Clinton’s Human Rights Day speech on global LGBT rights: My thoughtsPosted: December 8, 2011
I am happy that Secretary Clinton mentions the need to train LGBT activists and staff of their organizations as a way of empowering them for the struggle. We need to raise a generation of activist thinkers and professionals ‘who can speak the language of the oppressor.’ From the civil rights movement to the women’s rights movement, nothing gave voice to their struggles as empowerment for education did. My professor, Ed Rodman, has once remarked that, ‘Had slave masters known better, they wouldn’t have taught slaves how to speak English.’ Rodman believes that learning how to speak the master’s language empowered slaves to rise against their oppressor.
Our oppressors don’t expect us to have knowledge and/or to use it to our advantage. They don’t expect us to think or reason. By caging us in a life of discrimination and fear, they know that they will control us so we are left powerless to fight back. Our allies on the other hand speak on our behalf because they are taken seriously because their academic credentials! They write our research and tell our stories not because we cannot do what they do but because they have knowledge we don’t have. I respectfully acknowledge the contribution of allies to our movements but the only way I see Clinton’s speech bringing the change we need is when LGBT persons will become the experts of their own movement and an authority on issues affecting them.
Allies such as Sylvia Tamale, Jeff Sharlett, and Kapya Kaoma among several others are able to make a significant contribution to LGBT movements because they command authority and respect because of their professional achievements. A friend of mine, and a great admirer of Dr. Tamale, often jokes that, ‘Even when Tamale makes a point that does not make sense it makes sense to people because of the respect she commands.’
Well my friend, I don’t know about that but what I want to argue here is that if we are going to raise a generation the Martin Luther Kings, Hilary Clintons, Sylvia Tamales, Jeff Sharletts, and Kapya Kaomas of this world, we need to make it possible for LGBT activists to further their education in their fields of interest. An LGBT activist with a law degree or a PhD in a room of the likes of Martin Ssempa makes a huge difference.
We know the story. We activists are received with great honor overseas. It’s a different story in our home countries. We sit in conference rooms and people sniff and jeer at us because even when we make good arguments, people question our credentials. I believe that for people to disagree with your opinions but still be able to respect you is a powerful thing. We need mutual respect- even in our differences. Nelson Mandela was able to begin conversations with his Afrikaner oppressors because first, he learned how to ‘speak their language’ and two, he won their respect. We are not going to build our movements if the only respect we command is from our allies overseas. Our own people need to begin taking us seriously and we have to break the myth that if you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, then you’re destined for failure.
I have read Secretary Clinton’s speech. I have seen great potential in her remarks- she may not even realize the weight of her contribution. I have projected the future and I have seen how far this speech is going to take us. She had done her part. We need to do ours. Let us all identify what we can do in line with her remarks and let’s get it done.