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One of South Africa’s best regarded judicial figures has urged lawyers to never forget “we are only free when everyone is free” during a stirring World Pride breakfast.

Justice Edwin Cameron delivered a moving and humourous speech at the Law Society’s Pride Address and Breakfast on 3 March, as part of celebrations for the final weekend of World Pride in Sydney. He ended his speech with a call to the audience to “seek out difference” and demonstrate “commitment to the rule of law and to humanity.”

Justice Cameron is one of South Africa’s most prominent judicial figures and was described by former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela as one of the nation’s “new heroes.”

He was a human rights lawyer before becoming a judge, where he helped to secure a world-first inclusion of sexual orientation in South Africa’s constitution. He was appointed to the bench by President Mandela in 1994, served in the High Court for six years, and in the Supreme Court of Appeal for eight, before serving in the Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest court, from 2009 until his retirement in 2019.

To date Justice Cameron is the first and only senior official in South Africa to state that he is living with HIV/AIDS. He told the audience that he had been given “between 30 and 36 months” in the 1990s before he began taking life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. His subsequent campaigning for support for patients continued in the face of then President Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS denialism.

In his address to the Law Society attendees, he noted that many in the LGBTQIA+ community still experienced “terrible danger” in parts of the world where homosexuality remains a crime.

Justice Cameron was in Sydney to attend a landmark human rights conference as part of World Pride, hosted in Sydney this year from 17 February to 5 March. He joined the three day conference and spoke alongside the man he calls a friend and “my hero”, former High Court Justice Michael Kirby.

Other people who Justice Cameron paid tribute to as heroes and advocates of LGBTQIA+ rights included Justice Michael Lebru of Botswana, who struck down the colonial law that criminalised sodomy, and activist Simon Nkoli, who in his life fought for those experiencing oppression on the basis of their race, sexual orientation or HIV status.

He said he had “confidence in the generously spirited” mindset of Australian votes ahead of this year’s planned referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

While a different topic and structure and “not identical but similar” to the 2017 postal survey on marriage equality, Justice Cameron said the Voice referendum was “also an issue of inclusiveness and diversity.”