South Asian Religious Leaders Challenged to Take on Stigma and Discrimination: Global LGBT Recap

Early this month, Bard College professor Omar G. Encarnación  published an op ed piece on  the London School of Economics’ European Politics and Policy blog arguing that western nations should reconsider their strategy of promoting gay rights abroad. He argues that while there have been notable successes, a strategy of “shaming” states that discriminate against LGBT people could be self-defeating and generate greater resistance to equality. He argues that western nations should put a greater focus on strengthening democracy, the rule of law, and civil society. Encarnación is the author of “Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution,” forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

The Human Rights Campaign has published an in-depth report on the World Congress of Families.

South Asia: International Consultation on Religion and Sexual Minorities

The first-ever regional consultation under the UN’s Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Program brought faith leaders together with government and civil society representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.on August 18 and 19 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. According to a report from the UN Development Program, participants affirmed that “Religious leaders and faith-based organizations have a crucial role to play in upholding the human rights of sexual minorities and ensuring appropriate and accessible health services, including for men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people.”

The meeting provided an avenue for open, inclusive exploratory discussions on religious perspectives on sexual and gender identity and health rights, in the context of HIV.

In countries across South Asia, MSM and transgender people as well as other sexual minorities often face harsh stigma and discrimination and social exclusion based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, these populations, along with other vulnerable groups such as sex workers and persons who inject drugs, encounter formidable barriers to accessing vital health care, including HIV and STI prevention, care and support services.

“Religious leaders can, if they want, do so much to help remove stigma and discrimination against our communities and sensitize society as a whole,” said Shale Ahmed, Executive Director of Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS). “Faith-based organizations should actively reach out to those who are most vulnerable to HIV through the prism of humanity and compassion that all religions advocate.”

…The noted Islamic scholar Dr. Akhtarul Wasey, Commissioner of Linguistic Minorities under the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India, contributed to the discussion via a prepared statement. “We all know there are different lifestyles which not all of us might be in agreement with, and we all know that many are at high risk of or living with HIV,” he said. “In my humble opinion, we should come forward to help them. We should keep in mind that stigma and discrimination always result in silence and denial which are more deadly than this epidemic. Though these are very delicate issues, rather being judgmental, we should be considerate and compassionate and simultaneously pray for their well-being.”

Europe: More on the Gay Imam

We noted last week that gay Imam Ludovic Mohamed Zahed had married in Iranian lesbian couple in Sweden. Germany’s Der Spiegel published a profile of Zahed earlier this month.

Born in Algeria, Zahed’s parents moved to France when he was a young child. When he went to school there for the first time, his teacher asked him if he was a boy or a girl. He was a delicate child, slender, shy and affable. Zahed recalls his father telling him he was a pansy, a crying little girl. Then his father went silent. He no longer looked at Zahed or even spoke to him.

Zahed asked himself what it was he was put on this Earth to do? Who am I? He was filled with self-doubt. Looking for answers, he went to a mosque at the age of 12.

Islam, Zahed would learn, provided answers to all questions. The Koran is a book about which there can be no doubts. Allah overcomes all resistance. As a Muslim, you are a student of Islam and your mission in life is to praise God.

The profile recounts Zahed’s journey as a teenage Salafist, his falling away from Islam and his coming out as gay, and his return at age 30 to the Koran.

He also began reading the Koran again. He didn’t come across a single sura in it condeming homosexuality. What he did find, though, were plenty of homoerotic poems in classic Arab literature. He then founded HM2F, an association for gay and lesbian Muslims in France.

Two years ago, when the news broke that no imam would bury a Muslim transsexual who had died in France, Zahed founded a mosque in Paris. He intended it as a place where all people could find an imam who would treat them with dignity, bury or marry them and give them a sense of belonging, regardless whether they loved men or women. He also found a partner and the two were then married by an imam friend.

Just a few days before he performed the wedding in Sweden, his husband moved out.

He says that his father told him on the phone: “Couples split up. That’s normal, my son. It has nothing to do with your homosexuality.” It was the first time Zahed’s father had used the word “homosexuality.”

Zahed’s life isn’t perfect. He’s ill, he misses his husband and he hasn’t found the answers to everything in life. Still, at least he now knows who he is. Zahed has found an approach to his family and he has found his faith. Perhaps the best moments in his life are yet to come.

UK: Former Atty General Says Christians Persecuted by Aggressive Secularists

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said last weekend that an “aggressive form of secularism” prevents Christians from publicly expressing their beliefs.

In an interview with the Telegraph, he claims that Britain is being “sanitised” of faith, and that it was “quite extraordinary” that people could be punished for expressing religious beliefs.

He says: “I worry that there are attempts to push faith out of the public space. Clearly it happens at a level of local power.

“You can watch institutions or organisations do it or watch it happen at a local government level. In my view it’s very undesirable.

“Some of the cases which have come to light of employees being disciplined or sacked for simply trying to talk about their faith in the workplace I find quite extraordinary.

“The sanitisation will lead to people of faith excluding themselves from the public space and being excluded.”

This week a spokesperson for the British Humanist Association Pavan Dhaliwal said, “It is all too common now to see senior politicians who should know better making misleading and provocative arguments for the existence of Christian persecution in Britain.”

In another story, some LGBT people are feeling persecuted by an aggressive monk, or someone dressed as one. According to news reports, a person dressed in monk’s robes has been distributing anti-gay leaflets door-to-door this year in Leicester, Cambridge, and Brighton. The flyer, titled “Homosexualism: A few points,” asserts that homosexuality is “not natural” and is a result of temptation by the Devil.

“Homosexualism has become a cult, and by the indoctrination of school children and regular propaganda through the media, it seeks converts.

“If the practice of homosexuality is acceptable, then in time any form of sexual deviation, perversion and experimentation will be acceptable, including the progressive lowering of the age of consent, taking it below the age of puberty, and thus legalizing paedophilia.”

It also attacks the Queen for signing same-sex marriage into law, saying she “has ceased to be a Christian ruler”, and the government, which it likens to Nazis and Communists.

Last week British official released figures on the number of same-sex couples who got married between March 29 – the first day marriage was legally available in England and Wales, and June 30. Of the 1,409 marriages, 56 percent were to female couples. According to Gay Star News, about 120,000 people are in civil partnerships, which they will be able to convert to marriages beginning in December.

Costa Rica: Survey Shows Split on Religion and Sexuality

According to The Costa Rica News, the Ecumenical School of Religious Studies at the National University released the findings of a telephone survey and set of focus groups on the religious beliefs of Costa Ricans. TCRN reports that 69% professed to being active Catholics, but only 4 out of 10 go to church.

On homosexuality, 36.5% of respondents believed that churches should advise and support those people to not be homosexual, 34% believed that churches should educate believers on sexual diversity and 28.2% say that churches should not be involved in people’s sexual preference.

According to the study there are more women than men who admit to having a religious affiliation and on abortion, nearly half of the people agreed with making it legal in the country.

Ecuador: President OKs Civil Union Status on National ID, Says Govt Cannot Discriminate

Ecuador will allow same-sex civil unions to be displayed on national identification cards, which El Diario calls “an important step forward in supporting the rights of its LGBT citizens.” Under the country’s 2008 Constitution, Ecuadorans have the right to “personal integrity, which includes physical, psychological, moral and sexual integrity.” The country does not permit same-sex couples to marry. Although President Rafael Correa, described by El Diario as a conservative Catholic, opposes marriage equality, he said on television last Saturday that “if there was any doubt about heterosexual or same-sex civil unions being put on national ID cards, there is none any more […] and if someone is still turned away by a government employee, that employee will be dismissed for denying constitutional rights.”

Kazakhstan: Mayor of Capital Denounces Media ‘Brainwashing’ On Homosexuality

Akin Imangali Tasmagambetov, mayor of Kazakhstan’s capital city Astana, denounced the use of media and modern technology for “brainwashing” people into acceptance of homosexuality and turning “false and unacceptable social vices” into societal norms, according to Pink News.

Saying that despite same-sex relationships having been “forbidden for centuries in the religious world”, they would now be accepted on a “planetary scale.”

“It has not just become a political norm in a range of developed countries, but the perception of the society has been distorted to such an extent that the US state of California approved a compulsory course on historical accomplishments of representatives of sexual minorities. I think you see for yourself how the topic is promoted in the international media. A reasonable question under the circumstances is what to expect next?” Tasmagambetov continued.

His speech concluded to say that education should be based on building a society capable of resisting the “gay propaganda”.

Lebanon: Legal Progress, Continued Peril for LGBTs

The Inter Press Service News Agency reports this week on “The Darker Side for Gays in Lebanon.”

In a country where civil liberties remain the prerogative of the powerful and wealthy, the Lebanese gay scene is to be treaded carefully.

The recent arrest of 27 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community shows that those not so lucky – those belonging to the more vulnerable tranches of society – are always at risk of experiencing the darker side of Lebanon.

On August 9, a raid targeted Hamam Agha, a popular public bath in the hipster Hamra area in the capital Beirut. Of the 27 men arrested, “there are still 14 non-Lebanese in detention, in spite of the fact that the judge has ruled they should be released,” says Ahmad Saleh, an activist from Helem, a Beirut-based NGO, advocating LGBT rights at parliamentary level.

According to the article, in spite of some legal gains, detainees continue to be subjected to anal examinations, or the threat of them, as a way to coerce admissions of homosexuality. But it says there are signs of cultural progress.

In addition to advances made on the legal front, the Lebanese public has become more aware of gay rights thanks to changes in mentalities and the promotion of creative works focusing on gay issues.

The media and the art scene have been challenging social norms. Wajdi and Majdi, two gay figures from a comedy TV show called La Youmal, have popularised the image of the LGBT community in Lebanon. Popular TV host Paula Yacoubian has also defended gay rights in Lebanon in a tweet. Mashrou’ Leila, a famous Lebanese rock band, has discussed homosexuality in Lebanon in its songs and last year a Lebanese movie called Out Loud featured five young Lebanese engaged in a group marriage. The movie was nonetheless banned in Lebanon by the censors.

“Youth are becoming increasingly aware of gay issues,” says activist Ghassan Makarem.  Compared with other countries in the region, Lebanese have far more liberal views than their counterparts as shown in a 2013 Pew Research Centre study. Some 18 percent of the Lebanese population believe that homosexuality should be accepted in society, compared with Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia where over 94 percent of the population view homosexuality as deviant.

Uganda: Prominent Activist Seeking Asylum in US

We reported last week on political maneuvering in Uganda around the prospects for re-passage of the Anti Homosexuality Act or a revised version of the controversial law, which was overturned by the Constitutional Court on a procedural question. This week, a Massachusetts based legal group, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), reported that prominent Ugandan LGBTI rights activist John Wambere had an interview this week with an asylum officer at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Wambere was in the U.S. when President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti Homosexuality Act into law. He has applied for asylum based on threats of violence and the threat of lifetime imprisonment in Uganda.

Latin America: ‘Social Inclusion Index’ Shows Wide Range on LGBT Rights

A gathering  of LGBTI leaders in elected and governmental positions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean will be held in Peru next week.

The Borgen Project, a nonprofit that addresses global poverty, reports that the 2104 Social Inclusion Index from America’s Quarterly “reveals that in terms of civil, women’s and LGBT rights, several Latin American nations outstrip even the United States.”

The Social Inclusion Index approaches development from a multidimensional perspective, considering many factors that go beyond the scope of cut-and-dried economic growth.  This year’s report is the third in the Americas Quarterly series and it reveals an encouraging amount of poverty reduction and social inclusion in the region.

Uruguay remains at the top of the Index, receiving high scores in women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights and formal job access. According to the Index, the U.S. lags behind four Latin American countries on women’s rights, including Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina and Peru.

Argentina and Costa Rica are tied in second place, scoring well due to high spending on social programs and women’s rights. The United States falls into fourth place because, although its social spending is the highest in the region, murder rates, particularly femicide, remain high, as well.

The report also points out that some of the region’s larger economic powers like Brazil and Mexico could greatly improve their scores by placing more emphasis on women’s rights, access to education and access to formal jobs. For example, only 37 percent of the working population in Mexico has access to formal employment. Increasing this number has great potential to reduce poverty.

Significant economic growth and increasing stability in Latin America means that more and more people are emerging from poverty and entering the middle class. This trend is allowing for important conversations on social inclusion to take place.

Regarding LGBT rights, “America’s Quarterly” writes,

Honduras and Panama tied for the lowest scores. In these countries, as well as countries like Costa Rica and the U.S., which all score close to the top in other rights—such as political, civil and women’s rights—simple steps can be taken to improve the full inclusion and participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations. That includes recognizing same-sex relationships, legalizing same-sex marriages, giving same-sex couples the right to adopt children, allowing homosexuals to serve in the military, bolstering protection against LGBT discrimination, and passing legislation on gender identity protection.

“Americas Quarterly” is published by Americas Society and Council of the Americas. You can explore the index’s country-by-country ratings here.

Dominican Republic: Govt Commission Bans Miley Cyrus For Promoting Lesbian Sex

We have reported previously on some religious leaders’ resistance to James “Wally” Brewster, the openly gay US ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Last week, Blabbeando reported, “The National Commission for Public Performances in the Dominican Republic announced today that they were banning a September 13th Miley Cyrus concert for, among other things, promoting lesbian sex.”

“The National Commission for Public Performances in the exercise of the powers given by the Constitution of the Republic through Regulation 824 of Law Number 1951Article 4306 – the purpose of which is to prevent public performances that offend the morals, good customs and relationship between friendly countries – imposes this ban based on Miley Cyrus’ common engagement in acts during her concerts that defy morals and customs in ways usually penalized by Dominican law,” a statement reads.

They add that Cyrus “uses inadequate attire, corrupts language, uses perverse imagery and phrasing, uses phrases with double meanings, glorifies crime, violence and denigrating acts against civility and promotes sex, lesbian sex and the use of inadequate objects in public.”

Being gay or lesbian is not a crime in the Caribbean island but religious fundamentalists have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and have, as of late, targeted the openly gay U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake.

Peter Montgomery, a Washington, DC-based writer, is an associate editor for Religion Dispatches and a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way. His work focuses on religion, politics, and LGBT issues. Follow him on twitter @petemont.