Celebrating International Day of Peace, 21 September 2021.
“I dream of an Africa, which is in peace with itself”
— Nelson Mandela
My dear young African gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, non-binary or gender-variant (or other) friends,
I send love and greetings from far across the planet. We can be thankful that we live in an era when mobile telephones and Internet and social media make it possible for us to communicate and learn together – and I have have already learnt so much from you.
You were born in a special location. Africa is the birthplace of humanity and of Afro-optimism which points towards a hopeful future. Your food is grown in the same soil as that from which our distant ancestors first found their own growth; you build lives on the continent that contains some of the world’s oldest surviving human-made buildings; you leave your footprints on top of other humans who trod the same paths for possibly a million generations. You are a child of a wonderful past, and the parent of a wonderful future that is yet to be created – if only we had the eyes to see.
And yet so often, we do not see. I am sorry that much of the western world considers Africa to be geographically and emotionally distant from their lives, an attitude left over from the days before air travel and modern communications, and used today as an excuse to ignore our African family. Such prejudice recalls earlier, racist times belonging to colonial empires and slavery and the stealing of your continent’s resources. Please be patient with us, help us to outgrow our racism and ignorance.
In glimpsing Africa today, I look at you and see some of the most genuine people on Earth. You take a stand as LGBTQIA+ people in a society where it is dangerous, as it was in western society during the days of gay liberation a generation ago. When I was your age, it was illegal to be a gay male in Australia, and LGBTQIA+ people were the subject of lies and intolerance in churches and law courts, were expelled from families and employment, faced corrupt police and hate-filled politicians, and were even murdered with impunity. But time passed, and people became more educated about LGBTQIA+ issues. My country passed a law in 2017 to allow marriage equality. There are still religious bigots here, but new generations of young adults are growing up and largely rejecting those religions and cultures that preach and practice homophobia.
So shall it be in your country when Africa stops filling itself with corrupt ideas and religious hate. Africa is a continent spoiled by centuries of Maafa (Black Holocaust) but it also has many good, kind, decent people. Please be living examples of Ubuntu and display beauty amidst the ugliness around you; work together to make a difference. You have much to teach us.
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
― Isak Dinesen
You are heroes in a society that discriminates and rejects its own children, taught by religions that preach love or justice but which practice hate. Pastors, politicians and parents declare that being queer is unnatural even though nature is full of sexual and gender diversity. Parental rejection of LGBTQIA+ children is one of the most unnatural practices in Africa today. Please forgive your parents and communities for absorbing lies from polluted ideas in the same way that they might catch typhoid from polluted water. You know better. Stand tall, be proud. Be gracious; be kind; be a better example.
In our modern world, we could learn much wisdom from you. Many of you are refugees – from your families, communities and cultures – while western nations have forgotten what being a refugee truly means. In Australia, our openly Christian Prime Minister boasts proudly of turning back boats full of refugees – ignoring the fact that Jesus was a refugee. Please forgive us and allow your lives to teach us humility.
Some people in western nations today complain about wearing face masks to protect themselves from a virus; perhaps they have forgotten – or they are lucky enough to have never known – what it is like to wear a mask every day to hide your true LGBTQIA+ self from your loved ones. And while rich, white people complain about lockdowns, please help them to understand what it is like to live in societies where living in the closet is still the norm. Please teach us human strength and empathy.
History shows us that human society evolves and progresses. In 1978, openly gay US politician Harvey Milk gave a speech in which he spoke about the recent murder of a gay man in the USA and the crowds that gathered in the street in remembrance:
“And that night, I walked among the sad and the frustrated… and later that night as they lit candles… and stood in silence, reaching out for some symbolic thing that would give them hope. These were strong people, whose faces I knew from the shop, the streets, meetings and people who I never saw before but I knew. They were strong, but even they needed hope.”
You are part of that hope. Being young, the future belongs to you, and your membership of a worldwide rainbow family gives you the power to feel confident and proud and bold. I stand with you, and I know others in Australia and around the world – kind people who humble me with their compassion – who also stand with you. Our numbers are growing.
With a little seed of imagination you can grow a field of hope.
Occasionally, you ask me if you are really as evil as you have been told by your society. My response is that you are among the kindest, gentlest, noblest, most courageous souls on Earth, and your LGBTQIA+ nature adds colour and variety to the spice of African society. As US African-American singer Whitney Houston told us all, learning to love yourself is the Greatest Love of All. I hope you can see the special nature in yourself that I see in you.
The United Nations promotes its 2021 Day of Peace as an opportunity to recover from COVID. But please, my friends, remember also other, more silent viruses, which we call hatred and homophobia. Love and education are the vaccines for these other sicknesses. Please be part of the cure, as I will also try.
We are the world, and you are an important part of it. Be true to yourself. Please find ways to safely tell your stories. Please exercise courage and strength; and show us how your diversity makes us all stronger. Please teach us your wisdom. And please know that some day, somehow, things will get better, and your triumph will teach us all.
© 2021 Geoff Allshorn