IGLHRC to present Tutu with human rights award

  • by Kris Larson
  • Wednesday April 2, 2008
Share this Post:
IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick. Photo: Jane<br>Philomen Cleland
IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick. Photo: Jane
Philomen Cleland

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu is scheduled to speak in San Francisco next week, where he will appear at an awards ceremony and receive the 2008 Outspoken Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

The "A Celebration of Courage" awards and benefit event, which will be held at Grace Cathedral on Tuesday, April 8, is believed to be the first time Tutu, 76, has addressed a primarily LGBT audience, IGLHRC officials said. Tutu is expected to speak for about half an hour at the awards ceremony.

"To our knowledge, Archbishop Tutu has never spoken in a forum to the LGBT community," said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC executive director. "To have a world leader in San Francisco, which is where IGLHRC was founded, and addressing human rights issues that clearly include the rights of LGBT people around the world is a very significant event."

Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work to end apartheid in South Africa. He was named the archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, and was an important figure in South Africa's burgeoning democracy. He served as chairman of Nelson Mandela's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, where he helped investigate the human rights violations that occurred under apartheid.

But Tutu did not stop with apartheid. He's gone on to be an outspoken opponent of discrimination in all forms, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, which he has compared to apartheid.

In a 2004 article in the London Times , Tutu wrote, "We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about – our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups."

Ettelbrick said, "That somebody with his background, struggling against apartheid in South Africa, would put the rights of LGBT people on the same plane, would put homophobia on the same plane as apartheid, was just amazing. Generally it seems in the United States, there's often a struggle with those who think civil rights are just about certain people and not gay people, and that we are riding on their coattails. But what Desmond Tutu says is 'no, we're all part of this promise.'"

Ettelbrick indicated that Tutu may speak against the proposed ballot initiative in California that is a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The amendment is being pushed by anti-gay groups that hope to place it on the November ballot. Tutu may also discuss the protests against China's human rights violations in Tibet, which are scheduled to take place the day after the ceremony, when the Olympic torch is carried through San Francisco.

IGLHRC will also present a special recognition award to IBM, which Ettelbrick called "the world's premiere leader on human rights and the world's premiere workplace and employer on LGBT issues." IBM is receiving the award for its contributions to IGLHRC's global mission of building a strong and viable LGBT human rights movement and for its leadership in promoting non-discrimination policies in all of its workplaces. Among other contributions, the company sponsored IGLHRC's human rights training institute in Latin America last year, Ettelbrick noted.

In addition, IGLHRC will give a posthumous award to Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), who regularly spoke up for the rights of LGBT people. Lantos died last month after a battle with cancer. That award will be mentioned at the organization's New York event in late April, and then presented to his family.

The IGLHRC event will be held at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased online at www.iglhrc.org for details.