Pope’s US Visit Provokes Intense Attention; New Vatican Book on Man-Woman Complementarity & New Int’l Report on Christian Role Models for LGBT Equality; Global LGBT Recap

The United Kingdom’s Stonewall has published “Christian Role Models for LGBT Equality,”  a booklet that tells the stories of 20 Christians from 15 countries on six continents, with a foreward by Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda. The report is also available in Spanish.

Pope Francis in the U.S.

Pope Francis generated tremendous media attention with his trip to Cuba and the United States, where he met President Obama at the White House and called for a “tolerant and inclusive” society; became the first pope to address a joint session of Congress; and held public events in New York and Philadelphia, where he attended the Vatican’s gay-excluding World Meeting of Families. The pope generally did not address LGBT people or issues head-on, but more indirectly through the lens of “the family” and “religious liberty.”

On Sunday the 27th, the final day of his trip, Francis told bishops that it is “dangerously unbalanced” to focus on explaining doctrine rather than providing real support for families. In a speech that David Gibson of the Religion News Service interpreted as “a powerful rebuke to the culture war mentality that has often marked the public witness of the Catholic hierarchy.”

“We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family,” Francis told bishops gathered at a seminary here on Sunday morning (Sept. 27), the final day of the pontiff’s grueling nine-day visit to Cuba and the U.S.

“A Christianity which ‘does’ little in practice, while incessantly ‘explaining’ its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced,” Francis told dozens of churchmen from around the world. “I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle.”

At the start of his 30-minute talk, Francis made a brief reference to the legalization of same-sex marriage that the American bishops have made a centerpiece of their public ministry and policy battles, with many of them casting the acceptance of gay relationships as the beginning of an era of exclusion and even persecution for Christians.

Francis, as he has done in his speeches to church leaders throughout this visit, his first to the U.S., refused to take that bait.

Without mentioning gay marriage, he noted that civil marriage and Christian sacramental marriage no longer share a common meaning, as they once did. Yet while recognizing the profound changes taking place, he warned bishops against pointing fingers at their flock or wallowing in nostalgia.

The Huffington Post’s Jaweed Kaleem also wrote about the pope’s address to the bishops, which took place at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary:

In the seminary’s chapel, the pope spoke of the “unprecedented changes” that are having “social, cultural and, unfortunately, now juridical effects on family bonds.” Until recently, the pope said the similarities “between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared.”

But the pope — who did not say the word “gay” as he has before in his papacy, or use the word “homosexuality” as his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, preferred — told bishops the solution to responding to a society that no longer agrees with church doctrine is not to rehash the church’s views, but instead reach out to spread their faith through friendship.

“Gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints,” Francis said.

The Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson on Francis’s remarks to Congress:

One day after promoting the idea of a “tolerant and inclusive” society, Pope Francis I hinted at the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, saying “the very basis of marriage” is being called into question.

The pope expressed his concern over the state of marriage during his speech on Thursday before a joint session of Congress and months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.

“I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without,” Francis said. “Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

Francis never explicitly condemned same-sex relationships in his remarks, but that viewpoint would be consistent with the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality. Even though Francis has taken a more moderate tone on LGBT rights, he has called same-sex marriage a “destructive pretension against the plan of God.”

Gay journalist Michelangelo Signorile called the pope’s remarks to Congress “a win for LGBT people and an angering loss for anti-LGBT forces in America,” saying it was astonishing that in a country “that just made marriage legal for all gay and lesbian citizens” the pope did not address it.

Francis was, after all, speaking to the legislative body that could do something about it — and which is trying to, with Republicans having introduced the odious First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow clerks like Kim Davis and bakers and florists and others to deny services to gay and lesbian couples.

Also sitting right before Francis during his address to Congress were three of the five Supreme Court justices — a majority of the majority — who ruled for marriage equality in June: Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kennedy. The pope had his big chance to be clear and emphatic about the terrible thing they’d supposedly done and he blew it? Maybe he just didn’t care all that much.

As Signorile noted, some conservatives were upset that the pope’s speech to Congress explicitly addressed the death penalty and immigration, but not abortion or marriage equality.

In DC the pope’s travels took him and his Fiat by the headquarters of Human Rights Campaign, which flew a banner announcing, “We are your children, your teachers, your faithful. Welcomed by God, dismissed by our bishops. Pope Francis, will you welcome us home?”

In New York, openly gay journalist Mo Rocca was among those on the altar at the papal mass in Madison Square Garden to do a reading. Rocca read from the book of Isaiah in Spanish; his mother is an immigrant from Colombia.

The pope ended his US trip in Philadelphia, where the Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families was taking place. LGBT Catholics were forced to move a gathering on gender identity issues to a Methodist Church after Archbishop Charles Chaput instructed a local parish to disinvite them from using church facilities. And the one conference session featuring a gay speaker – a celibate gay man – was moved at the last minute to a far smaller room that left hundreds locked out.

Some LGBT Catholics were disappointed in the pope’s visit, according to the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers:

Marianne Duddy-Burke, president of Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, during an interview with the Washington Blade expressed disappointment that Francis did not speak out against anti-LGBT violence and the criminalization of homosexuality while addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Duddy-Burke also criticized the Argentine-born pontiff for referring to “ideological colonization” and “behaviors that are not human” and “unnatural” during his speech.

“I don’t think that LGBT people heard the message of greater inclusion that we were looking for,” she told the Blade.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose decades of ministry to the LGBT community have frequently been marked by conflict with and harassment from the church hierarchy, told National Catholic Reporter “that she doesn’t think the pope cares much about doctrine. ‘The bishops are preaching the old law, which is doctrine and teaching. It’s the old law that binds people, while Pope Francis is preaching the Gospel of love.” BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder profiles Gramick as “the nun who battled one pope over LGBT ministry and now welcomes another.” In the piece, Gramick contrasts the actions of Chaput with the words of Francis:

Chaput, Gramick said, mistakenly puts “doctrine ahead of ahead of people.” And changing that formula is what Gramick believes Francis’s vision is ultimately about, which opens space for LGBT people in the church. Francis may not move to change doctrine about homosexuality, but Gramick believes rules about sexual behavior become less important in a church that is primarily devoted to pastoral care.

“Doctrine doesn’t inform ministry,” she said “I think the opposite: Ministry informs the doctrine. In fact, I’m more in line with Pope Francis: I don’t think we need to worry or think about or be concerned about doctrine.”

For her, there are just two rules that matter: “We believe in Christ, we believe in the gospel of justice — they’re the basic doctrines.”

Among those spoke at the World Meeting of Families was Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Apostle D. Todd Christofferson; the LDS church made a “significant financial contribution” to the conference. On Thursday, Christofferson participated in a book launch party for “Not Just Good, But Beautiful: The Complementary Relationship Between Man and Woman,” a volume of speeches from last November’s conservative interfaith colloquium sponsored by the Vatican. Among the authors are Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, Russell D. Moore of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and President Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon Church: Affirmation holds international conference

Affirmation,a group for LGBT Mormons and their supporters, started in the late 1970s as a group of gay Mormons meeting secretly at BYU; it now has affiliates around the world. At last week’s International Affirmation Conference, which brought more than 500 LGBT Mormons and their supporters to Provo Utah, openly gay rocker Tyler Glenn, lead singer for Neon Trees, gave a presentation about his struggles with his sexuality and his experience coming out publicly last year. Glenn sang songs from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ hymnbook, including a poignant “Where Can I Turn For Peace?”

From a report from The Digital Universe at BYU:

“I choose to be Mormon, but I didn’t choose to be gay,” Glenn said during the conference.

He learned on his mission to meet people and to “authentically” say what he believes, which he said has helped him in the process of coming out.

The Deseret News headlined its report, “God loves every single person, speakers tell LGBT Mormons at Affirmation conference.” It quotes “LDS intellectual” Terryl Givens saying that “we are all confronted with feelings of alienation, of isolation, of not being understood, of not being witnessed.” Added Fiona Givens, “There isn’t a single person in this room not carrying a cross. We’re all carrying crosses.”

Trevor, a gay Mormon blogger, published “What Church Could Be,” a reflection about the Affirmation conference in which he confessed, “I do not feel the spirit at church…Instead, church seems to be a place of feeling inadequate and ostracized. I feel as though I am not welcomed in my authentic state.” Trevor contrasts that feeling with his experience at the Affirmation conference:

I attended the 2015 Affirmation conference in Provo Utah last weekend with my boyfriend, David. We held hands, scratched each others back, nestled our heads on the others shoulder and even kissed. We had no need to fear the judgement or scorn of others for showing our love to each other. David and I both commented how wonderful it was we were able to show this affection and not be asked to stop.

We were able to focus on the speakers instead of feeling self conscience during the conference. Instead of worrying about judgements from others, we felt the spirit. David even commented that he felt the spirit more at this conference than he has at church for years. That got me thinking. Because the conference was a place of acceptance and love, David was able to focus and feel his emotions. So much so, that the spirit spoke to him often.

At the conference, we were all encouraged to share our stories. Many shared experiences and thoughts that go against the path taught in the church. We were asked not to judge but love one another. In the shining forth of our true individuality, I saw and felt the true love of Christ. People’s life and choices different from my own taught me so much. There was no artificial standard everyone was expected to meet. There was celebration in diversity and uncommon opinions.

Australia: Members of parliament call for legislative marriage vote, not plebescite

The Western Australia parliament passed a motion this week “calling on the federal government to abandon plans for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage and instead settle the issue with a conscience vote in the Federal Parliament,” reports Andrew O’Connor at the Australian Broadcasting Commission. During the debate, Member of Parliament Peter Abetz, in a speech arguing against marriage equality, compared same-sex parenting to the history of indigenous children who were forcibly taken from their parents, a group now known as the Stolen Generations. He also claimed that gay people are virtually incapable of monogamous relationships.

Greece: Official steps down over anti-gay, anti-Semitic comments on social media

Dimitris Kammenos, appointed deputy transport minister as part of the coalition government Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras formed with the “right-wing, anti-LGBT Independent Greek Party,” stepped down just a day after his appointment sparked criticism of anti-gay and anti-Semitic comments on his social media feeds.

UK: Gay pastor chooses marriage over ministry; Prince William speaks out against bullying

Church of England pastor Jeremy Timm said he was forced to “choose between marriage or ministry” and chose marriage. According to the BBC, Timm handed over his rob to the church warden after last Sunday’s service; he was scheduled to marry his partner on Thursday.

Pink News reports that Prince William took part in a session on bullying and homophobia in schools, which it called “a surprising royal first.”

Given the Monarch’s role as head of the Commonwealth, and as 90% of Commonwealth citizens still live under anti-gay laws, the Royals generally avoid all reference to gay equality. No Royals have ever spoken in favour of same-sex marriage.

However, Prince William actively spoke out against homophobia in the visit, alongside Education Secretary and Equalities minister Nicky Morgan.

Joining a session on LGBT issues, the students were asked how they would react to homophobic bullying. The Duke of Cambridge indicated he would confront those behind any comments and comfort the victims.

David Coburn, a member of the European Parliament from the right-wing UKIP party said this week that he believed Muslim refugees fleeing into Europe from Syria and Iraq may, in the words of BuzzFeed’s Jamie Ross, “be part of ISIS and will attempt to change the British way of life.”

“Many of these people, as we’ve heard, are ISIS,” he said. “I don’t know about you but I am a homosexual and I do not want to be stoned to death. I want my country to remain the way it is now. I don’t want the state religion to change. I don’t want the way this country is run to change. I want people who accept our values.”

Ireland: Marriage bill introduced; Catholic group complains about ‘same love’ posters; Presbyterian minister who praised marriage equality recants under pressure

Marriage Bill 2015, legislation to implement marriage equality approved by voters in May, was introduced this week in the Dail, Ireland’s parliament; the first official marriages for same-sex couples are expected by year’s end.

Posters headlined “Different Families, Same Love” have been sent to every school in Ireland, show “a number of families from different backgrounds – from same-sex parents to single parents, from grandparents raising a child to a childless couple with a dog.” The poster is meant to help teachers create inclusive classrooms and deter bullying.

But the conservative Catholic Iona Institute, which led opposition to the marriage equality referendum, is arguing that religious schools should not have to use the posters. Iona’s John Murray told the Independent, “Denominational schools should be allowed to be denominational. The problem with this poster is that it seems to require, or suggest to teachers, that they teach in a way that treats all family forms as being the same.”

Rev. Christina Bradley, a Presbyterian minister who had praised the “yes” vote in the marriage referendum has apparently been browbeaten into submission by a commission established to investigate her views. She had drawn criticism for comments such as,

“The referendum wasn’t a debate on the institution of marriage as the basis of human society as we know it, but about ending discrimination.

“This warm-heartedness is good to see in a world which often is a cold place as much for women in leadership as it is for gay and lesbian people in churches. I welcome the yes vote.”

But the commission results released last Sunday concluded:

 “Mrs Bradley confirmed to Presbytery that she fully accepts… that ‘marriage is to be between one man and one woman’.

“Mrs Bradley also confirms that same-sex marriage is contrary to the will of God revealed in the Bible and accepts that homosexual practice is sinful in God’s sight.”

The investigation has its own critics:

Canon Charles Kenny – spokesperson for Ireland’s gay affirming group Faith in Marriage Equality – claimed that “the action of the Church would send a very damaging message to its gay members and make the Presbyterian Church in Ireland an even colder place for them.”

Europe: Advocates try to identify, assist LGBT refugees

The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reports on efforts by LGBT advocates in Europe to identify and assist LGBT refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries.

European advocates with whom the Blade has spoken in recent weeks said it is exceedingly difficult to identify refugees and migrants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. They have nevertheless joined efforts in their respective countries to provide assistance to them.

The Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany — the ultimate destination for many of the refugees and migrants who have made their way to Europe — has opened a center for LGBT refugees in Berlin. Jovanka Todorović of Labris, a Serbian LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade that members of her organization have offered assistance to those who have passed through her country.

The story notes that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said earlier this month that the refugees, a majority of whom are Muslim, “threaten Europe’s Christian identity.”

Uganda: Fate of anti-LGBT, anti-civil-society legislation uncertain

Humanosphere reported this week that proposed legislation in Uganda that would restrict nonprofit groups promoting social justice and human rights issues may be weakened in response to international criticism.

But nonprofits and civil society groups warn that the bill’s vague legal language could allow the government to pressure organizations to shy away from social justice, human rights or political advocacy work.

“There’s a clause looking at NGO accountability and transparency, but I think the bill is entirely looking at squeezing the NGO space and also the whole rule of law,” said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. “It’s very vague.”

Inside the bill are a number of provisions that aim to monitor potential “subversive activities” by NGOs, according to a parliamentary committee report. Among those is a stipulation that would allow the Ugandan government to refuse registering any nonprofit organization if it’s “in the public interest to do so.”’

While the term “public interest” is defined in the Ugandan constitution, human rights lawyer and founder of Chapter Four in Uganda Nicholas Opiyo said in reality the application of “public interest” is ambiguous and malleable.

“In practice, in actual practice, ‘public interest’ has been interpreted as widely as it could be by people that are applying it,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Nichola Opiyo said LGBT people are the target:

“The introduction of these terms directly target sexual minority issues,” he said.

Opiyo explained the bill prohibits nonregistered organizations from operating in Uganda. That includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-rights (LGBT) NGOs that often provide services in secrecy for fear of homophobic-based violence against them.

“What the bill does is it outlaws NGOs without registration – in fact it makes it illegal. That bill directly targets the way and form of organizing in the LGBT community,” he said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and publishable by up to 14 years in jail. A number of laws have attempted to punish homosexuality with more severe consequences including death, but those bills have folded under international pressure.

While activists say the foundation of the bill is fundamentally discriminatory, they also say that successful lobbying campaigns have helped introduce possible amendments that strip the bill of its restrictive backbone.

In fact, the Ugandan Committee on Defense and International Affairs suggested much of the strict and nebulous language be removed from the bill in August.


Montenegro: Nikšić police ban pride after protect by Orthodox Church, nationalists

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights complained earlier this month that police in the city of Nikšić had banned a price march for the third time this year.

The Pride was banned quoting security threats. The Orthodox Church mobilised against the Pride, while nationalists and football hooligans had threatened to disturb the march.

Earlier Pride marches in the capital city, Podgorica, and Budva, were well-protected by the police.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-President of the Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, reacted: “It is completely unacceptable that the police, for the third time already, bans Nikšić pride. Montenegrin authorities have demonstrated their capacity to protect Pride marches, and are perfectly capable of doing the same in Nikšić.”

India: Court investigating parents’ attempt to force trans man to marry

The Delhi High Court heard allegations that the parents of Shivy, an 18-year-old transgender man living in the United States tricked him into visiting India on a holiday, took his passport and green card, and tried to forcibly marry him to a man. He says he fears for the safety of transgender activists who sheltered him after he ran away from his home; he said men posing as police officers showed up at the activists’ home.

He has asked the Delhi High Court to help him get his passport and green card back so that he can return to the United States where he is pursuing a neurobiology course at the University of California.

The Delhi High Court has asked his parents and state police to respond to the allegations.

Bermuda: Government plans public ‘info sessions’ on marriage equality

The Ministry of Community, Culture and Sports announced that public information sessions on marriage equality will be held on September 28 and October 1 in response to a pro-marriage-equality petition presented to the government in May. Government officials will share research gathered by the Department of Human Affairs about what other government have done and what steps might be taken.

Equality activist Tony Brannon said that too many politicians were afraid that religious voters might turn against them if they back marriage equality, and called on more LGBT people to speak out publicly.

“The bottom line is — I don’t think I know of any politician who will come out and say anything, one way or another. I’ve not seen any one of them put their neck on the line for it — it is staggering.

“There is this perceived thing about the church vote that showing support for same-sex [marriage] will mess up the possibility of winning the next election but this is a human rights issue.

Bermuda’s government rejected marriage equality in 2013.

Faroe Islands: New parliament may pass marriage equality

Last week, a survey of members of the parliament o the Faroe Islands found that 16 were in favor of marriage equality, 11 were opposed, and 6 did not answer. Recent elections led to a two-seat gain by the Social Democrats in the territory’s 33 member parliament; it was reported that the new government is expected to pass legislation allowing same-sex unions. “While its former colonial master Denmark was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex unions in 1989 and legalized gay marriage in 2012, the issue has been controversial in the deeply-religious Faroe Islands.”

The States of Jersey: Assembly votes overwhelmingly to move on marriage equality

The Assembly of the States of Jersey voted overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality this week. Jersey is one of two jurisdictions that make up the Channel Islands, which have the status of British dependences. The BBC reports that draft legislation will voted in by January 2017.

The move will see two types of marriage – civil and religious – the retention of civil partnerships and other changes to the marriage laws.

The law will allow religious groups or individuals to opt out if same-sex marriage goes against their beliefs.

Christian May, chairman of equal rights campaign group Liberate, said: “We’re not trying to erode marriage in any way, we’re trying to bolster it by offering it to all people who are in love.”

Islamic State: Another 10 people reportedly executed on sodomy charges

Human rights watchdogs reported this week that militants with the self-declared Islamic State killed another nine men and a boy in Syria “after accusing them of being homosexual.”

Afghanistan: Controversy over US policy of not interfering with child sex abuse by allies

The New York Times reported last weekend that American military personnel and civilians serving in Afghanistan have been required to look the other way as prominent Afghan allies participated in the rape of young boys, part of a broader practice of looking the other way regarding corruption and misdeeds in order not to undercut the fight against the Taliban.

Pervasive sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan. It is especially pronounced among armed commanders who control rural regions and hold sway over the population there. The practice is known as bacha bazi, or boy play; powerful Afghan men often surround themselves with young teenagers as a mark of social status.

The Times editorialized, “The Pentagon’s indulgent, even complicit, attitude toward pedophiles among the Afghan militias that it funded and trained is indefensible, at odds with American values and with international laws Washington has taken the lead in promoting.”


China: Filmmaker sues over censorship

A documentarian is suing the Chinese government over censorship:

Beijing-based film-maker Fan Popo has sued the agency responsible for television and internet content. Fan’s recent film, Mama Rainbow, documented Chinese mothers reconciling with their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) children. After thousands of views and comments, web host 56.com abruptly removed the film, citing instruction from SARFT (the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television). Fan’s administrative lawsuit, accepted by the No.1 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing on September 14, seeks satisfactory answers about the truth of that claim.

Taiwan: Presidential candidates support LGBT equality

Pink News reports that presidential candidate James Soong, currently running second in the polls, “said that if he had an LGBT child he would treat them with nothing but ‘empathy, tolerance and respect.’”

In the latest polls, Soong is second with 17% of the vote, behind the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen, who has also spoken out for LGBT rights.

Last year, an online poll revealed that 68% of the Taiwanese population supported same-sex marriage.