I had wanted to do this post a month ago on the wedding day of this friend and his sweetheart, a wedding I was very sorry to miss! Having failed to pull that off, I’ll post it today… on their first (month) anniversary. CONGRATULATIONS to the newlyweds, JOSHUA AND ANDREW!
Joshua (right) and I go way back. I mean way back- before I got braces and before his little sister arrived. Before our families faced alcohol addiction in my family or Joshua’s brain tumor. And certainly long before Josh knew his sexual orientation.
He’s the first born in a family of three kids, close family friends and neighbors from our block. For many years, I had a standing job every Friday babysitting Josh, his brother Nathan, and sister Annie. I can thank this family for their major financing of my teenage budget for clothing and concert tickets. And more importantly, they have always been a second family to me.
I wanted to write this post to acknowledge what it took to arrive at a wedding day for these two people. Not only is there the personal story behind their marriage, there is also the collective story of what it took to make this possible in our country – a story that can seem obvious and straightforward the farther we get from it. And if anyone knows what it took, it’s this family who worked tirelessly to secure marriage equality in Minnesota and elsewhere. Organizing, writing, making calls and donations, hosting, reaching out, and talking, only hint at the level of advocacy they offered.
As I heard news over the past year about plans for this wedding, it got me wondering about the state of things for gay and lesbian people here in South Africa. That curiosity led me to a local organization, the Pietermaritzburg Gay and Lesbian Network, where I visited with founder and director, Anthony Waldhausen.
It turns out some of my assumptions were wrong. Although South Africa struggles mightily when it comes to indicators of economic growth and social cohesion, the rights and protections of GLBT people here set the country apart as a shining star on the continent and in the world. In fact, South Africa was the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and their constitution was the first to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It’s also true that despite the legal protections in place that should ensure equality and social acceptance for GLBT people here, there is work yet to be done. I heard one person lament the gap between legislation and everyday life. She said, “We are told we have one of the best constitutions in the world but gay people are still facing many problems here.”
Wow, was I impressed to learn about this organization and their outreach, counseling, and advocacy in response to those needs in our province of KwaZulu-Natal! They train police departments and front line medical staff to increase their competence. They support young people who are unemployed and marginalized to find a safe and supportive community. They are raising awareness around hate crimes, an ongoing and essential effort to decrease the violence perpetrated against GLBT people. They’re doing HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; and if that weren’t enough for a non-profit with a small staff, they even have a counseling hotline, an outreach program to churches and traditional healers, and a theatre troop!
Something I found inspiring about my conversation with Anthony was the way he connected the work of his organization to that of the broader society. Rather than separate or different, GLBT leaders with this organization see themselves as allies of all oppressed or marginalized individuals. For example, they advocate for and support efforts to protect the rights of widows and people with disabilities or mental illness. In this way they are fulfilling a goal of South Africa’s first president, who said:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
One of the most memorable toasts at our wedding was Joshua’s family singing to us.
Though singing in public took them out of their comfort zone, they offered bravely and joyfully a simple tune by the children’s musician Raffi – the soundtrack to the many years I spent in their home.
“All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and LOVE in my family…”
I’m so grateful for this family and for the difference each of them has made in my life and in our world. It’s people like the Meyers, whose personal examples of boldness and courage move us closer to realizing Mandela’s belief that our own freedom is connected to others’. I’m singin’ this same toast to you Josh and Andrew, may the love you know today continue to extend beyond a song in your heart, bringing love to our global family. Love you, Amy