By From Staff Reports

IGLHRC calls speech to expected crowd of 400 a historic first; gay rights group will also present award to South African archbishop

South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu speaks with journalists during a recent trip Tutu made to Nairobi, Kenya, to try and help stem violence that erupted there following a presidential election in which opposition leaders accused the ruling party of cheating. Tutu will be in San Francisco next week to address a gathering of about 400 LGBT people.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is scheduled to give a historic 30-minute address to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 8.

He is expected to address a crowd of approximately 400 people at "A Celebration of Courage," the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s annual gala awards ceremony. It will mark the first time that Tutu has directly addressed such a large LGBTI gathering in the United States, according to the IGLHRC.

Tutu will also be honored for his leadership on human rights.

Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director, said, "Archbishop Tutu is a true human rights activist, someone who acknowledges that all human beings are inherently valuable and deserve to be treated with respect."

She added, "He has consistently stood up for justice and inclusion and for all those subject to human rights abuses, including members of the LGBTI community. His work has paved the way for a better world."

Born in Klerksdorp, South Africa, on Oct. 7, 1931, Tutu became a leading voice in the crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. In 1984, he received a Nobel Peace Prize to recognize his contributions to the struggle against apartheid.

He was elected bishop of Johannesburg in 1985 and promoted to archbishop of Cape Town the following year. As archbishop, he became a principal mediator and conciliator in the transition to democracy in South Africa.

In 1995, President Nelson Mandela appointed Tutu chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body set up to probe human rights violations that occurred under apartheid. In 1996, shortly after his retirement from office as archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu was granted the honorary title of archbishop emeritus.

Ettelbrick said Tutu has persistently challenged discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In a 2004 article that appeared in The Times of London, he condemned persecution on the basis of sexual orientation, comparing it to apartheid.

"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," he wrote. "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."

Tutu has also criticized the segments of the church for its homophobia.

"If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God," he said in a 2007 interview with BBC radio.

He has challenged the church for "being almost obsessed with questions of human sexuality" at a time when "our world is facing problems — poverty, HIV and AIDS — a devastating pandemic, and conflict."

In contrast to many church leaders, Tutu’s vision of God’s family is a strikingly inclusive one, Ettelbrick said.

"All are insiders," he said in a 2006 speech at Union Theological Seminary. "All belong. White, black, red, yellow, Arab, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, young old, male, female, rich poor, gay, lesbian and so-called straight — all belong."

Ettelbrick said, "Archbishop Tutu’s vision is of a world where everyone’s human rights are respected. He has challenged political apartheid in South Africa and continues to challenge spiritual apartheid within his religious community. He sets a stellar example of human rights advocacy at its most inclusive-and best."

At the April 8 event, IGLHRC will present Archbishop Tutu with its OUTSPOKEN Award, which recognizes the leadership of a global ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community whose outspokenness has contributed substantially to advancing the rights and understanding of LGBTI people everywhere, the IGLHRC executive director said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2008.

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