Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, an outspoken and long-time defender of South Africa’s gay and lesbian community, celebrated his 80th birthday on Friday.

Over the years, Tutu – often described as “South Africa’s moral conscience” – has called for the decriminalisation of homosexually in Africa, the acceptance of gays and lesbians by the world’s churches and for LGBTI people to be embraced as part of the human family.

He has often criticised segments of the Anglican Church for their homophobia, commenting in a 2007 interview with BBC radio: “If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.”

In February 2008, Tutu signed a letter, along with 120 other religious leaders, demanding that the Ugandan government take action to end “verbal assaults and legal attacks of your government on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) people”.

In April 2008 he was given the OUTSPOKEN Award by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for “his leadership as a global ally of the LGBTI community”.

In 2010, Tutu made a powerful appeal for LGBTI equality in Africa in an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post, in which he said that “our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters across Africa are living in fear”.

He insisted that “hate has no place in the house of God” and said that while for many years South Africa and the world opposed apartheid, now “it is time to stand up against another wrong”.

In the article, Tutu bemoaned the jailing of a gay couple in Malawi, the imprisonment of gay people in Senegal, a mob attack in Kenya on people suspected of being gay, and the proposed anti-gay legislation before Uganda’s parliament.

“A wave of hate is spreading across my beloved continent” and “these are terrible backward steps for human rights in Africa,” he said.

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God’s family. And of course they are part of the African family,” wrote Tutu.

“Politicians who profit from exploiting this hate, from fanning it, must not be tempted by this easy way to profit from fear and misunderstanding. And my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.”

Tutu has also campaigned in the fights again AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty and racism. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986, the Pacem in Terris Award in 1987, the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999, the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2005, and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Mambaonline joins South Africa’s LGBTI community in wishing Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu a very, very happy birthday.

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