our democratic dispensation and maintained his vigor and vigilance as he held leadership and the burgeoning institutions of our democracy to account in his inimitable, inescapable and always fortifying way.
“We share this moment of deep loss with Mam Leah Tutu, the Archbishop’s soulmate and source of strength and insight, who has made a monumental contribution in her own right to our freedom and to the development of our democracy.
“We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation.”
In this video released by the Free and Equal campaign, Tutu calls for an end to punishing people because of who they are or whom they love, saying “I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid.” Free and Equal is the United Nations campaign for LGBTQ equality.