A meeting of historic significance to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities took place on Dec. 12 as two internationally recognized human rights activists met in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Rev. Troy D. Perry, moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu for a wide-ranging discussion of human rights issues. Others in attendance for this historic meeting included the archbishop’s wife, Leah; Rev. Perry’s spouse, Phillip DeBlieck; and the Rev. Andre Muller, UFMCC area coordinator for South Africa.
The meeting began with cordial greetings, following by Archbishop Tutu’s request that the group open in prayer. The archbishop led the group in a prayer of welcome and affirmation.
During the meeting, Rev. Perry expressed thanks to Archbishop Tutu for his work to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation in the new South African constitution. Perry shared how this accomplishment has helped to mobilize the American Gay Rights Movement in seeking protections from the United States Congress, including laws that would ensure basic rights to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual citizens to work for a living without the fear of discrimination.
Both Archbishop Tutu and Reverend Perry discussed the roles that religion plays in the on-going debates around sexual orientation. Archbishop Tutu noted that religious fundamentalists have questioned the right of the government to add sexual orientation to the South African Constitution and want simple answers to life’s hard questions. “Some people always try to take the Bible literally and legalistically,” he said, adding “Quoting the Bible is not enough.”
The Archbishop further stated, “Parents must love their children. It is a shame that fathers still teach their sons not to cry as though that would make them seem like a woman. Fathers teach their sons not to have real feelings. Every human being should rejoice and celebrate both our masculine and feminine sides.”
Reverend Perry and Archbishop Tutu also reviewed a range of other human rights issues, including their common opposition to the death penalty.
Archbishop Tutu discussed his work as chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will conclude its work in June of 1998. At that time, Tutu will become a visiting professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Reverend Perry extended an invitation for Archbishop Tutu to address the 1999 General Conference and World Jubilee of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in Los Angeles, California, at which the denomination will dedicate its new $5 million UFMCC World Center complex. The archbishop indicted his residence in the US at that time made it more likely that he might be able to accept the invitation.
The meeting finished with Reverend Perry assuring the Archbishop that he is surrounded with the prayers of all MCCers for continued good health after his recent bout with prostate cancer.
UFMCC is the world’s largest organization meeting the faith needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Founded in 1968, UFMCC is composed of 300 local congregations in 15 countries. Official membership exceeds 46,000, and more than 225,000 persons attend the services and programs of the UFMCC annually.