22-year-old gay activist and newly minted Rhodes scholar,
went to South Africa at the urging of a visiting Australian
sociology professor who told him it was the next big
told me, 'South Africa is going to be really big soon.
Things are happening there that no one outside the country
is really hearing about. It's the place for work to be
That was a few
months ago. Now South Africa, having in 1994 become the
first nation to write gay and lesbian protections into its
constitution, is making headlines as the fifth in the
world to legalize same-sex marriage.
Africa's history of racial oppression--and despite up
to 80% of its generally conservative populace being
opposed to gay rights--no major movement, a la
the U.S. religious right, has risen up to oppose
this unique history offers lessons for the United
States. Before entering Oxford, the Harvard senior is
writing his thesis on what he calls "the weird
disconnect" between South Africans' often-staid
personal views and the freedom they grant others to live
understand that human rights struggles are really
intertwined," he said.
They realize that
if you start amending the constitution against one
group, you can amend it against others."
Thoreson said, that the ruling African National
Congress, which generally allows its MPs voting latitude,
ordered them not to obstruct the so-called Civil
Unions Bill that sailed through parliament on November
"They were not
allowed to discriminate," Thoreson said.
It helped too
that several prominent anti-apartheid figures were gay or
gay allies, including out gay man Simon Nkoli, codefendant
in a high-profile treason trial against ANC members;
jurist Edwin Cameron, whose self-disclosure as
HIV-positive emboldened many others to step forward;
and Zachie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign, who
helped win the equality clause in South Africa's 1994
Fargo, N.D., expects he'll go back to South Africa as part
of the social anthropology degree he'll pursue at Oxford. He
plans eventually to work in international gay and
lesbian rights law.
"South Africa is
such a powerful model of progressive politics," he
said. "It's a really promising place to work, especially if
you're interested in doing scholarship that makes a
political difference." (Barbara Wilcox, The