Monday, December 14, 2009

"Invictus," Describing the Unconquerable Nelson Mandela and the Uneatable Game of Rugby

Over the weekend, I went with some rugby buddies to see the movie "Invictus," which details a little-known story of peace advocate and apartheid-ender Nelson Mandela and the sport of rugby. (This does relate to LGBT equality, so bear with me.)

In the movie, we see how newly-elected South African President Nelson Mandela (played by narratoriffic Morgan Freeman) uses his influence to prevent the country's national rugby team, the Springboks, from being dissolved and reformed. Some people considered it a symbol of white oppression, but Mandela saw it instead as an opportunity for bridging racial chasms. He worked with the rugby team's captain, Francois Pienaar (played by a beefy Matt Damon) to turn the team from a symbol of racial division into one of unification and solidarity. That year the Springboks then went from having a sub-par record to winning the rugby World Cup ... in overtime no less. It's the most cliched of sports tales, except for the fact that it's completely true.

There are two important things for people involved in the equality movement to take away from this movie.

First, it's that rugby is a great, inclusive game. It's a super sport for all people, with different types of positions within a team for all body types and levels of athleticism: tall, short, fast, strong, skinny, fat, whatever.

North Carolina has two officially gay rugby teams - i.e., they're predominately LGBT, though each has a straight member (not intentionally token, just coincidentally) - the Kodiaks, here in the Triangle, and the Royals, up in Charlotte. Both of them are members of IGRAB, the International Gay Rugby Association and Board.

Even outside of the officially-gay teams, though, rugby culture is generally very gay-friendly. For example, the Kodiaks always practice and play with Eno River Rage and the Eno Men's team. Rugby is incredibly butch and it's incredibly gay, in ways that overlap and in ways that are totally different. It's so intrinsically both that it's that it's transcendent. If you've always wanted to play sports but have been worried about homophobia, rugby is the way to go.

The second, and more important, aspect of the movie are the lessons that Nelson Mandela taught, that solidarity, education, and forgiveness are the greatest strengths in any movement for fairness and justice. After being unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, he eschewed revenge and partisanship and worked with the people who mistreated him.

Ultimately, we, the LGBT community, are all working together towards a common goal, despite individual differences and variations and opinions.

Broader than that, though, we're working for true equality of everyone, including the people working in opposition groups. The idea of eventually coming together with people that teach hatred and push second-class citizenship on us (and some who advocate violence and death) is a hard one to grasp, but as Mandela observes, "Not to forgive is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." LGBT people are discriminated against when we're dehumanized, and we repeat that mistake when we dehumanize those who oppose equality.

Besides, the core of prejudice is ignorance, and we cannot dispel ignorance if we're not willing to talk with others and teach them. Mandela again: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

None of this means we shouldn't work against homophobia, just that we should work against homophobia per se and not just the people who are homophobes. In the best of all possible worlds, we'll be changing their hearts and minds, and bringing them around to be pro-equality allies.

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