The world lost two great African men in December, both spiritual leaders but from different traditions – one a Christian, the other an elder teaching traditional African wisdom – and both vocal supporters of LGBTQ people.
Homosexual activity remains illegal in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries; in a few, it is punishable by death. Many LGBTQ Africans are subject to stigma and abuse, facing unemployment, homelessness and estrangement from their families.
Some newspaper reports that were printed after the death of Desmond Tutu chose to focus on the fact that his ground-breaking work, which secured equal rights for South African queers in the 1996 constitution of the new republic and equal marriage a decade later, was not appreciated by other African Church leaders, nor governments. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe told a political rally in 2013: “Tutu should just step down because he supports gays, something that is evil.” It is a pity that African leaders do not seem to be aware of the work of Malidoma Some. He did not try to tell other Africans to simply accept gay people, he reminded us all that Africans would never have reduced a person to their sexuality, and that people who are now called gay were once respected in Africa for the essential qualities in their spirit, which they embody, bring and use for the benefit of the tribe. He called for ‘radical healing’ of queer people on a global level.
The wisdom of these two men can change the world’s understanding of being queer.
DESMOND TUTU October 7th, 1931 – December 26th, 2021
Tutu was by far the most high-profile African, if not global, religious leader to support lesbian and gay rights. This added to his international reputation as a progressive thinker and activist, especially in the western world but meant that he was met with suspicion on the African continent itself. Theologically, he operated with from the conviction that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore is worthy of respect, which gave him a strong moral and political commitment to defending the human dignity and rights of all people.
He was outspoken in this, using strong religious language to express how he felt about how queers were treated under the South African regime:
“Apartheid’s most blasphemous aspect is … that it can make a child of God doubt that he is a child of God. For that reason alone, it deserves to be condemned as a heresy.”
Shortly after the end of apartheid in 1994, Tutu wrote that
If the church, after the victory over apartheid, is looking for a worthy moral crusade, then this is it: the fight against homophobia and heterosexism.
In 2013 he said:
“People took some part of us and used it to discriminate against us. In our case, it was our ethnicity; it’s precisely the same thing for sexual orientation. People are killed because they’re gay. I don’t think, “What do I want to do today? I want to speak up on gay rights.” No. It’s God catching me by my neck.”
In response to the taunt from Robert Mugabe, Tutu said:
“I would refuse to go to a homophobic Heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place…
“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about Apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”
MALIDOMA SOME January 30th 1956 – 9th December 2021
Malidoma Patrice Somé Phd., West African Elder, author and teacher from the Dagara people of Burkino Faso, came to the west to share the ancient wisdom and practices which have supported his people for thousands of years, travelling and teaching for 3 decades. His name means ‘to make friends with the stranger’.
Malidoma spoke and wrote about lesbians as witches and gay men as gatekeepers, whose role is to keep open the ecstatic gates to the Otherworlds – through the way we connect our sexual energy to spirit and the Earth itself. We once did this in the ancient pagan temples and rituals of Europe and the Middle East as well – the suppression of ritual and the ritual makers of indigenous, earth based, sex loving, religions has always been the Christian way of taking over control of society.
For more than thirty years, Elder Malidoma shared the Wisdom of his Ancestors and tribal Elders, the Dagara Cosmology, inviting the renewal of a deep and abiding relationship with all beings on Earth. Vital in this process, he taught that:
“There must be radical healing of the gatekeepers if our globe is to truly be healed.”
In 1993 Malidoma Some was interviewed by MenWeb, where he delivered a radical African understanding of gender and sexuality, a wisdom that can be found in other parts of the world also, but which was stamped out in the west many centuries ago.
In the interview he explained that:
“Among the Dagara people, gender has very little to do with anatomy. It is purely energetic. In that context, a male who is physically male can vibrate female energy, and vice versa. That is where the real gender is. Anatomic differences are simply there to determine who contributes what for the continuity of the tribe. It does not mean, necessarily, that there is a kind of line that divides people on that basis. And this is something that also touches on what has become known here as the “gay” or “homosexual” issue. Again, in the culture that I come from, this is not the issue. These people are looked on, essentially, as people. The whole notion of “gay” does not exist in the indigenous world. That does not mean that there are not people there who feel the way that certain people feel in this culture, that has led to them being referred to as “gay.”
“The reason why I’m saying there are no such people is because the gay person is very well integrated into the community, with the functions that delete this whole sexual differentiation of him or her. The gay person is looked at primarily as a “gatekeeper.” The Earth is looked at, from my tribal perspective, as a very, very delicate machine or consciousness, with high vibrational points, which certain people must be guardians of in order for the tribe to keep its continuity with the gods and with the spirits that dwell there. Spirits of this world and spirits of the other worlds. Any person who is at this link between this world and the other world experiences a state of vibrational consciousness which is far higher, and far different, from the one that a normal person would experience. This is what makes a gay person gay. This kind of function is not one that society votes for certain people to fulfill. It is one that people are said to decide on prior to being born. You decide that you will be a gatekeeper before you are born. And it is that decision that provides you with the equipment (Malidoma gestures by circling waist area with hands) that you bring into this world. So when you arrive here you begin to vibrate in a way that Elders can detect as meaning that you are connected with a gateway somewhere. Then they watch you grow, and they watch you act and react, and sooner or later they will follow you to the gateway that you are connected with.
“So to then limit gay people to simple sexual orientation is really the worst harm that can be done to a person. That all he or she is is a sexual person. And, personally, because of the fact that my knowledge of indigenous medicine, ritual, comes from gatekeepers, it’s hard for me to take this position that gay people are the negative breed of a society. No! In a society that is profoundly dysfunctional, what happens is that peoples’ life purposes are taken away, and what is left is this kind of sexual orientation which, in turn, is disturbing to the very society that created it.
“I think this is again victimization by a Christian establishment that is looking at a gay person as a disempowered person, a person who has lost his job from birth onward, and now society just wants to fire him out of life. This is not justice. It’s not justice. It is a terrible harm done to an energy that could save the world, that could save us. If, today, we are suffering from a gradual ecological waste, this is simply because the gatekeepers have been fired from their job. They have been fired! They have nothing to do! And because they have been fired, we accuse them for not doing anything. This is not fair!
“Why is it that, everywhere else in the world, gay people are a blessing, and in the modern world they are a curse? It is self-evident. The modern world was built by Christianity. They have taken the gods out of the earth sent them to heaven, wherever that is. And everyone who aspires to the gods must then negotiate with Christianity, so that the real priests and priestesses are out of a job. This is the worst thing that can happen to a culture that calls itself modern.
“…the thing about it is that humans are going to be begetting gatekeepers, no matter what. This is the chance that we’ve got. So maybe that means that sooner or later we’re going to wake up to the horror of our own errors, and we’re going to reconsecrate our chosen people so that they can do their priestly work as they should. Otherwise, I just don’t understand. I just don’t understand. My position about it is not so much that gays be just forgiven. That’s just tokenism. But that they serve as an example of the wrong, or the illness, that modernity has brought to us, and that we use that to begin working at healing ourselves and our society from the bottom up. That way, by the time we reach a certain level, all the gatekeepers are going to find their positions again. We cannot tell them where the gates are. They know. If we start to heal ourselves, they will remember. It will kick in. But as long as we continue in arrogance, in egotism, in God-knows-what form of violence on ourselves, no, there’s that veil of confusion that’s going to continue to prevail, and as a result it’s going to prevent great things from happening. That’s all I can say about that.”