Cathedral bells tolled at noon in Cape Town on Monday, as South Africa began a week of mourning for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died on Sunday.
People around the world are commemorating Tutu’s life and death, including many from groups he supported, ranging from LGBTQ communities to Palestinians and climate justice advocates.
While Tutu was best known for his role in ending decades of institutionalized segregation and racism in South Africa, as well as his leadership of the truth and reconciliation commission that followed, he was also honored for lending his voice to other injustices and oppression around the world.
“Anywhere where people’s humanity is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, that is where we will find our cause,” Tutu said in a 2013 interview. Tutu’s standing as South Africa’s moral compass made him one of the continent’s most important LGBTQ allies.
Tutu’s “powerful allyship will never be forgotten,” said Joni Madison, interim President of the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBTQ advocacy group.
Tutu was an outspoken opponent of gender discrimination and ally of the LGBTQ community. He was an active participant in the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign, and he frequently compared the struggle of those discriminated against because of their sexual orientation to apartheid.
Tutu said of gender-based discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people, “I cannot remain silent when people are punished for something over which they have no control,” adding, “I oppose such injustice with the same zeal with which I opposed apartheid.”
Tutu’s own daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth, an Anglican minister, was forced to resign after marrying a woman in 2016. “My father campaigned for women’s ordination, and so every time I stand at the altar I know that this is part of his legacy,” Tutu van Furth said. “It is painful, a very odd pain, to step down, to step back from exercising my priestly ministry.”
In many conservative parts of Africa, same-sex relationships and homosexuality are frowned upon. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association, only South Africa has legalized gay marriage, and same-sex relationships are illegal in 32 of Africa’s 54 countries. Both Senegal and Ghana are debating legislation aimed at the gay community.
Tutu was also a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, and politicians in Gaza and the West Bank remembered the late archbishop as an ally in their struggle.
Tutu’s “humanity and compassion were equaled only by his courage and principled commitment in our shared struggle for justice and freedom,” said Hanan Ashrawi, former Palestinian Minister of Higher Education.
Tutu attempted to use his moral authority to persuade both Israelis and Palestinians to pursue a nonviolent path. During the 2014 war, when Israel launched an operation to prevent the militant group Hamas from firing rockets into Israeli territory, Tutu accused Israel of a “disproportionately brutal response” and urged both sides to abandon violence in favor of dialogue.
More than 2,200 Gazans had been killed in the fighting by the time a stable ceasefire was reached after several weeks. According to a United Nations report, roughly half of them were civilians, including more than 550 children. According to the UN, 71 Israelis were killed, 66 of whom were soldiers.
Tutu has stated repeatedly that he is opposed to oppression and violence on both sides of the conflict. However, his frequent comparisons of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to that of Black South Africans, as well as his support for boycotts of Israel, enraged many Israeli politicians, particularly those who were more hawkish on defense issues.
Tutu, who retired from public service in 2010, advocated in his final years for the international community and individuals to consider such boycotts to halt the climate crisis. He lobbied former President Barack Obama to halt the contentious Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Tutu traveled to Canada in 2014 to assess the project on his own and hear from supporters and opponents.