Desmond Tutu, a leader of the nonviolent anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and a vocal LGBTQ+ rights supporter, died Sunday, December 26 in Cape Town. He was 90.
Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work against anti-Black apartheid laws that segregated South Africa based on race and maintained a decades-long system of oppression against Black South Africans. The Anglican reverend compared anti-LGBTQ+ laws and persecution to the apartheid laws he worked had to dismantle in his home country.
Tutu passed at Oasis Frail Care Center in Cape Town, according to The Washington Post. He’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, and he’d been hospitalized a few times since 2015.
Born Desmond Mpilo Tutu on October 7, 1931, in the city of Klerksdorp, he became a teacher before he entered St. Peter’s Theological College in Rosetenville in 1958. He was ordained in 1961.
Tutu became bishop of Lesotho, chairman of the South African Council of Churches, then he became the first Black Anglican bishop of Johannesburg in 1985, according to the Post. A year later, Tutu was named the first Black archbishop of Cape Town.
He would later lead South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tutu and the Commission panel listened to the testimony about torture, killings, and other atrocities done under the apartheid regime.
For decades, the archbishop championed global human rights. In 2009, then-President Obama awarded him the U.S.’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2012, Tutu told The Advocate he believed LGBTQ+ people were equal to non-LGBTQ+ people in the eyes of God.
“We have strange images of God,” he said. “One is of a God who is waiting to club us. We don’t seem to understand the image of a God who says, ‘I created you because I loved you.’”
The archbishop added: “God’s dream is to embrace all of us, an embrace we are not allowed to escape out of, including the gay, lesbian, and so-called straight.”
Tutu would go on to continue speaking up for LGBTQ+ rights. In a U.N. campaign video for LGBTQ+ rights, Tutu said he was against violence against people for their sexual orientation. “I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid,” he said.
“I would not worship a God who is homophobic,” Tutu explained during the same campaign, according to The Washington Blade. “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say, ‘Sorry, 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,” Tutu added.
Several years later he reportedly gave his blessings to his daughter and her female partner for their wedding.
In response to the archbishop’s death, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa gave condolences to Tutu’s family and friends, and said Tutu was “a patriot without equal.”
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity, and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice, and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.
Obama tweeted that the archbishop, “a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries.”
LGBTQ+ rights groups also released statements honoring Tutu.
“His contributions to access to justice and human rights for all without discrimination, will always remain visible and inspiring,” Pan Africa ILGA wrote in a tweet.
The Human Rights Campaign’s Interim President, Joni Mitchell, wrote, “The world has lost Desmond Tutu, a great champion of justice, whose powerful allyship to our community will never be forgotten. We are forever grateful.”
There will be a seven-day mourning period scheduled for Cape Town before Tutu’s burial, which will include a two-day lying in state, an ecumenical service, and an Anglican requiem mass at St.
George’s Cathedral in the city. Cape Town’s Table Mountain will be lit up purple, the color of the robes Tutu wore as archbishop, according to the Post.
Tutu is survived by his wife of 66 years, Leah, and the couple’s four children.