Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday at the age of 95. In his life, he became a symbol of peace throughout the world, a firebrand in the fight for civil rights. Going down on the list of his life’s most important contributions will be the work he did for the LGBT community. On Queerty, writers lay out five examples that “earn 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.
The article, which can be read here in its entirety, admits that Mandela doesn’t have a flawless record when it comes to LGBT rights, specifically pointing out his reluctance to join the fight against AIDS. He became more involved in the movement later, after admitting his son died from the disease.