Competing Visions of Family & Freedom at UN; Methodists Try to Avoid Schism on Sexuality; Catholic Cardinal Denounces LGBT ‘Demonic Ideology’; Global LGBT Recap

Tuesday, May 17 was commemorated as International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, or IDAHOT. Among the many projects undertaken:

  • The Bedayaa Organization for LGBTQI in the Nile Valley Area (Egypt & Sudan), the Maseahat Foundaiton for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and the Trans-Homos-D Organization from Algeria launched a regional campaign called “Together Our Voice is Louder.”
  • ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association, released the 11th edition of “State Sponsored Homophobia,” which it describes as a world survey of sexual orientation laws coving criminalization, protection, and recognition. In addition to country-by-country reports on legislation, it includes essays on regional developments in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, and the Americas.
  • Human Rights First released a Voices for Equality video featuring activists from around the world.
  • In partnership with Human Rights Campaign and Outright, Logo has launched Global Ally, “a year-long storytelling project” meant to “provide inside looks into the lives of international LGBTI people and feature ways to send direct messages of solidarity and support to activists around the world.” HRC has also launched a video series “highlighting global innovators in the fight to LGBTQ equality.”

United Nations: Competing visions of family, freedom; Islamic nations block NGOs from HIV mtg 

On Monday, American Religious Right groups teamed up with the 25 nations of the Group of Friends of the Family for a three-hour event meant to push UN agencies to prioritize “family-friendly” policies during implementation of sustainable development goals. As I reported at Right Wing Watch, advocacy groups who routinely complain that LGBT equality threatens religious liberty in the U.S. embraced the world’s most religiously repressive nations in the name of the family:

Among the freedom-loving members of GoFF whose representatives spoke at Monday’s “high-level event” was Iran, which the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom has just accused of seeking to “eradicate” the country’s Baha’is

The GoFF “Statement in Support of the Family” was presented by Valentin Rybakov, deputy minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Belarus, where, according to Human Rights Watch, authorities “pressure and arrest human rights activists and critics on spurious charges” and “regularly harass independent and opposition journalists.” Of course, there’s a similar situation in Russia, which doesn’t keep American Religious Right groups from swooning over Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay policies.

Putin-defending Austin Ruse, who heads the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) and fights to keep recognition of LGBT and reproductive rights out of international agreements, was a convener of the event. During his remarks, he singled out for praise the governments of Sudan and Saudi Arabia, saying they had each intervened at crucial moments to “save” UN documents from unwanted language on the family. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom calls Saudi Arabia “uniquely repressive” when it comes to religious freedom, and says Sudan “represses and marginalizes the country’s minority Christian community.”

That same evening at the UN, at a very different event, Outright Action International honored Yuli Rustinawati, an activist who founded advocacy group Arus Pelangi in Indonesia. As we have been reporting, LGBT Indonesians have subject to a wave of homophobic rhetoric from religious and political figures. Speaking with reporters before the event, Pelangi said that the anti-LGBT “moral panic” that has been incited over the past several months is unlike anything she has seen in the past 10 years. But, she said, “We haven’t lost hope and we are not going to give up.” She and OutRight Executive Director Jessica Stern said that it is the responsibility of the government, some of whose ministers are responsible for intensely hostile rhetoric, to get the situation under control.

Also honored was openly gay Crown Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, who founded and runs the Lakshya Trust, which tackles HIV and other issues. He says the Supreme Court ruling that re-criminalized homosexuality has led to Trust workers being arrested for distributing condoms, threatened with blackmail, and even sexually assaulted by police.

From Michael Lambert at Out:

When comparing their countries to the U.S., both activists said that recent breakthroughs—like the landmark Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage—had reverberated throughout the international community. For better or worse.

“We are not even looking at marriage now because we have not got our fundamental rights,” Gohil said. “That is our priority.”

Rustinawati agreed. “What happened last year in the U.S. with the same-sex marriage ruling is also affecting us,” she said. “The media is reporting that marriage is now our sole agenda. That is not the case—at least not now. Freedom of assembly, freedom of expression—that’s what we’re fighting for.”

Also recognized by OutRight were U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons; the UN Free & Equal campaign; and Dan Bross, who heads Microsoft’s Global Corporate Responsibility Program.

In other UN news, the Organization of Islamic States, along with Tanzania, Cameroon, and Russia, are together blocking 22 nonprofit organizations, “most of which work explicitly with gay and transgender communities,” from participating in an upcoming High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS. The United States, European Union, and Canada have protested the exclusion, which is apparently allowed under UN rules.

Michelle Nichols reported for Reuters on Tuesday:

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote to General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft and said the groups appeared to have been blocked for involvement in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy.

“Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” Power wrote.

World Congress of Families: Leaders turn ‘family’ summit into attack on the West

The “natural family” was also the focus of the World Congress of Families convening in Tbilisi, Georgia which brought together American Religious Right activists with social conservatives from around the world to talk about fighting legal abortion and “gender ideology” – a term encompassing LGBT equality and sex education. Giorgi Lomsadze noted in EurasiaNet before the gathering that it was timed to coincide with the anniversary of “a violent 2013 mob attack on an anti-homophobia rally” that was led by Orthodox priests.

The gathering was presided over by Levan Vasadze, who promoted the event with a statement that the West “is attacking our Christian culture with atheism, new forms of socialism and sexual radicalism.” In his opening remarks, Vasadze delivered a set of demands to the West:

Stop this insanity, he said to enthusiastic applause. Stop interfering in the internal affairs of this sovereign country; stop financing attacks on our church and family traditions through hundreds of your NGOs.

Vasadze’s vehement attack on the West “did not easily resonate with all Western conference-goers,” writes ErasiaNet’s Lomsadze, “who saw their gathering as designed to promote an evangelical message of Christian love and the need to fight ‘Satan’s lies’ to preserve the sanctity of a traditional family.”

Georgia’s Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II welcomed what WCF says were “more than 2,000 delegates form more than 50 countries.” A WCF press release says Ilia “warned against attempts to re-define family.” Vladimir Putin’s allies have positioned the Russian Orthodox Church as the defender of Christian civilization, language echoed in Vasadze’s remarks, as described by WCF:

Levan Vasadze welcomed the World Congress of Families participants and spoke of new Christian Civilization that rejects the neo-liberal ideology infecting the post-modern West, the lost virtues of Western Civilization, and transcends a bipolar paradigm to create a new East-West Christendom.  He spoke of Georgia as the one to lead this effort to show the world that “Georgia Is Family!”

Former U.S. President George W. Bush sent a message praising the Georgian people and the World Congress of Families; he did not attend but was honored with the Family and Democracy Award.

The Associated Press reported that Georgian police had detained 10 gays rights activists that they said were painting “all love is equal” on the fence of the patriarch’s office. An LGBT activist said that such “guerilla tactics” were adopted when police responded to a request for a permit by saying they could not guarantee activists’ safety

United Methodist Church: Bishops create commission to avoid schism over sexuality issues

The United Methodist Church, whose global policy-making body met May 10-20 in its quadrennial General Conference, is “struggling to avoid a split over gay rights,” according to Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll. The church has 12 million members worldwide, 7 million of those in the United States.

More than 100 clergy came out on the eve of General Conference. On Wednesday, delegates voted 428-405 to create a commission that “will spend at least two years reviewing policy on the subject” and developing a plan to deal with sharp differences within the denomination on inclusion of LGBT people in the church and in ministry. The New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein said the move was widely seen as “a last-ditch effort to save the church from schism.”

The move keeps in place for now the policy adopted in 1972 that says the “practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Zoll notes that 30 percent of the delegates at General Conference are from Africa, which, like those from the American south, have predominately conservative views on sexuality issues.

A recent survey by the church found about 54 percent of U.S. pastors and lay people in leadership roles agreed with the church restrictions on gays and lesbians, although only 41 percent of congregants held the same view. The Rev. Adam Hamilton, who leads Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, estimates two-thirds of Methodists are centrists who could live with those differences. But Methodist conservatives and liberals have become even more polarized over the years, raising questions about how they can stay in the same church…

Clergy who support gay rights have been increasingly defiant, conducting same-sex marriages or coming out as gay and lesbian from the pulpit. Doing so risked penalties, including permanent loss of clergy credentials. Conservatives have stepped up demands for punishment of such actions. Separately Wednesday, the Judicial Council, or top church court, ruled that mandatory penalties, which conservatives had sought, were unconstitutional.

Zoll reports that some bishops explicitly discussed a proposal to split the church into conservative, centrist, and liberal wings.

The rumors intensified to the point that the president of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Bruce Ough, was compelled to stand before the full conference Tuesday to address them. He said no plan would be advanced to break up the denomination, but he acknowledged bishops were divided and struggling to find a way to move forward.

“I have a broken heart in that collectively we have a broken heart,” Ough told the delegates. “Our heart breaks over the pain, distrust, anger, anxiety and disunity” evident at the conference.

As committees rejected appeals to lift LGBT prohibitions, gay rights advocates staged multiple protests, standing on the perimeter of one session with rainbow-colored duct tape over their mouths and lying on the floor with their hands and feet bound.

At ThinkProgress, Jack Jenkins said the commission might lead to a reorganization of the church that could potentially “grant bishops the ability to institute LGBT-friendly policies within their areas of responsibility.”

“This historic action by the Council of Bishops (COB) represents a significant institutional shift in the direction of inclusion and equality,” read a statement from Matt Berryman, Executive Director of Methodist LGBT advocacy group Reconciling Ministries Network. “It is just a beginning, but it signals hope to an end of church trials, to celebrating all marriages, to accepting the gifts of our LGBTQ candidates for ministry, clergy and lay employees.”

“This is the first time the COB has put their collective voice around the urgent cries for change and acceptance,” he added. “We applaud their efforts knowing that the real work lies ahead. We call on the Council to act quickly and deliberately and to lead the church as promised. Today, we commit to hold the COB accountable for finally bringing justice to The United Methodist Church.”

UMC members have spent years wrangling over whether to allow bishops to ordain LGBT people and give pastors the ability to officiate same-sex marriages, with the debate typically hinging on a demographic question: According to the Public Religion Research Institute, a notable majority of American Methodists support same-sex marriage, but they are often outvoted by a coalition of domestic conservatives and representatives from UMC churches outside the United States.

But this year a groundswell of pro-LGBT activism sprung up ahead of General Conference, with left-leaning Methodists calling for the church to embrace same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly bisexual, transgender, lesbian, and gay people.

Catholic Church: Cardinal slams US moves toward LGBT equality, warns against ‘demonic ideology’

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. this week, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments, sounded like a four-star general in the global anti-LGBT culture war, warning that the devil is “intent on destroying the family” and urging resistance to “demonic ideology.”

The rupture of the foundational relationships of someone’s life—through separation, divorce, or distorted impositions of the family, such as cohabitation or same sex unions—is a deep wound that closes the heart to self-giving love [unto] death, and even leads to cynicism and despair…

Advanced societies, including, I regret, this nation, have done and continue to do everything possible to legalize such situations.  But this can never be a truthful solution.  It is like putting bandages on the infected wound. It will continue to poison the body until antibiotics are taken.

Sadly, the advent of artificial reproductive technologies, surrogacy, so-called homosexual ‘marriage,’ and other evils of gender ideology, will inflict even more wounds in the midst of generations we live with.

Sarah endorsed claims of religious persecution by American social conservatives, warning that “God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated” in the U.S. and urging Americans to use the freedom “bequeathed by your Founding Fathers, lest you lose it.”

“Do we not see signs of this insidious war in this great nation of the United States?” Sarah asked.  “In the name of ‘tolerance,’ the Church’s teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the human person are dismantled.  The legalization of same-sex marriage, the obligation to accept contraception within healthcare programs, and even ‘bathroom bills’ that allow men to use the women’s restroom and locker rooms.  Should not a biological man use the men’s restroom?  How simpler can that concept be?”

Among those in attendance were Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, who also spoke about what he described as threats to religious liberty.

“A lot of people think faith is just an odd, colorful mask for the ugly face of intolerance,” Ryan said. “I am not saying we should feel put upon. I mean, saints were thrown to the lions. By that standard, we have it easy. What I am saying is, we have to advocate for our faith. And we should defend religious liberty not just on material grounds — that is, because people of faith do good things, like give to charity or volunteer. We should also defend it on spiritual grounds — that is, because living out our faith gives us joy.”

New Ways Ministry’s Bob Shine notes that Craig Ford and Annie Selak, doctoral students in theology at Boston College, have each written about the ways LGBT voices are absent from Pope Francis’s “Amoris Laetitia” exhortation on family, and how they are excluded from conversation of the document even among progressive Catholics.

Bangladesh: Islamist attacks force LGBT people further into shadows

Sanjeev Miglani reports for Reuters that recent Islamist militant attacks on gay rights activists are forcing the already marginalized LGBT community further into the shadows. The story notes that weeks after the high-profile murder of a gay activist editor and his friend, “another friend receieved a chilling message that he was next in line.”

The slaying of the two gay men is part of a broader pattern of killings claimed by Islamist militants, who have stepped up a violent campaign in the mainly Muslim nation of 160 million people.

At least 23 people have been hacked to death with machetes since February, 2015. Most attacks occurred in homes, but some happened in broad daylight.

The main groups claiming these murders have been al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State, lending the impression of an intensifying rivalry between two movements engaged in global jihad and trying to lure recruits.

None of the LGBT people who spoke with Reuters about threats they had received had gone to the police, which they feared would “out” them and invite further harassment. Said one, “In the eyes of the law we are criminals, in the eyes of our religion we are sinners and from the viewpoint of society we are perverts.”

Police have charged an Islamist militant in the killings, and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the murderers would be held accountable, but he also issued a warning of sorts to other LGBT activists:

“I request everyone to express views moderately. We have learned that Xulhaz was an editor of an LGBT magazine and used to work to protect the rights of gay people. It is not in line with our society,” he told reporters.

Seychelles: Parliament dumps sodomy law, official says not up to govt to determine sin

The parliament of Seychelles, a majority-Catholic 115-island archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, voted on Wednesday to do away with the colonial-era law against “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” Violations of the sodomy law had been subject to punishment of up to 14 years in prison.

More from the Seychelles News Agency:

The government decision has given rise to a variety of opinions. Those who have spoken against the decriminalization have said that it will cause moral decadence and destroy families, and from a religious point of view people have said that sodomy is a sin and should not be decriminalized…

When addressing the proportion of the population who have said that sodomy is a sin, [Foreign Affairs Minister Joel] Morgan said that by decriminalizing the act does not mean the act is no longer a sin.

“A sin is not determined by the government but by religion. Each individual needs to follow his or her conscience on the issue.”

Catholic Bishop Denis Wiehe called on members of the National Assembly to “vote according to their informed conscience, free from all irrelevant external interference” and only taking into account “the impact your vote will have on the future of our society.”

He noted that homosexuals have dignity like every human being while also stating that all the Biblical and moral tradition of the Church teaches that homosexual acts are “morally reprehensible.”

Mexico: Marriage march continues, president proposes constitutional change

On Tuesday, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, President Enrique Peña Nieto “signed a constitutional reform initiative” that could legalize same-sex marriage and allow transgender people to change the gender listed on their birth certificate.

Journalist Rex Wockner, who monitors the steady march toward national marriage equality that is moving through the complex relationship between state legislatures and the federal courts, notes:

On May 17, 2016, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed amending Mexico’s Constitution to make marriage equality the law of the land and sent his proposal to Congress. Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote by members present the day of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic — followed by ratification by the state congresses of at least 16 of Mexico’s 31 states. The Federal District (Mexico City) doesn’t get to vote on ratification. It is not out of the question that this all could happen. At the same time, the bombshell announcement makes some Mexican marriage-equality activists nervous that the undertaking could backfire and lead to a constitutional definition of marriage as man-woman-only, undoing everything you’ve read here. Never a dull moment in Mexico’s wild ride to marriage equality.

Meanwhile, the state legislature in Michoacan amended the family code to recognize marriages for same-sex couples. According to Privincia’s Ibeth Cruz, “church groups” opposed the measure and protested outside the legislative session.

Scotland: Church of Scotland allows ministers to be in marriage with same-sex partner

In a compromise, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted his week to maintain its position that marriage is between a man and a woman, but also to allow congregations who feel differently to appoint a minister who is in a marriage with someone of the same sex.

Italy: Civil unions signed into law, Catholic opponents push for referendum

Ending Italy’s status as the last western European nation not to grant legal recognition to same-sex couples, President Sergio Mattarella signed the civil unions law that won parliamentary approval on May 11. Under strong pressure from the Catholic Church the bill was stripped of provisions permitting same-sex couples to adopt, but conservatives are still pushing for a referendum to overturn the law.

Bolivia: Bill to allow legal gender change advances over church objections

The Chamber of Deputies voted to allow transgender people to legally change their name and gender; the change must be approved by the Senate. According to Pink News, the bill was opposed by the Evangelical Churches of La Paz, which said it would lead to legalization of same-sex marriage. Deputy Justice Minister Diego Jimenez, who is a backer of the bill, said it would not alter the country’s marriage laws.

Australia: American activists engage over marriage referendum

American anti-marriage-equality activist Jennifer Roback Morse was in Australia to strategize with opponents of same-sex marriage in advance of a national referendum on the topic.

India: Openly gay Apple CEO meets with Prime Minister

Apple CEO Tim Cook is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which Andy Towle reports is the first time the government leader will host an openly gay CEO on Indian soil, where homosexuality is criminalized. Manu Balachandran at Quartz writes:

To be clear, this isn’t the first time Modi is meeting Cook. The two met in the US last year during Modi’s visit to the Silicon Valley, where same-sex marriages are legal. But in India, homosexuality is an offence punishable by up to life imprisonment. For years, lawmakers have discussed decriminalising homosexuality. Yet, nobody really has the courage, or the will, to do away with the 155-year-old colonial era law.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been vociferous in its disapproval of homosexuality. “We support Section 377 (the law) because we believe that homosexuality is (an) unnatural act that cannot be supported,” India’s current home minister and former president of the BJP, Rajnath Singh, said in 2013.

Earlier this year, however, India’s supreme court said it will reexamine the ban on gay sex.

Bermuda: Premier says he will vote for civil unions

Premier Michael Dunkley urged voters to be on the “right side of history” when they cast their ballots in a June 23 referendum, reports the Royal Gazette. which will ask voters to answer two separate questions: whether they support same-sex marriage and whether they support civil unions.

Asked to state his position, the Premier replied: “I have expressed my position on a number of occasions. I have made it very clear that I respect people’s opinions but I support human rights and I think it’s very important that people come out and vote yes because I don’t think in the year 2016 we can discriminate against anybody’s rights.

“Whether I support or dislike somebody’s lifestyle, that’s not up for me to judge. But for me, as an individual, it’s to make sure I respect and understand people’s rights and I intend to vote yes for civil unions on June 23.”

The ballot paper on June 23 will ask voters two questions: if they support same-sex marriage and if they support civil unions. Mr Dunkley did not reveal how he would vote on the first question.

Antigua: Minister of Social Transformation will recommend decriminalization

Minister of Social Transformation Samantha Marshall says she thinks the country’s colonial-era “buggery” law is antiquated. “To be honest I don’t know that it is something that is enforced at this stage and serves and purpose (and) so should be removed,” she told the Observer. The United Nations Human Rights Council has called for decriminalization.

Currently the law calls for imprisonment of up to 15 years, though officials told the UN that people are not persecuted for consensual sex.

Canada: Government proposes new protections for transgender people

This week the Canadian government proposed legislation that would update the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, so that “gender identity and gender expression would be considered a distinguishing feature of a person, and one’s right to live free of discrimination, harassment and violence based on that feature would be recognized and protected by the Canadian legal system.”

Africa: A call for reflection on advocacy structures and strategies

Last week Pambazuka News published “Where do we go from here? A call for critical reflection on queer/LGBTIA+ activism in Africa,” by Liesl Theron, John McAllister, and Mariam Armisen. From the introduction:

In the informal discussions that happen at the margins of African queer/LGBTIA+ workshops and conferences and in activist social spaces, we increasingly hear acknowledgments that “something” must shift in the movement. There is a widespread feeling that, despite impressive growth in the numbers and capacities of organizations promoting queer/LGBTIA+ issues, there has been little impact on the everyday lives of African queer/LGBTIA+ individuals and communities. Discriminatory laws and policies remain stubbornly in place in almost all countries, and the hostile public perceptions of queer/LGBTIA+ identities that sustain these laws and policies seem as pervasive as ever, and are increasingly vitriolic in many places.

At the same time, stories of heartache, frustration, ennui, and burnout are rife within the activist community, while competition and antagonism between individual activists and among the diverse groups subsumed under the LGBTIA+ umbrella, together with stories of mismanagement, favoritism, and outright corruption, bedevil attempts to create effective collaborations.

This essay is intended as an exploration rather than as a manifesto. We hope to provoke a more focused discussion of the malaise in current queer/LGBTIA+ organizing and encourage more research and reflection on what lies behind it, and especially on ways out of it, by bringing together some of the key questions and complaints we keep hearing from activists and funders.

Gambia: Europe calls for decriminalization, better human rights protections

The European Parliament last week adopted a resolution calling on Gambia to do away with laws criminalizing LGBT and to protect their human rights.

China: Trans man continues fight over firing

A transgender man who challenged his firing in court is vowing to challenge a ruling that his dismissal was legal, reports the BBC.

Nigeria: Foundation launches survey of LGBT Nigerians

The Bisi Alimi Foundation is hoping to reach 500 to 1000 LGBT Nigerians with a survey on the impact of homophobia and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The survey is for people living in Nigeria and those who have lived outside of the country for less than 10 years.

North America: Campaign urges Asian parents to embrace LGBT children

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance has launched a new campaign urging Asian parents to accept their LGBT children. Laura Chubb at Gay Star News says it is one of a number of initiatives within the Asian community in North America “that seek to destigmatize LGBT issues and foster greater understanding between Asian parents and their LGBT children.”

The campaign includes television ads on cable networks in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Tagalog. The group’s director, Glenn Magpantay:

For generations, a culture of Old World shame and misinformation has kept our Asian American LGBT community in the closet. Tradition told us that coming out would bring shame to our parents and dishonor to ancestors. But that led to unhappy marriages, depression and even suicide. Lives were ruined. Our new Asian Family Acceptance Campaign offers a solution to this eternal dilemma.

These unique ads will break this cycle of shame and suicide by helping Asian-Pacific Islander (API) parents, many who are immigrants and bilingual, to open the door to unconditional love and acceptance for their LGBT children.