Americas / Commentary / Faith and religion

Civil Rights worker seeks an end to anti-gay hatred in Africa

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell (Photo courtesy of

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell (Photo courtesy of

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, an African-American former Civil Rights activist and a retired United Methodist minister, responded with passion to the recent commentary by South African Justice Edwin Cameron, who bemoaned the repression of LGBT people in Africa.

In a commentary titled, “The Sexual Minority of Africa Should Also Be Heard,” Cameron wrote that “A destructive wave of hatred against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons seems to be gaining force across Africa.”

Caldwell described his “deep agony” over mistreatment of LGBT people in parts of Africa and asked, “Why then would Africans in Africa … mistreat persons because of their sexual orientation in some of the ways we were once treated because of our race?”

This is Caldwell’s full response to Cameron’s commentary:

Edwin Cameron (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Edwin Cameron (Photo de Wikimedia Commons)

I respond with appreciation for Justice Cameron’s words for the following reasons:

1. I am a veteran “foot soldier” in the American Civil Rights Movement that Martin Luther King led. He and I are graduates of Boston University School of Theology where I met him in 1958.

2. I attended the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, participated in “Mississippi Freedom Summer” when three young civil rights volunteers were killed, and I marched in the Selma to Montgomery March after the infamous “Bloody Sunday.”

3. I am an African-American who made my first trip to Africa in 1971 believing that Africa was the “Motherland” of those of us who represented the African Diaspora in America.

4. East Africa is viewed as the “Motherland” of all human beings and because of that
I have said over and over again, all human beings are “An African People.”

It is with a sense of deep agony that I read of the mistreatment of LGBT persons in some
of the nations of Africa. And, my prayer is that what Justice Cameron describes as a
“groundswell of hate” will soon be ended. My reasons:

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress)

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress)

1. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” How strange, peculiar and tragic it is that African nations that have known the injustices of colonialism that prompted successful independence struggles are now
engaging in acts of injustice directed at persons because of their homosexual orientation and practice. This contradicts the words that were spoken to justify the struggles for African Independence.

2. We who are Christians have just completed our observances and celebrations of Easter. We celebrated the life, mission and ministry of Jesus Christ who lived and died on behalf of ALL of God’s children. The Scriptures tell us of how Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Today, Jesus must be weeping over those nations in Africa where God-created and loved people are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation. Christians who engage in this persecution, or who are silent as it takes place, diminish the power of the Resurrection that we celebrated on Easter!

3. My wife and I are the grandparents of one grandchild, who is 9 years old. We do not know what her sexual orientation will be, but regardless of what it might be, how can we explain to her the wave of hatred that Justice Cameron describes?

4. When I first traveled to Africa in 1971 (Tanzania), I rejoiced in the sense of respect, community, togetherness and family that I experienced there. I realized that the poverty that exists in the USA represented plenty when compared to the poverty that exists in Africa. I came back to the USA and shared with my Black congregation that I saw hope and love and commitment in Africa, despite the poverty, that should inspire us amidst the poverty of our inner cities. But, what can I say to African-American Churches about the legally sanctioned hatred against gays in some African nations that is taking place today?

5. We in the African-American community in the USA sing a song that is titled; “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Some describe it as our National Anthem because it
describes the journey of African-Americans in the USA with these words: “We have
come over a way that with tears has been watered; we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”

The journey of Africans in Africa or Africans in America has not been an easy journey.
Why then would Africans in Africa, or African-Americans, mistreat persons because of their sexual orientation in some of the ways we were once treated because of our race?

— The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Retired United Methodist Minister
Co-Partner in Truth in Progress and
A Board Member of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
One of the African-American clergymen in the film “Love Heals Homophobia”
Asbury Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.

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8 thoughts on “Civil Rights worker seeks an end to anti-gay hatred in Africa

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