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Wednesday 11 September 2013

Desmond Tutu schools NAACP over Africa and gays

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Anyone spending anytime reporting on the situation of gays in the different regions and countries of Africa will soon learn that the issue is complex. It varies widely, for example in West Africa between Sierra Leone - see this horrific story of outing and beatings and exile - and Ivory Coast, which is relatively safe.

Look at something like the historic UN vote to include sexual orientation in a resolution against extrajudicial killings, supported by or abstained on by numerous African countries. Or Malawi, which has gone from being internationally condemned for locking up gays to seriously debating decriminalisation.

How you achieve change also varies widely. In some places it's about the very basics of survival in underground communities living in viciously hostile societies, in others it's about openly working with allies and becoming increasingly visible and treated decently in the media. So the tactics used by supporters vary widely and can't be copied from one place to the next even within Africa, let alone copied from the West.

I would have thought all I've just written is obvious but apparently not to the NAACP, America's premier civil rights group. Writes Colin Stewart:
American human rights advocates have undercut the work of their African counterparts by insisting on Western-style advocacy of gay rights from African supporters of human rights for all, says a group of prominent religious leaders and human-rights activists, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The issue arose this summer when Dartmouth College in New Hampshire chose, then rejected, an African bishop as the new leader of its Tucker Foundation, which “educates Dartmouth students for lives of purpose and ethical leadership, rooted in service, spirituality, and social justice.”

After he was announced as the new dean of the Tucker Foundation on July 14, the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga resigned from his position as bishop of Southern Malawi.

In a message to the Dartmouth community on July 18, Tengatenga said, “I support marriage equality and equal rights for everyone.”
The Dartmouth College chapter of the NAACP led the opposition to his appointment citing his 2003 opposition to the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and a 2011 statement that Malawi’s Anglican provinces remained "totally against homosexuality."

The NAACP said they were "deeply troubled" by Tengatenga's appointment, despite his "newfound views on marriage equality and gay rights." He was subjected to an idiotic and ignorant campaign in the College's media, local media and this offensive stupidity in Huffington Post.

Dartmouth then cancelled Tengatenga's appointment.

A group of supporters, led by the legendary Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have condemned Dartmouth and the NAACP. They say:
It reflects badly on western human rights advocates who consciously or unconsciously engage in forms of cultural imperialism that undermine their own success and credibility by demanding proofs identical to their own kind and, in this instance, by also ignoring the voices of Africans and church leaders who have known and worked with Tengatenga in some cases for decades.
Tengatenga had said:
I have risked my life by advocating good and just government. As I told the search committee when I visited Dartmouth this spring, I have expected to die for the past decade because I have dared to speak out against official corruption and in defense of those Jesus called “the least of these.” I joke to my friends that I don’t leave the house after seven o’clock at night because I want to see who kills me.
His supporters say:
The phrase used on the ground in Malawi is “human rights for all Malawians,” because to speak about “LGBTQ rights” as such would be to add fuel to the flames of opponents for whom gay rights are “special rights,” and therefore indefensible.

The fact that James Tengatenga did not leave behind a record of press releases or public pronouncements — Western forms of activism — does not mean that he was only recently converted to the cause nor that he has not been a loyal and helpful ally to gay activists.  Rather, it means that he has been using the methods of the place in which he was trying to make a difference.
This letter from Malawian human rights defenders supporting Tengatenga expands on how they work on the ground and what Tengatenga's role was.

The well respected global gay supporter the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, writes in SDGLN that:
The Dartmouth saga is the most recent example of American Christian liberalism paying more attention to the symbols of LGBT equality and inclusion rather than actually in the business of forming new moral paradigms for the 21st century.

Most liberal institutions in the USA including academia and the faith community have not taken the time or spent the resources needed to understand global homophobia. We are not paying attention to our own collusion in building up a new faith-based [and anti-gay] industry supported even by funding from the American taxpayer. Dartmouth’s response is only another example that we are really not listening and are prepared to throw good and resourceful people like James Tengatenga under the bus to protect some public persona that we are somehow more inclusive than we really are. Image trumps substance. The Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who was deeply shocked by this sad melodrama, expressed the delineation of battle zones simply as: “America is right. Africa is wrong.”
Tengatenga was more bluntly critical of Dartmouth and its NAACP chapter. He said that the college had "chosen to trust bigotry over truth and justice." Of the NAACP, he said:
Of all the groups to take the lead against a black person on flimsy grounds. … So much for the advancement of colored people … It is sad that such an institution can stoop so low.
Indeed. This reaction from Dartmouth to the Tutu-led statement suggests a whole lot of arrogant, deaf people -- and that reflects a much wider and willful ignorance, as Ogle points out. The fact that the Tutu statement was sent as a letter to The New York Times and they thought it not newsworthy, and that the statement has had virtually no gay (bar SDGLN) or black media attention, just underlines what appears to be willful, dangerous ignorance.
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