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‘Traditional’ Values and the Fight for LGBT Rights

World Policy Journal begins each issue with the Big Question, where we ask a panel of experts to provide insight into the cover theme. The question for the fall 2017 Constructing Family issue is: What values from your parents' generation would you preserve in a changing world? Below, Williams Rashidi argues that while respect, diversity, and acceptance may not always be "traditional" family values, they are universal values that should be upheld in the fight for LGBTQ rights. 

By Williams Rashidi

While nontraditional sexual orientations and gender identities remain criminalized in 72 countries across the world, other countries are legally redefining marriage to allow for greater equality. Germany is the most recent example, having legalized same-sex marriage just last June. The definition of family is being reconstructed, and this is generating heated debate on both the left and right. For some, a family should be composed of a father, a mother, and their children, and could be extended to include grandparents, cousins, and others in the family tree. The shift toward inclusivity changes this notion of what a family is and begs the question, especially for LGBTQ rights advocates: Which traditional values should be kept in the fight for equality and justice? 

Traditional family values are defined as values that are passed on from generation to generation. They govern the structures, functions, roles, beliefs, attitudes, and ideals of families, and play a significant role in relationship and society building. Individual members who do not uphold these values can be treated as outcasts. Traditional values can include respectfulness, a strong work ethic, and religious devotion, though what’s considered “traditional” differs from family to family. So, labeling certain values as “traditional” is problematic, especially since some values are universal. Universal values are certainly not always the same as traditional family values. Respect and tolerance, for instance, are not always traditional values. They are universal values that bind society, ensure peace, and foster dialogue among different kinds of people. In short, to ask which traditional family values should be kept in the fight for justice undermines the true universality of certain values. 

I choose respect, diversity, and acceptance as the universal values that should define the fight for social justice everywhere and for everybody. I discard tolerance as I do not want to be tolerated for my dignity, but accepted and celebrated for it. The fight for justice, for protection regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, should be built on the core tenet of universal human rights. There is an African adage that admonishes people “not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.” This goes to the heart of how we should put these values into practice. When building relationships and making laws, we should constantly be asking whether our actions respect the humanity and dignity of the other person. Does this promote diversity and enshrine a belief in difference? These questions are the essence of love.

How we define our families and our values should reflect changes in our legal and social environments. If values are what guide our morals, standards, behaviors, relationships, and ability to see the dignity of each person regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, then we must take respect, diversity, and inclusion as a baseline for social justice. These values should not be constructed as traditional family values, but as human values, and they should define our fight for justice for everyone, everywhere, regardless of who they are or who they love.

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Williams Rashidi is a human rights and public health advocate, social entrepreneur, and art collector, as well as a Mandela Washington Fellow and organizational director at Queer Alliance Nigeria.

[Photo courtesy of CEphoto, Uwe Aranas]

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