Vatican Considers ‘Disordered’ Language; HBO Doc on LGBT Persecution in Russia; Nigerian Bishop Shifts on Anti-Gay Law; Arson at ‘Open Mosque’ in South Africa; Global LGBT Recap

[Image above from HBO’s “Hunted,” a new documentary on LGBT persecution in Russia.]

LGBT News in the U.S. was dominated this week by the Supreme Court’s decision, announced on Monday, not to hear appeals of several appellate court rulings that had overturned state-level bans on marriage by same-sex couples, a move greeted with dismay and outrage from some conservative religious and political leaders. The Court’s decision allowed marriage equality to become the law of the land in a new swath of states. Stuart Milk of the Harvey Milk Foundation, which promotes LGBT equality globally, said the advance of marriage equality in the U.S. also sends a message abroad, making Monday a good day for global human rights.

The Russian government has kept up its demands that the U.S. return a gay teenager who is seeking asylum in the U.S. after coming to the country as part of an exchange program.

The story made headlines when the Russian foreign ministry announced it was pulling out of a 21-year-old exchange program because the student had not returned to Russia when he was scheduled to. Russian officials told state-run media that the child had been “seduced” by a “pair of old homosexuals” while in the U.S., and had sought asylum because of his “non-traditional sexual orientation.”

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the fact that the boy “chose not to return home and sought asylum on the basis of his sexual orientation” had been confirmed by an “American official, who was not authorized to comment on the case and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.”

Susan Reed, an attorney for the teen, disputed the Russian government’s claims, saying, “He is in federal custody, and was placed in a foster home because he is an unaccompanied minor asylum-seeker and that is standard,” she said. This is “a licensed foster home that is headed by two dads…“Russia is trying to make this case about some person or persons in the U.S. who are gay. But this case is about a young man who is afraid to return to Russia because Russia persecutes people who are gay.”

Vatican: Family Synod Considers ‘Disordered’ Language, Nigerian Bishop Sends Mixed Signals

The two-week Bishops’ Synod on the Family got started this week.  New Ways Ministry’s Frank DeBernardo reports that at a Tuesday press briefing, Father Thomas Rosica “told reporters that bishops had discussed language about sexuality used in church discourse,” saying “Language such as ‘living in sin,’ ‘intrinsically disordered,’ or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the Church.” DeBernardo notes that some Catholics have been asking for language such as “instrinsically disordered” and “objective disorder” to stop being used to refer to gay people. Writes Terence Weldon at Queering The Church:

“For lesbian and gay people, this is nothing new, but it is something that the bishops needed to hear. Indeed, even some of those who are already aware of the harmful effects and warning against them, may not realize the depth of the damage that is done. They may understand that it is one of the factors that turns many our community away from the Catholic Church, as noted in the press briefing – but do they understand that it is also quite literally, destructive of lives, especially young lives?”

Debernardo also detected “a glimmer that there may be openness to recognizing value in relationships that are not legally or ecclesiastically considered ‘married.’”

On Monday, the bishops heard from a Catholic married couple who said parishes should welcome gay couples the way a family welcomes a gay child and partner at Christmas. Reflecting on that story, Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama told The Tablet, “If the son is part of the family it is only natural that the family should be together. You cannot exclude a family member from a feast, from a meal. Our arms should be open.”

But that is the same Archbishop Kaigama who earlier this year thanked God and praised Nigeria’s president for signing a new anti-gay law, which imposes a 14-year prison sentence for homosexuality, and a 10-year prison sentence for even supporting gay clubs or meetings. From a report at the time:

In a January letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his “courageous and wise decision” in signing the legislation. Kaigama said it would protect Nigeria “against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices.”

The Vatican’s press office tweeted this report from a Wednesday press conference: “Kajgama: The Church is in the forefront of defending any person, also people with same sex orientation, who are being harassed or imprisoned.” Is this the same bishop? Kaigama claimed this week he said his support for Nigeria’s law had been misinterpreted:

But speaking at a press briefing on the Synod on the Family at the Vatican today, the archbishop said the Church only supported the elements of the law that set out that marriage is between a man and a woman. He added that there had been a “gross misinterpretation” of this by the media.

“We are not supporting the criminalisation of people with different sexual orientations,” Archbishop Kaigama stressed. “We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who is being harassed, who is being imprisoned, who is being punished.”

He added: “The Government may want to punish them – we don’t. In fact we will tell the Government to stop punishing those with different orientations.”

Queering the Church is skeptical but intrigued:

DeBenardo continues by acknowledging Kaigama’s claim that these press reports were a gross misrepresentation – that “he only meant to support the law’s opposition to marriage for same-gender couples”. This is disingenuous. His insistence that he was originally misquoted is just about credible – but why then, did he not correct the media misrepresentation at the time? Did he ever publish the full text of the letter, to put the record straight? The fact that he did not, suggests that even if there was a degree of misrepresentation, he was not bothered by it, and quite clearly was doing nothing then to protect the “dignity” of homosexual persons, which he is no proclaiming.

Even so, Kaigama’s apparent change of heart is interesting, This obvious change of tone from Africa is just one clear indication of how the voice of the Spirit, and the leadership of Pope Francis, are clearly working through the synod to effect a much needed change in tone and in style, which will inevitably lead to a change in pastoral practice. As DeBenardo notes, there will not in the short term be any change at all in doctrine, but that too will follow in the longer term. Orthodoxy follows orthopraxis.

Meanwhile, it is in practice pastoral practice, not doctrine, that has the greatest impact on real lives. Most other Catholics are not unduly troubled by doctrine that firmly opposes any artificial contraception, or any form of sexual expression of love before marriage. In the same way, many Catholics in committed, publicly known same – sex relationships find that they can practice their faith in full participation in local parishes – until knowledge that they have formalized those relationships in marriage leads to exclusion from ministry, dismissal from employment, or other forms of discrimination.

Also at the Wednesday press conference, in the words of the Commonweal blog, Kaigama “complained about Western attempts to influence African values—especially the flooding of the continent with condoms.”

Archbishop Zbigņevs Stankevičs of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Riga said in an interview with LifeSite News that gay relationships are “destroying our human identity.”

Church of England: Conservative Group Abandons Discussion on Same-Sex Couples

A conservative group within the Church of England, Reform, pulled out of conversations on the church’s treatment of same-sex couples because they said it was premised on finding a compromise position . The group’s chairman said, ““It is difficult to see how the process of shared conversations can command credibility if those who are most committed to the Church of England’s official teaching are in effect excluded.

“If this project is not to collapse, then decisive intervention from the House of Bishops is needed now.

“The shared conversations must acknowledge that Scripture remains authoritative for the Church of England and that the outcome of the conversations is genuinely open-ended….

The group also condemned the “failure to admonish the Bishop of Buckingham” – the only Church of England Bishop to openly support same-sex marriage, and the Church’s “lack of a consistent and clear response to those clergy who have entered into same-sex marriages”.

Egypt: More on Egypt’s Anti-Gay Crackdown

We reported last week on the increasingly harsh crackdown on LGBT people in Egypt as a means for the current government to ward off criticism from Islamist factions. This week the New York Times’sErnesto Londoño covered the phenomenon.  He writes:

In some ways, Egypt’s new government has become even more repressive and intolerant than the regime that was overthrown in early 2011. One disturbing example is the incarceration of dozens of gay men, a crackdown that has vilified a community that had hopedthe popular uprising in 2011 would bring minorities greater freedom.

Indonesia: Province Passes 100-Lash Law

We previously reported that the province of Aceh, described by NBC News as “the most orthodox corner of Muslim-majority Indonesia,” was considering legislation to make gay sex punishable by 100 lashes with a cane. That law has passed.

The sting of a rattan cane is only part of the punishment. Aceh’s officials admit the primary objective is shame. That’s why they invite crowds to jeer and gawk and excitedly count off the lashings meted out to men and women accused of petty crimes.

Sound archaic?

That’s the point.

The lashings are administered under Shariah law, a moral code dictated in the Quran that dates back the seventh century. Aceh’s modern-day whipping sessions are meant to play out as they did in ancient times — only with teenagers recording the beatings on their iPhones.

In the 12th century, Aceh was among the first places of Asia to absorb Islam from seafaring Arabs. Today, the far-flung province remains proudly orthodox. It’s the only territory in Indonesia that enforces Shariah law, which forbids alcohol, premarital romance and women in tight jeans….

Many among the current crop of leaders trace their roots to Free Aceh Movement, a separatist guerrilla faction that fought the Indonesian army for three decades.

In 2001, the Indonesian government granted Shariah law to Aceh in hopes of winning over Islamists who were otherwise sympathetic to the rebellion. After the guerrillas negotiated for peace in 2005, they transformed into politicians and retained the popular Islamic laws.

Indonesia’s human rights advocates are deeply horrified at the harsh codes against homosexuality. It’s “as if we’re going back hundreds of years,” according to Chika Noya, an Indonesian gay rights activist interviewed by the Jakarta Globe. Another activist insisted the punishment belongs in the Middle Ages.

“Gays and lesbians are human beings also,” said a female Indonesian lecturer from Aceh in an interview with GlobalPost. “Who are we to go against God’s creations?”

Africa: ‘Conversion Therapy’ as Political Weapon

Political Research Associates’ Kapya Kaoma reports on conversion therapy in Africa, and the ways American religious activists’ claims about “healing” people of homosexuality have been used to justify anti-gay policies.

The “ex-gay” movement may be fizzling out in the United States, as more and more people and even state legislatures continue to disavow it as little more than a scam, but across other areas of the globe, particularly in countries where U.S. culture warriors are working hard to stir up anti-LGBTQ sentiments and policies, it remains the basis for the criminalization of sexual minorities. Alan Chambers’ Exodus International may now be defunct, but organizations such as Exodus Global Alliance, the International Healing Foundation, and Desert Streams still pose serious threats to the welfare of LGBTQ persons in Africa….

The plea to “help gays escape” homosexuality is perhaps the most commonly repeated mantra across the African continent. From vicious anti-LGBTQ figures such as Martin Ssempa of Uganda, to ostensibly more respectable evangelical leaders such as Rev. Pukuta Mwanza(Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia), religious leaders endorse prayers and counseling as an answer to homosexuality. Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion) telling Zambians that homosexuality is a global and human rights issue, Rev. Mwanza (who spoke afterwards) asked LGBTQ persons to seek “spiritual help and prayers” from the Church. In his judgment, the church is the hospital for African gays—if they accept to be “cured.”

Israel: Health Ministry Condemns Conversion Therapy

On Sunday the Health Ministry issued a warning against therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation, and charged practitioners of conversion therapy with misleading their patients by saying reparative therapy has a scientific foundation, according to Times of Israel. Rabbi Ron Yosef, the head of the LGBT Orthodox Hod organization praised the Health Ministry for “exposing the lie that some rabbis and religious leaders” have spread.

Scotland: Anti-gay Minister Named Free Church Moderator

Rev. David Robertson, an opponent of marriage equality, has been named the next moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, which has welcomed some clergy and congregations that have left the Church of Scotland over the question of gay clergy.Robertson is also director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity. Before the Scottish Parliament approved marriage equality, he had warned, “The attack on the traditional understanding of marriage will not be the end of this assault on Christian morality and values.”

South Africa: Arson at (Now Closed) ‘Open Mosque’

We have recently reported on the opening and almost immediate closure of an LGBT-friendly mosque in South Africa. Now AFP reports that the mosque was damaged by a fire last Friday night.

“This a deliberate arson attack,” the founder, Muslim academic Taj Hargey told AFP.

“They used petrol and oil,” he said adding close circuit television video footage showed that unidentified people had made several reconnaissance trips to the mosque two hours before the attack.

There were no injuries and no arrests have yet been made.

Gay Star News has more:

Launched by Muslim academic Dr Taj Hargey, the South African-born director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in the UK, the so-called ‘Open Mosque’ openly welcomes LGBTI people; allows for men and women to pray side by side as opposed to them being in segregated areas conventionally; and had planned to have women as imams.

The mosque has faced fierce criticism and threats of violence from Muslims with 14 national and provincial organizations representing the Muslim community across South Africa issuing a joint statement condemning Hargey’s plans.

Hargey said he believes the incident to be a deliberate arson attack as petrol and oil were used. He added that unidentified people have seen on closed-circuit television footage making several reconnaissance trips to the mosque two hours before the attack.

‘Instead of preparing for the holy day, these people were preparing to destroy the house of God… it’s very sad, disrespectful,’ he said.

Despite the attack, Hargey remains undeterred, ‘They cannot shut us down, they can try whatever they want,’ he said. ‘They have tried verbal intimidation, threats and now arson. This should be the last… Our opponents should know that they don’t have a copyright on Islam.’

Also from South Africa, Shehnilla Mohamed, Johannesburg-based Africa director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, published a commentary this week arguing that anti-gay discrimination “undermines economic growth and is un-African.” She applauded South Africa’s support for the Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity that, as we reported last week, was adopted by the UN’s Human Rights Council, while noting there is much more work to be done to safeguard LGBTI people in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

…South Africa must be applauded for its leadership on this issue at the global level. Now it must work to bring the rest of the continent along….As the economic powerhouse on the continent, South Africa’s foreign policy challenge over the long term in Africa is to avoid separating LGBTI rights from human rights and economic advancement.

It must be noted that LGBTI rights are not separate or special. They are basic human rights guaranteed to every one of us.

In Africa, these rights must be linked to other priorities such as effective public health policies and efficient business practices.

South Africa must show leadership on the continent, starting with its own situation at home, by ensuring that all alleged attacks on LGBTI people are fully, independently and fairly investigated, and that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Mohamend cites Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“This is not just a righteous and moral vision. It is pragmatic too.

“If you manage to lift the most disenfranchised of members out of the clutches of extreme poverty, it makes sense to marshal all available human capital.

“It makes as little sense to exclude brilliant scientists or architects or teachers from contributing to human development on the basis that they have large noses, as it does to exclude them on the basis that they are gay or lesbian.”

Russia: HBO’s ‘Hunted’ Documentary Airs, Orthodox Church is No Refuge

“Hunted,” HBO’s harrowing documentary about the persecution of gay people in Putin’s Russia aired on Monday night. On The Daily Beast, Tim Teeman provides an in-depth review, which says the film graphically evokes the “desperate situation” of Russia’s LGBTs, who are “targeted on all sides by thugs, the Kremlin, and the Orthodox Church.”

One gay man is interviewed after he was attacked by a group of homophobes at a discreet party at a community center. He has been left blind in one eye. “A hunting season is open, and we are the hunted,” he says. Successful prosecutions of homophobic attacks are rare (they are not classified as hate crimes); the attackers go free. The police and authorities are on their side, after all.

A Russian Orthodox churchman is interviewed. Is he preaching tolerance, offering LGBTs a safe space? No, for him gay marriage is “a sign of the apocalypse.”

“Even cattle don’t engage in this,” he says of gay sex. Like most bigots (in Russia, and elsewhere) he is obsessed, as Steele puts it, “with what gays put where in the sex act. They never focus on gays as people.” LGBTs are spiritually and morally ill, says the churchman.

Estonia: ‘Cohabitation Act’ Passed Over Heated Opposition

This week, a hotly debated Cohabitation Act backed by the Reform Party and Social Democrats, narrowly passed through Parliament.

If signed by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Cohabitation Act would enter force in 2016 and allow cohabitating couples, irrespective of the gender of either partner, the right to register their relationship at a notary and enjoy the kinds of financial benefits conferred by marriage. The final version also provides for the possibility of adoption by unmarried cohabiting couples.

There is some fine print, however: to enter into force in 2016, some implementing acts will have to be passed first. These require 51 of 101 MPs to be in favor.

The Family Act, which was not affected by the bill, continues to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

According to Estonia Public Broadcasting, former justice minister Kristen Michal said, “Estonia is very small. There are too few people for building walls between neighbors.”

BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder notes that the law, if enacted, would make Estonia the first former Soviet country to recognize same-sex partnerships.

Although the bill does not establish full marriage equality, Aili Kala of the Estonian LGBT Association told BuzzFeed News that it was a “landmark case” because no other former Soviet republic has established this level of protections for same-sex couples.

Russia and its proxies have used opposition to LGBT rights as a tool to try to foster hostility throughout Eastern Europe towards the European Union, which Estonia joined in 2004. Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Muslim nation in Central Asia, is poised to pass a ban on “homosexual propaganda” closely modeled on a Russian law passed last year.

The Estonian legislation comes as there has been increasing tension between the Baltic states and Russia, including allegations that Russia has kidnapped Lithuanian and Estonian nationals.

“It [says] to Europe that we are with you,” Kala, the LGBT activist, said. “Russia can see that we want to [stay] in the EU and get more support from EU countries.”

Chile: Civil Unions Bill Advanced by Senate

A civil unions bill first introduced in 2011 was approved by the Chilean Senate this week. The civil partnerships created in the bill go by the acronym AVP.

“The AVP does not weaken families, but it strengthens them because it extends protections to them,” said Álvaro Elizalde, spokesperson for President Michelle Bachelet’s government.

Sen. Manuel José Ossandón Irarrázabal, who represents portions of Santiago, the Chilean capital, is among those who spoke against the proposal.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Ossandón as opponents of the bill who had gathered inside the Senate chamber applauded. “I recognize that homosexuals have rights…I recognize that is not the AVP.”

Bachelet’s government last year argued against marriage equality in a 2012 lawsuit at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights brought by three Chilean same-sex couples.

Morocco: British Gay Man Released from Jail

A 69-year old British man who had been sentenced to four months in prison in Morocco for homosexuality was released after 20 days.

According to the BBC Ray Cole was vacationing in Morocco, visiting a man in Marrakech he met on the internet. Police reportedly detained the pair at a bus stop and confiscated Mr. Cole’s phone. They then used images they found on the phone as evidence to arrest and convict Mr. Cole for homosexuality. Homosexuality is a criminal offense in Morocco, and relations outside of marriage can also be punishable by law.

Italy: Mayors Resisting National Govt on Registering Gay Couples

Several mayors are pledging to disobey the Interior Minister’s announcement that gay couples married overseas cannot be includes into Italian civil registries. He threatened to annul the marriages that had already been registered in Bologna, but mayors in Rome, Udine, and Naples have expressed support for registering gay couples.

Serbia: Pride’s Success Seen as Progress

The European Commission’s 2014 progress report for Serbia was released this week.

“The legislative and institutional framework for observance of international human rights law is in place. Sustained efforts are needed from Serbian authorities to ensure its implementation.” It said that the holding of a pride parade in Belgrade in late September without major incidents “marked a substantial step towards the effective exercise in Serbia of human rights in general and LGBTI rights in particular” and said an action plan for implementing an anti-dscrimination strategy has been adopted.

Another commentary on Serbia’s successful Pride parade on September 28 said it a historical day, but also points to continuing problems

28th September 2014 is a historical day for Serbia and Serbian LGBT community as the first Pride was finally successfully organized. When I say successfully I mean that participants managed to march their planed route through Belgrade, holding peace banners, rainbow flags, colorful balloons, dancing to the music and peacefully protesting without being afraid for their lives.

But the fact that there were more police officers than the participants of Pride makes situation a bit different. Five police officers on one participant is not something that we should be proud of and it is certainly not a proof that LGBT community is secure in Serbia.

Furthermore, The Serbian Orthodox Church is strictly against gay and lesbian rights. As a way of expressing their disagreement, Serbian Orthodox Church rang church bells during the entire gathering which made a situation comical.

Even though the majority has a negative attitude there are also numerous people who are supporting LGBT society. The hero of this Pride was 73 years old granny who was a part of the crowd.

When she was asked about gay and lesbian rights she answered “Oh I’m always on the side of minorities, on the last census I said I was Roma but I’m not”.