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Growing old gracefully does not mean giving up on gay rights

Growing old gracefully does not mean giving up on gay rights

I celebrated my birthday this weekend. I have spent half a century on this planet and just now I realized I am no longer young but getting old. These hands are no longer firm but wrinkled, my hair no longer black but peppered with grey, and my eyes need the glasses I refuse to wear out of vanity.

It is a fact – and something I just have to accept.

As Francis Bacon once said: ‘Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.’

I did not get it before, but I do today.

Age is a very high price to pay for maturity, but it is time to be mature and accept these simple facts of life for my body has a mind of its own.

I have realized to my horror I am no longer young and my body can no longer keep up with my mind’s desires.

Someone told me the great secret all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in 40 or 50 years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.

But I do know gay men, like their heterosexual counterparts, can and do grow old gracefully and that youth must be enjoyed when one is young and the moments savored.

Theodore Roosevelt had the right notion: ‘Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it you’ve got to start young.’

While Confucius said: ‘Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.’

I say all this because I had all intentions of retiring away today from my advocacy but then someone this week asked me, strangely, why do I speak out in support of the gay community and LGBT rights?

My answer was simple, if not self-explanatory.

Because I wish to live in a world that is equal and free. Because I am not a second-class citizen.

And I will continue until we stop the hatred and discrimination. When all the 76 countries that still criminalize consensual same-sex relationships stop doing so. And when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people everywhere suffer no more from violent attacks and discriminatory treatment.

On 23 May Amnesty International’s annual report was published. It highlights the numerous cases of torture, persecution of rights activists, the suppression of freedom of speech and poor prison conditions.

Russia showed it ‘doesn’t care about human rights conventions and its obligations to the Council of Europe’.

Ukraine Pride in Kyiv was banned from happening and Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been told they should improve LGBT rights ahead of joining the European Union.

Meanwhile Ugandan LGBT activists Richard Lusimbo and Komugisha Shawn. were arrested while protesting media censorship. And two men arrested in Zambia for supposedly being in a homosexual relationship were refused bail. Finally I learned the Lithuanian parliament is to discuss a proposed ban on transgender surgery.

The relentless right-wing Christians in the US are not giving up either as demonstrated by pushing a new book attacking gay families, called God Made Dad and Mom.

So I am heeding the word of Samuel Ullman who said: ‘Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.’

Henry Thoreau reflected the same sentiment by saying: ‘None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.’

Equality has been a topic of discussion in the last week from when the UN Human Rights office released a new video telling LGBT people they are not alone. This has also been the month we celebrated International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and Harvey Milk Day.

So why do I speak out in support of gay rights and the need for equality? Because if I did not, then who will be left to speak for me, as a proud gay Muslim?

Because though things are changing and we are moving towards equality and a world which is free and equal, we are not there yet.

There is still work to be done to address the social conditions, religious bigotry and contexts that fuel and create homophobia in our society today. For as my good friend and fellow advocate Rhonda Mangus states: ‘The indoctrinated mind is blind.’