Tutu praises LGBTs in speech

  • by Kris Larson
  • Wednesday April 9, 2008
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Tutu praises LGBTs in speech

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu brought his message of peace and acceptance to San Francisco's Grace Cathedral Tuesday, as he received an award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and praised LGBTs during his remarks.

Tutu was instrumental in the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work there. He also served as chairman of Nelson Mandela's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, where he helped investigate the human rights violations that had occurred under apartheid. Tutu has been an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights and women's rights, all of which he considers to be human rights issues on par with the racial oppression of apartheid.

But his remarks Tuesday were the first that he's made to a predominantly gay audience. An estimated 500 people were on hand at the packed cathedral.

"I have spoken against the injustice of apartheid," Tutu told the audience. "Also, when women were penalized for their gender [in the church] ... I couldn't, even if I had tried, keep quiet. And so I supported the ordination of women as priests and bishops. And I could not keep quiet, when people were hounded for something they did not choose: their sexual orientations."

Tutu, 76, expressed regret over the recent battles within the Anglican church over LGBT issues, saying, "How sad that our church should at the present time be so obsessed with this issue of sexuality when people all over face ... disease, corruption, and conflict. I imagine Jesus weeping that at a time when people are dying of preventable diseases, when people are dying because they do not have clean water ... the church of God should be engaging in this particular matter."

He added, addressing the LGBT community, "I ask for your forgiveness for the way in which we the institutional church have treated you, ostracized you, made you feel as if God has made a mistake creating you as who you are. We are those who are meant to care for one another ... especially those who suffer injustice and oppression."

Tutu's speech occurred while demonstrators filled Civic Center and United Nations Plaza to protest China's human rights violations on the eve of the Olympic torch's passage through San Francisco. The archbishop acknowledged this as well.

"I know you pray for China in the hope against hope that they will do the right thing in Tibet ... in Burma, in the Sudan," he said. "One asks how they could vilify such a conspicuously holy and non-violent man as the Dalai Lama. We pray China will improve its human rights record. Perhaps heads of state, your president and others, should not attend the opening of the [Olympic] games. We pray, too, your Congress will pass the appropriate legislation relating to Burma ... We hope they will be able to press China to behave better."

IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick said that the organization had not planned for Tutu's appearance in San Francisco to coincide with the Olympic torch demonstrations.

"The archbishop's speech at this unique historical moment affirms that human rights apply to each and every human being – in South Africa, in the United States, in China, and around the world," she said.

Tutu remained warm throughout in his support of the LGBT community.

"I wanted to pay a very warm tribute to you, yourselves," he said. "You are such wonderful human beings. You are frequently hounded, vilified, molested, and even killed as targets of homophobia. Yet most of you still manage to remain compassionate human beings ... refusing to be embittered. Thank you for being such wonderful human beings, and for your part in trying to help make our world a better place."

Besides Tutu, who received the Outspoken Award, the international gay rights group honored IBM with a special recognition award, which was accepted by Jane Harper.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu leaves Grace Cathedral with former Ambassador James Hormel Tuesday. Photo: Bill Wilson