Global LGBT Recap: Adventists Talk About, Not To, LGBT People; British Muslim Group Welcomes Gay-Rights Activist; Homophobia Exports Continue

Last week we mentioned the World Bank event on the costs of homophobia: video of that event is now available online.

Global/South Africa: Seventh-day Adventists Talk About, Not To, LGBT People

This week in Cape Town, South Africa, the Seventh Day Adventist Church has been holding an international invitation-only all-expenses-paid summit in Cape Town, South Africa, entitled In God’s Image: Scripture, Sexuality and Society Summit.  The conference’s welcome letter says the purpose of the conversation with people in global leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is “to gain a greater understanding of the issues surrounding alternative sexualities, and to counsel together regarding the challenges the church is facing in this area, in order to find a way to be redemptive as well as obedient to the teachings of Scripture in a more consistent manner around the world.” The “Learning Objectives” for the event focus on religious, educational, and legal responses to “alternative sexualities.”

What conference-goers won’t do is hear from is LGBT people.  Last week Eliel Cruz, president of the Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance, criticized his church for planning a conference in Africa “to talk about LGBT people without allowing them to share their stories or perspectives.” Cruz wrote:

The break-out session titles help show just how extreme and one-sided this conference will be. For example, “Alternative Sexualities: A Disorder or a Choice?, “A Continuum of Care with Inclusion of Pastoral Counseling to Conversion/Reparative Therapy”, and “Relating to Children and Youth Challenged by Alternative Sexualities” are just a few of the breakout sessions that seem to be derived straight from the 1940s when we used such language to institutionalize queer people. We are using decades old ideas that have been proven, and cited by numerous organizations to be extremely harmful. We are causing irreversible damage and we are hiding behind our religious beliefs to do it.

The Seventh-day Adventist church is one of the largest protestant denominations in Uganda and has a growing number of new converts in East Africa. In 2010, in the heat of the “Kill the Gays Bill” media frenzy, the Vice President of the Seventh-day Adventist African Conference vocally supported the law in Uganda while it still included death for those convicted of “homosexuality” (he later said in a classic non-apology apology that he had been misquoted).The Seventh-day Adventist church has been present, promoting the homophobic messages that have been birthed in the states.

Cruz also highlights the work of Wayne Blakeley, who describes himself as a “person redeemed from the homosexual lifestyle,” who has toured Africa with his anti-gay message.

Yolanda Elliott, president of Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, also criticized the denomination’s “deadly” denial and silence on the stigmatization and criminalization of homosexuality in Africa. According to Elliot, SDA Kinship has members from more than 80 countries, but not one was invited to speech to this week’s sexuality summit.

The Seventh-day Adventist church could be using its influence in the region to quell homophobic attitudes and laws, but instead, it has remained silent in the face of oppression, discrimination, and violence. Instead, the church is planning a summit in South Africa that will only further marginalize vulnerable populations on the African continent…

It is dangerous for our church to organize such an echo chamber for conversations about sexual and gender minorities when LGBTI Adventists on the very same continent are at risk for beatings, prison terms, and mob violence. I can’t fathom why my church is spending so much money and effort to transport delegates who agree with the “company line” on sexuality and gender to a continent where several countries are passing brutal anti-LGBTI legislation.

Uganda and Nigeria: International Fallout Continues

The European Parliament passed a resolution last week condemning anti-gay laws in Nigeria and Uganda.  In response, the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Parliament reportedly “said it will discourage African heads of state and government from attending the EU-Africa summit scheduled for May should Western nations impose sanctions on Uganda and Nigeria.

Navi Pillay, the UN’s Human Rights chief, met with Nigeria’s justice minister last week and slammed the country’s new anti-gay law, saying it violated the Nigerian constitution as well as the African Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. According to Agence France-Presse:

“It (the law) may have negative consequences for public health in Nigeria,” the UN chief said.

“It may deter LGBT persons from taking up HIV education, prevention treatment and care services and also hinder the ability of government as well as civil society and religious groups from implementing such services.

She called on authorities to observe a “moratorium on prosecution”.

In response, Justice Minister Mohammed Bello Adoke said the law’s focus was discouraging same-sex marriage.

The New York Times published an op ed by Denver David Robinson, whose 2013 photo essay on gay Ugandans, which appeared in the Advocate in early 2013, was altered and reprinted, without permission, by the Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper, putting the lives of its gay Ugandan subjects at risk.

Noosim Naimasiah, a PhD candidate at the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda published an essay the Mail & Guardian saying that Uganda’s anti-gay law “has been enacted as a reaction to a debate constructed, for the most part, outside Uganda. Naimasiah criticizes both “fundamentalist Protestant groups from the United States” who are pushing anti-homosexuality laws and western activists and donor nations who are cutting aid or threatening to do so in response to Uganda’s new anti-gay law.  

On one side is the anti-homosexuality faction. It is composed of right-wing, neoliberal American evangelicals who have attached serious funding to the campaign. They have also abstracted religious texts against homosexuality as if people’s moralities are purely religious, and are not in constant negotiation with time, personality, history or politics.

They attach their religious fundamentalism to homogenous ideas of one African culture that finds homosexuality abhorrent, alongside anxieties about the death of the nuclear family and the supposed threat of children being recruited into homosexuality.

They ignore the historical evidence that shows that same-sex relationships are not new in Africa. They seek immediate recourse to the law in ways that are deeply reminiscent of colonial propaganda that sought to subjugate and eradicate the myriad ways through which difference was dealt with.

Naimasiah also criticizes western gay-rights activists who “posit sexuality and sexual desires as necessarily political identities” and writes that “To be homosexual in Uganda should surely be different in its history, its interaction with other identities and, therefore, in the possibilities that must be imagined, than in the US.”

United Kingdom: Muslim Group Welcomes Gay-Rights Activist

Tell Mama, a group that monitors anti-Muslim prejudice and supports victims of anti-Muslim violence, has named gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell a patron of the group, a move that makes him, in the words of Pink News, “one of the first openly gay persons appointed to a senior role in a mainstream, non-gay Muslim organization.” Tatchell:

“I hope that by taking up this position I can help build bridges between the Muslim and LGBT communities. We share a similar experience of intolerance and victimisation. I want to see us working together for our common good, so that we can live together in a society without hatred, discrimination and violence…While the tiny minority of Islamist extremists – and fanatics from all faiths and none – must be challenged, we also need to challenge the unjustified demonisation of the general Muslim population.”

The story also quotes Fiyaz Mughal, director of Tell Mama, praising Tatchell’s human rights activism. “He campaigns wholeheartedly against all forms of intolerance and discrimination, as do we, including anti-Muslim prejudice, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.”

Meanwhile, producers of a program called BBC Free Speech were criticized for dropping a debate about being gay and Muslim, a decision they justified based on security fears as well as a desire to show “respect” for concerns over offending members of the Birmingham Central Mosque where the event was to be held.

On another front, a local British politician who provoked controversy in January with a letter to a local newspaper blaming the country’s floods on the legalization of same-sex marriage was thrown out of his party (The UK Independence Party) and is now reportedly the subject of an investigation about whether he violated his town council’s code of conduct, which includes a clause saying that councilors must treat other people with respect. In the U.S. meanwhile, a congressional candidate who blamed gays for tornadoes and autism won the primary and will be the Republican challenger to Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

Taiwan: Church-Sponsored ‘Happy Family’ Rally Draws Pro-Equality Protesters, Including Buddhist Nuns

On Sunday, Christian churches held a “Happy Family” rally by “to promote the idea of a family as consisting of one father, one mother and their children.” One participant held a homemade sign praising anti-gay laws in Uganda and urging the government to “be courageous” and follow Kampala’s example.

The event was crashed by about 100 pro-marriage-equality activists shouting, “Let us in, we also support faily values, we also want to have a happy family.” According to the Taipei Times, scuffles between the demonstrators calmed down after organizers agreed to let activists participate as long as they stayed quiet.

“However, despite the organizer’s decision, when the gay rights activists walked into the venue, some of those attending the church rally tried to block their entrance, leading to more minor verbal and physical clashes….When one of the same-sex marriage advocates tried to explain to the church rally participants the view that everyone should enjoy the same right to marriage, many parents covered their children’s ears, turned their kids’ heads away, or told the activist to stop.”

The Taipei Times also reports that two Taiwanese Tibetan Buddhist nuns also came to support marriage equality. “Marriage is not an option for us Buddhist clergy, however, we would like to say that everyone should be treated with respect and every one’s choices should be respected,” said one of the nuns.

Russia: Activist Gessen Publishes Love Stories as ‘Propaganda’

We have written about Masha Gessen, the Russian-American journalist and activist who left Russia with her family under threat that her children could be taken from her, has co-edited Gay Propaganda, a new book of Russian love stories.

Meanwhile, the legislative sponsor of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, Yelena Mizulina, is among the Russian officials targeted by the Obama administration’s sanctions in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Peru: More Homophobia Exports from US Religious Right

In December, we noted that religious right activist Mat Staver had traveled to Peru to encourage legislators there to resist U.S. efforts to promote LGBT equality oversees. Following in Staver’s footsteps is Michael Brown, another anti-gay religious right activist who, as Jeremy Hooper reports for GLAAD, traveled to Peru last week, spoke with legislators, and handed out copies of his book, “A Queer Thing Happened to America.”

Israel: Parliament Bans Discrimination in Schools

This week the Israeli Parliament approved a law prohibiting discrimination against school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Sponsor Dov Khenin of the Hadash Party said, “Approval of the bill sends a clear message: We want to live in a society where we all have equal rights, and it is the responsibility of us all to fight for this cause.”

Scotland: Catholic Adoption Agency Gets OK to Refuse Gay Couples

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator announced that it will not appeal a court ruling that overturned its decision to revoke the charitable status of a Catholic adoption agency that does not place children with same-sex couples, reports Pink News.

Vatican: Photos of Couples Kissing in Churches Published

A photographer whose gallery showing of same-sex couples kissing in Italian churches was squelched by the Vatican last year has published a book of the photos. The photographer, Gonzalo Orquín, told the Advocate,

Every day there is a bishop or cardinal who goes on TV to say that homosexuals are sick and the natural family needs to be protected. I feel deep anger and shame every time a member of the church insults me in this way. I pray that God will forgive them and I have faith that Pope Francis will help us, why not?”