UN Human Rights Council Creates LGBT Watchdog; Orthodox Council Affirms Traditional Teaching on Family; Pope Francis Says Church Should Apologize to Gays; Global LGBT Recap

United Nations: Human Rights Council creates watchdog for LGBT rights

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted this week to create its first-ever LGBT rights watchdog, a step that LGBT equality advocates called a major victory. Before the vote, anti-LGBT activist Austin Ruse had warned supporters:

A major catastrophe is about to happen at UN Headquarters in Geneva. The sexual revolutionaries are about to defeat the forces of truth and goodness.

It has been the long-term project of the sexual revolutionaries to undermine the teachings of the Church and to impose a new sexual orthodoxy on the whole world. The new sexual orthodoxy is nothing more than a new religion celebrating a new god, an angry god, a jealous god.

This new god of the sexual revolution cannot stand even slight disagreement…The impending catastrophe is that this new god may be enshrined in a UN document, one that will be used by the sexual revolutionaries all over the world in order to force the new orthodoxy on traditional peoples.

The new  “independent expert” will monitor “violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder notes that opponents, “led by Pakistan on behalf of almost all members of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation,” added amendments urging respect for local “religious sensitivities” and opposing “coercive measures” to change national policies. The effort to create the independent expert was supported by hundreds of NGOs.

Orthodox Church: Holy and Great Council affirms traditional teaching on family

Nuntiare et Recreare, a Russian-language website created to serve LGBT Christians which now as has interfaith focus, reported last week on an open letter sent by Orthodox LGBT activist Mikhail Chernyak to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Churches. He says the letter generated support as well as harsh criticism from “Orthodox fundamentalists.” Chernyak writes that in spite of his familiarity with “the dark side of the Church,” the Orthodox Church is his home theologically.

The Council, called for by primates in January, was the first in more than a thousand years and reportedly “the largest, most representative council in the history of the Orthodox Church.” It gathered leaders from most but not all of the Orthodox Churches in Crete during June 18-26. The Russian Orthodox Church, which represented about 2/3 of the world’s 250-300 million Orthodox Christians, pulled out days before the convening.

After a week of deliberations, the Council released an official message on Monday. The message encourages dialogue with non-Orthodox Christians for the purpose of helping them “know more precisely the authenticity of the Orthodox Tradition,” while stating that the dialogues “never imply a compromise in matters of faith.” The Council also called for ongoing inter-religious dialogue to challenge violent fundamentalism and religious persecution.

Other excerpts from the Council statement:

  • Modern secularisation seeks the autonomy of man (anthropos) from Christ and from the spiritual influence of the Church, which it arbitrarily identifies with conservatism. Western civilization, however, bears the indelible mark of the diachronic contribution of Christianity. The Church, moreover, highlights the saving significance of Christ, the God-man, and of His Body, as the place and mode of life in freedom.
  • In contrast to the contemporary approach tomarriage, the Orthodox Church regards the indissoluble loving relationship of man and woman as “a great mystery… of Christ and the Church”. Similarly, she calls the family which springs from this and which constitutes the only guarantee for the upbringing of children a “little church”.
  • The Orthodox Church does not involve herself in politics. Her voice remains distinct, but also prophetic, as a beneficial intervention for the sake of man. Human rights today are at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state. Our Church also adds to this the obligations and responsibilities of the citizens and the need for constant self-criticism on the part of both politicians and citizens for the improvement of society. And above all she emphasises that theOrthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that ” greatest of all is love”, as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced.  She insists also that a fundamental human right is the protection of religious freedom–namely, freedom of conscience, belief, and religion, including, alone and in community, in private and in public, the right to freedom of worship and practice, the right to manifest one’s religion, as well as the right of religious communities to religious education and to the full function and exercise of their religious duties, without any form of direct or indirect interference by the state.

Catholic Church: Francis says church owes apology to gays; Benedict says he broke up ‘gay lobby’

Last Sunday, Pope Francis demonstrated his penchant for generating news with off the cuff remarks with reporters aboard the papal plane. Francis was asked about comments made a few days earlier by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who said the Church had treated gay people in a “scandalous and terrible” way. Reuters reports:

In the hour-long freewheeling conversation that has become a trademark of his international travels, Francis was asked if he agreed with recent comments by a German Roman Catholic cardinal that the Church should apologize to gays.

Francis looked sad when the reporter asked if an apology was made more urgent by the killing of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando, Florida this month.

He recalled Church teachings that homosexuals “should not be discriminated against. They should be respected, accompanied pastorally.”

He added: “I think that the Church not only should apologize … to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by (being forced to) work. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons.”

…Francis repeated a slightly modified version of the now-famous “Who am I to judge?” comment he made about gays on the first foreign trip after his election in 2013.

“The questions is: if a person who has that condition, who has good will, and who looks for God, who are we to judge?”

David Gibson at Religion News Service commented that “Francis may have exposed the tensions within his own hierarchy over how to engage the gay community,” tensions he says have intensified since the Orlando massacre. The Pope’s remarks were welcomed by some LGBT advocates, and dismissed by others, like Adele Stan, who wrote:

So, Pope Francis, keep your apology, I don’t need it. Until you issue a bull condemning attacks on queer folk by your own bishops, until you tell the U.S. bishops to stop their hate-mongering against us, until you condemn anti-gay laws destroying lives across the globe, it’s meaningless.

On Friday, Reuters reported that former Pope Benedict says in his forthcoming memoir that he had managed to “break up” a “gay lobby” that was trying to influence Vatican decisions.

Seventh Day Adventist Church: activist says history on race offers hope on LGBT people

At Spectrum, Juan Perla writes in depth about activism and evolution within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, drawing analogies to Civil Rights era-efforts to challenge support for racial discrimination:

…the Adventist civil rights movement delivers a prophetic message of hope to LGBT Adventists fighting homophobia today. In the same way the Adventist church came to accept desegregation and interracial marriage, Adventists are slowly embracing LGBT equality and same-sex marriage as well.  Already, 25 percent of Adventists in the United States favor same-sex marriage, and of the 64 percent that oppose it only 21 percent are 18 to 29 year-olds.

Perla notes response to the Orlando massacre:

The North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD) joined the chorus of supporters, offering a ray of hope to LGBT members in an otherwise desolate moment. The same day of the tragedy, the NAD issued a statement expressing heartbreak over “the loss of innocent lives.”  Although the statement failed to name homophobia, it “denounc[ed] the hate that led to this mass shooting” and “condemn[ed] all expressions of hate, from speech to deadly violence.” In a video posted a few days later, NAD President Dan Jackson added, “Our hearts grieve with the LGBT community.” The post included the affirming #loveisloveislove, which has been used by same-sex marriage advocates.

In sharp contrast, just four years ago, the church’s General Conference (GC) managed to add insult to injury when it responded to reports that pastor Blasius Ruguri of the East-Central Africa Division had publicly supported Uganda’s anti-gay legislation, which would have sentenced gay individuals to death in some cases. Instead of condemning homophobia, the GC doubled down on its condemnation of homosexuality while also claiming to be “strongly opposed to acts of violence, hatred and discrimination against a person because of his or her sexual orientation.” The GC’s hypocritical statement drew the ire of black Adventist lawyer and religious liberty scholar Jason Hines who asked: “How can we expect a pastor in Africa to care about the rights of homosexuals when the Adventist rhetoric in America is at the very least tinged (and more often saturated) with homophobia and hate?” Indeed, the GC’s statement failed to appreciate that, for many LGBT Adventists, the church’s one-sided disparaging views of homosexuality and same-sex relationships feel like “acts of violence, hatred and discrimination.”

From that perspective, the NAD’s response to the Orlando mass shooting stands out not only for its compassionate tone but also for its omission of any condemnation of homosexuality, and may signal a shift in the way the church is now approaching homophobia.  

Perla writes that “a new wave of students is breathing life into the type of activism last seen at the height of the Adventist civil rights movement,” including the creation of gay-straight alliances at Adventist colleges.

With time, gay Adventists at all levels of the church will feel more comfortable with coming out of the shadows. Same-sex couples that marry outside the church will bring their children to Sabbath school and a growing number of openly gay students will attend Adventist academies and colleges. Like the SCC’s black members in the 1960s, gay Adventists will be able to hold their faith community legally accountable for any discriminatory responses. And, as was the case with segregation, the church will find itself once again in a losing battle against social change unless it learns from its past mistakes.

Mexico: Marriage equality becomes law in 10th state; complaint filed against opponents

Marriage equality was declared legal in the state of Morelos amid protests and charges that the votes from some municipalities were ignored or miscounted. Official complaints have been filed against five deputies and activists who “took the hall of the legislative chamber in protest.”

A group of Christian pastors has vowed to continue fighting, saying that marriage by same-sex couples is counter to “the law of God” and cannot go unpunished. La Union quotes Daniel Aguilar Santoyo, a leader of the pastors’ group, saying “”From the beginning God created man and woman, and that design is generated marriage and family are the children, and in us our nature so we can not change it.” Another pastor said that yielding to marriage equality will bring about consequences like those faced by Sodom and Gomorrah.

Ireland: Muslim Council invites LGBT Dubliners to Ramadan iftar

The Irish Times’ Patsy McGarry reported this week that the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council has invited members of the LGBT community to its second annual community Iftar (Ramadan fast-breaking meal) in Dubin on Saturday.

Ivory Coast: Activists appearing in US embassy photo attacked

Gay men whose faces appeared in a picture posted by the US Embassy of people signing a condolence book for victims of the Orlando massacre have reportedly been assaulted and forced to flee their homes. From Robbie Corey-Boulet at Associated Press:

The photo has been widely shared on social media and two of the men said that in the days after it was published an angry mob punched and kicked them while shouting anti-gay slurs. The men spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for their safety.

Four of the six men, including the two attacked, said they have fled their homes under pressure from family and friends who had been unaware of their sexual orientation.

According to AP, the embassy had sought clearance to publish the photo from local equality organizations, but that the people in the photo were not among those activists. A press officer said the embassy “deeply regrets that any individuals were attacked based on any kind of orientation they might have.” The photo was taken down on Wednesday.

A bit of additional background from AP:

Same-sex relations are not a crime in Ivory Coast, but there are no legal protections for sexual minorities. In January 2014, a mob ransacked the Abidjan headquarters of the country’s most prominent gay rights organization.

India: Court rejects celebrity petition on challenge to criminal sodomy law

On Wednesday the Supreme Court refused to reconsider the constitutionality of a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality; a petition had been filed by a number of prominent gay individuals. The Court, which had effectively recriminalized homosexuality in 2013 when it overturned a 2009 lower court ruling tossing out the law, sent the measure to the Chief Justice of India, who is considering other “curative” petitions.

Rama Lakshmi notes in the Washington Post:

Some members of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have supported decriminalizing homosexuality.

Ram Madhav, the general secretary of the party, hadsaid in 2014 that even though he does not endorse “glorification of certain forms of social behavior,” he finds it questionable that homosexuality is treated as a crime in “this day and age.”

But the lower house of parliament voted twice in the past six months against a move by Shashi Tharoor, a lawmaker from the opposition Congress party, to decriminalize homosexuality.

Bangladesh: US designates al-Qaida affiliate that murdered gay activist a terrorist group

We reported two months ago on the murder of Xulhaz Mannan, a prominent LGBT editor and activist and employee of the US Agency for International Development, and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy. This week the US State Department designated a branch of al-Qaida that claimed responsibility for the murder as a terrorist group.

The Washington Blade’s Michael Levers spoke with Raj Islam, Mannan’s nephew and a human rights commissioner in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Hampton Roads Pride presented a scholarship in Mannan’s honor last week. More from Lavers:

Mannan and Tonoy are among the growing list of activists, secular academics, writers, bloggers and members of religious minority groups who have been killed by Islamists since early 2015. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have come under increased criticism from those who feel it has not done enough to effectively respond to terrorism in the predominantly Muslim country.

“They want to turn away any sort of ownership of having terrorist groups in their country,” Islam told the Blade, referring to the Bangladeshi government. “They call them gangs or hooligans. They don’t call them as organized groups.”

Costa Rica: Activists celebrate progress, look for marriage equality

Noting that LGBT activists have won passage of anti-discrimination policies and the extension of health-care benefits, but that a marriage equality bill has stalled in the Legislative Assembly, The Tico Times asked participants in the country’s recent price celebration, La Marcha de la Diversidad, how they see the country’s progress on LGBT rights. Among the responses:

  • Carolina Durán, 25:Things are starting to get more inclusive. Even people who are very tied to their religion are starting to be more accepting. We are moving in small steps, but we are moving forward.
  • Lenin Fernández, 34:To me, there is still a lot we have left to accomplish. Yes, we have accomplished some very important things. We can get healthcare for our partners now, extend our pensions to them, but we still have a long way to go. There are more things moving to the forefront now and we are advancing little by little. Someday, God will grant us these rights. But for now, we are here. We aren’t hiding. We are proud.

Czech Republic: Court rules gays, lesbians in partnerships can adopt, but not as a couple

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday overturned as discriminatory a law banning individual gays and lesbians in registered partnerships from adopting children; however, AP reports that “the ruling still does not allow lesbian and gay pairs to adopt children as a couple.”

Israel: Profile of trans servicemember

In a week in which the US Defense Department said it is reversing a ban on transgender servicemembers, Karen Ocamb profiles the first openly transgender officer in the Israel Defense Forces.

France: Pride parade cut in half due to security concerns

Citing security concerns, police have cut in half the length of the Paris pride parade scheduled for Saturday, July 2, spurring complaints by some activists that officials were “giving in to fear.” Police, who have had their hands full with the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, had asked organizers to postpone the event until September

Nepal: Ministry says it will to more on rights of LGBT children

Pahichan reports that the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare has pledged to implement suggestions from the Geneva Convention in children’s rights, including those regarding homosexual, transgender and intersex children.

Australia: Only one in five voters believe homosexuality is immoral

A new survey reveals that 21 percent of Australian voters believe homosexuality is immoral.

Japan: Using comics as cultural lifeline for LGBT youth

A new manga series is meant to provide LGBT youth in Japan with a cultural lifeline by portraying gay and transgender characters.

Philippines: Law enforcement charged with exploitation and abuse of LGBT people

Reuters covers a report by OutRight Action International that accuses Philippine law enforcement officers of subjecting LGBT people to extortion, violence, and rape.