Challenging Both Homophobia in Islam and Populist Bogeyman of ‘The Homophobic Muslim’; and More in Global LGBT Recap

A participant in London's LGBT Pride Parade 2016 (courtesy Flickr user Alisdare Hickson via Creative Commons)

Taken together, several articles published this week challenge populist portrayals of the “homophobic Muslim” as a threat to Western values in various countries, while also challenging conservative Muslim teachings that queerness and Islam are incompatible.

In the Guardian, Moustafa Bayoumi reflects on a recent poll showing that most U.S. Muslims believe homosexuality “should be accepted by society,” making them far more supportive than white evangelical Christians. But that hasn’t kept the “homophobic Muslim” from becoming a “populist bogeyman,” he writes:

You’d never know it if you listened to populist leaders. Whether in the US, the UK, or on the European continent, the idea that Muslims represent a civilisational threat to the west because of an intrinsic ultra-conservatism, which includes a violent hatred of gay people, is so widespread that it is seen as a truism. Not only is this tidy titbit of political wisdom false, it also ends up obscuring the degree of homophobia in other parts of society, and in our politics.

Rightwing populism is especially devoted to this narrative. From Donald Trump to the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, France’s Marine Le Pen and Ukip’s Anne Marie Waters, today’s demagogues seek to convince the public that they are the true defenders of freedom, courting LGBT votes by dangling the caricature of a dangerous, intolerant and homophobic Muslim in front of their eyes. But this apparent support for LGBT rights is often only skin-deep.

During the US presidential campaign, Trump frequently argued that he was the best candidate for LGBT voters because Hillary Clinton was soft on Muslim immigration. At the Republican convention, Trump stated: “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” Now Trump is proposing to ban all transgender people from serving in the military.

Bayoumi touches on anti-Muslim messaging by politicians in France, the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany where, he notes, “The anti-Muslim populist party Alternative for Germany opposed [last month’s marriage equality vote] on ideological grounds, while all six Muslim members of parliament voted in support of the bill.” Adds Bayoumi, “Incidentally, Chancellor Angela Merkel, now widely seen as the pre-eminent guardian of western liberal values, voted against the bill.”

BBC News reports on a Berlin mosque where “men and women pray together, women are allowed to lead Friday prayers, and gay, lesbian and transgender people are welcome.”

“Our mosque is open for everybody,” says mosque founder Seyran Ates, a German Turkish-born lawyer and women’s rights activist.

“And we mean that really seriously: everybody, every lifestyle. We are not God. We don’t decide who’s a good or a bad Muslim. Anybody can come through this door – whether you are heterosexual or homosexual, we don’t care, it’s not our right to ask.” …

The Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque is part of a growing movement known as inclusive Islam.

There are now liberal Muslim communities and inclusive mosques all over the world – some in private homes, others in changing locations – but Ms Ates says the Berlin mosque is a major step forward for inclusive Islam, because it is the first permanent liberal mosque, with a sign on the door, open to anyone. …

One of the first inclusive mosques was set up in Paris in 2012by Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, a gay imam from Algeria who now lives in France with his male civil partner. He is working with Ms Ates to help set up inclusive mosques elsewhere, including in Britain.

“Europe is the place where we can work on, what we consider to be, the reform of Islam,” he tells me during a visit to the new mosque in Berlin.

“Because we have freedom of speech and democracy and education and welfare.”

The BBC reports that Ates “has received hundreds of death threats from extremists, mainly from Turkey and the Arab world.”

The Young Queer Alliance in the Republic of Mauritius challenges the notion that being queer and Muslim is “an irreconcilable dichotomy.”

Kilden, which calls itself “an information centre for gender research,” reports that according to a recent study by theologian Levi Geir Eidhamar, young Muslims in Norway “are more liberal than their parents’ generation when it comes to equality and homosexuality, but both groups find support for their views in Islam.” The Kilden article also examines other studies about the relationship between religious beliefs and the social context. More from Eidhamar:

“If you ask Muslims in Indonesia and Norway what ideal gender roles entail you will get very different answers – but everyone will have the opinion that their own interpretation represents the genuine and true Islam.” …

“When you are culturalised and raised in Norway, gender equality is considered a benefit. Gender equality is then regarded as an important value within the true Islam. In Indonesia, however, characteristics such as obedience, order and harmony are commonly regarded as significant values. It is considered important by many that the wife is submissive to her husband. This is considered important for the afterlife, whereas for Muslims in Norway, gender roles are something that concerns the here and now.”

He writes that young Norwegian Muslims are influenced in their religious interpretation by Norwegian attitudes about equality, though the people he surveyed do not necessarily agree with him:

To them, this is not about Norwegian values; it’s about the true Islam. They are sometimes discouraged by their parents’ religious interpretation, which they often describe as characterised by the culture of their country of origin. The young people claim that their parents are ‘blind to think this is Islam’, and that by going back to the sources – the Quran and the hadiths – they are the ones who know the true Islam. Yet at the same time these young people might be blind themselves to how Norwegian values affect their own religious interpretation.

At Huffington Post, Omar Sarwar writes about LGBT Muslims in the U.S. emerging “from the shadows, determined to find a practice of Islam that celebrates queerness”

Catholic Church: South African bishop promotes reparative therapy, Brazilian promotes acceptance

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier announced on Twitter earlier this month that he is reading “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach,” by the late advocate of reparative therapy Joseph Nicolosi. His August 1 tweet called the book “a challenging work on a subject of great importance.” The next day he followed up with a tweet referring to a quote from the book: “All three great pioneers of psychiatry—Freud, Jung, and Adler—saw homosexuality as pathological. Yet today, homosexuality is not to be found in the psychiatric manual of mental disorders (DSM-III-R).”

The conservative Catholic LifeSiteNews noted that Napier has defended other bishops promoting orthodoxy; earlier this year he said that allowing Communion for some people living in “irregular” family situations would make it harder for the Church in Africa to hold the line against polygamists.

LifeSiteNews and other conservative Catholics were less pleased with Brazilian Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos, who said at a July 30 mass that “you cannot say” that homosexuality is chosen. “It if is not a choice, if it is not a disease, in the perspective of faith it can only be a gift,” he reportedly said. “A gift from God. It’s given by God. But perhaps our prejudices do not get the gift of God.” Crux reports that after seeing controversy generated by his homily, the bishop said that he wanted to “save lives” from “prejudices that kill.”

Cruz, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 after serving in some of Brazil’s more notorious slums, said when slavery was legal, “they said we black people didn’t have a soul.”

“Just as we were able to leap, in the wisdom of the Gospel, and overcome slavery, is it not the time for us to leap, from a perspective of faith, and overcome prejudices against our brothers who experience same-sex attraction?” the bishop asked.

Cruz said he was disturbed after hearing a radio interview with a professor who documented high rates of suicide among transsexuals and transvestites.

He started to think about “so many brothers and sisters with a homosexual orientation who feel misunderstood and unloved by us, who are Church, by their families, by their society and even by themselves, as it was in the days of slavery,” Cruz said.

The bishop also referred to Pope Francis’ quote from 2013: “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”

Nepal: Kathmandu Pride coincides with Hindu festival; country becomes LGBT ‘beacon’ in Asia

AFP reported on Kathmandu’s August 8 pride parade, which is “timed to coincide with the Hindu festival of Gai Jatra, which brings hundreds onto the streets to pay respects to those who have died in the past year:

Historically Gai Jatra, which dates back to when Nepal was under royal rule, was also a chance for people to criticise the government — with many people in colourful costumes satirising politicians.

In recent years the gay community has started using the festival to call attention to its demands for equal rights. …

Nepal has some of South Asia’s most progressive laws on homosexuality and transgender rights, but activists say members of the community continue to face discrimination and live in the shadows of society.

Human Rights Watch researcher Kyle Knight discusses the organizing strategies and tactics used by activists in Nepal, where LGBT people were once derided as “social pollutants,” have used to make the country “a global LGBT rights beacon.”

Slovakia: Some gays outside capital not feeling Pride; priest fired for marriage equality views

As LGBT people prepare for the Bratislava diversity festival on August 19, the Slovak Spectator spoke with people, LGBT and not, from regions outside the capital city where coming out is harder to do. “Many of the people The Slovak Spectator addressed cited religion as the reason why a conservative and closed attitude persists among Slovaks,” the article says.

Slovakia remains a country that hasn’t rooted any recognition of same-sex couples and their families in its legislation. Yet the Constitution was amended in 2014 to protect marriage “as a unique bond between a man and a woman”. Subsequently, the invalid 2015 referendum initiated by the Alliance for Family, also backed by the church, was aimed against the LGBTI community.

The story quotes a couple of gay men who object to the “exhibitionists” at the festival, but notes that about 1,300 people have confirmed on Facebook that they are planning to attend.

Also of interest is a story posted in July about Jakub Pavlús, a young priest who moved from Slovakia to the Czech Republic after “The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECAV) chose not to prolong the year-long contract with him, because he defended same-sex marriages.” Pavlús now serves a parish of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ČCE) in Šumperk.

Pavlús’ case, however, is not only a story of a suspended priest, according to theologian Ondrej Prostredník of the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava.

“The bishops used Pavlús to send a message to others,” Prostredník told The Slovak Spectator. “Since then, the discussion about homosexual marriages has completely stopped in the church.”

Pakistan:  Vice documentary on LGBT life in ‘one of the world’s least tolerant countries’

Vice published a 16-minute video documentary, “Being LGBT in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” Here’s how it describes it:

Pakistan is one of the world’s least tolerant countries when it comes to homosexuality. Being gay is illegal in the Islamic republic and carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Gay men are often accused of bringing shame to their families and commonly face violence — sometimes even murder.

Gay-focused apps like Grindr, Scruff, and ManJam offer a discreet way for Pakistan’s LGBT community to connect and socialize, but they’re also risky: A man was recently arrested for allegedly using the apps to lure gay men and kill them.

VICE News went to Pakistan to unravel the country’s underground gay scene and examine the ways that technology is being used to achieve sexual freedom.

 Australia: As Former PM declares culture war, plans for mail vote on marriage face legal challenge

Australians not already on voting rolls will have two weeks starting from last Thursday in order to register to vote or update their registration in the planned vote-by-mail on marriage equality. The plan is facing a court challenge, while some fear that the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which has been hit with budget and staff cuts, has the wherewithal to carry out a successful postal ballot. There is disagreement among LGBT activists about whether to wage a campaign for a “yes” vote or boycott the vote so as not to grant it legitimacy.

Because the government’s efforts to win Senate approval for an actual plebiscite have failed repeatedly, the government has decided to “circumvent the Senate” and have the statistical bureau handle the voluntary postal vote, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, who notes that the decision means election law restrictions on “malicious” campaign materials will not apply to the postal vote, leaving equality activists fearful that LGBT people “will be the victim or a vicious two-month hate campaign.” Senator Penny Wong challenged government claims that the vote will be unifying. “The Australian Christian lobby described our children as the stolen generation,” she said. “It is not a unifying moment. It is exposing our children to that kind of hatred.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged people to vote no in what the Sydney Morning Herald’s Nick O’Malley described as a “declaration of a general culture war”:

“I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no,” said Abbott. “If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”

Later that day the director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, wrote that “the marriage plebiscite is a referendum on freedom of speech and ‘safe schools'”. He has lamented the “stolen generation” that are the children of Australian gays.

U.S. marriage equality strategist Evan Wolfson told O’Malley that he can hear in Abbott’s comments echoes of the anti-equality strategy deployed in the U.S. by anti-equality strategist Frank Schubert.

Russia: Journalist wins reprieve from deportation, video message to gay Russians goes viral

We noted last week that a gay journalist facing deportation to Uzbekistan, had appealed for refugee status in Russia. ABC News reported that a Moscow appeals court has temporarily blocked his deportation, which followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights ordering an emergency stay.

Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich profiled Armet Kolesov, a 23-year-old gay Russian violinist who lives in Chicago. This spring, a day after his birthday, Kolesov recorded a 15-minute message to young gay people in Russia, and it went viral. A few excerpts:

He went on, in Russian, to tell the story of growing up as the fourth of six brothers in a small town, an hour’s drive from Moscow, where his father was a deacon and his mother was a youth pastor at the Pentecostal church.

“In my family,” he said on the video, “I often heard that all gays should be destroyed, that they should be bombed and that if anyone in our family turns out to be gay, my family should kill them with their bare hands.”

He spoke for 15 minutes, dressed in a plain white pullover shirt, his voice occasionally shaky as he talked of his suicidal thoughts and his search for courage. …

“My heart has been breaking for the five months since I posted this video,” he said one day this week, sitting at Cafecito, a Cuban coffee shop near Roosevelt University, where he is a master’s student studying violin. …

Almost every day brings Kolesov new messages from Russian kids trapped in a culture where they’re shamed and threatened. He spends hours communicating with them, grateful that he has made it to Chicago, where he doesn’t have to hide.

Taiwan: Resistance to marriage equality continues despite high court ruling

A case initially brought by a lesbian couple in 2015 after the local household registration office had refused to register their marriage, was revived after the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in May. The office says that until the law has changed—something the Constitutional Court gave the legislature two years to do—they will not have a legal basis to register same-sex couples’ marriages. With rhetoric that will sound familiar to U.S. activists, anti-marriage-equality protesters argued that the Constitutional Court had overstepped its bounds and made a decision that should be left to legislators. Faith-based groups have been leading resistance to marriage equality.

Mexico: Local officials resist court ruling on marriage equality

Marriage equality continues to expand via the complicated interplay between Mexican federal courts and state legislatures; the process is explained and tracked by journalist Rex Wockner. With an amparo, or court order, two women became the first same-sex couple married in southern Veracruz. Elsewhere, staff in the civil registry of the municipality of San Andrés Cholula refused to process a gay couple’s marriage request, reportedly on orders from the state government, even though the nation’s Supreme Court on August 1 overturned the part of the civil code of the state of Puebla that restricts marriage to a man and a woman.

Canada: Christian landlord evicts gay tenant

Caleb Pheloung was evicted from the Vancouver room he was renting when his landlord learned that he was gay and said it violated her “Christian values” to rent a room to him. British Columbia’s Human Rights Code, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, does not apply in this case because he was renting a room and sharing space in her home.

Northern Ireland: Divisions on LGBT issues emerging in DUP

The Belfast Telegraph reports that divisions within the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on LGBT issues “are becoming increasingly evident.” The DUP has long used a parliamentary device to prevent a vote on marriage equality from being taken. The story quotes DUP councilor Tom Smith saying he has “absolutely no problem with Belfast Pride” and tweeting, “There is nothing wrong with being gay/transgender. We are all different thank goodness.” Pride organizers, citing guidelines against sectarian or abusive words, stopped a woman in the parade from carrying a sign that said “F*** the DUP.”

Canada: Defense Minister marches, dances with South Asian LGBT community

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan danced on a Bollywood Float at the Vancouver Pride Parade, a move that “thrilled” the South Asian LGBT community, reports Can-India News.

Kenya: Equality activists urge president to ban forced anal exams

Eric Gitari, executive director of NGLHRC-Kenya, urged President Uhuru Kenyatta, who appears to have won reelection in an election being contested by the opposition, to take a stronger stand on behalf of LGBT human rights and to end the use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexual conduct.