“I have no doubt that in the future, the laws that criminalize human love and commitment will look the way the apartheid laws do to us now, so obviously wrong!” Desmond Tutu
In April 2023 more than 1,000 delegates gathered for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Kigali, Ruanda. Held every five years, GAFCON represents an archconservative current in the Anglican Church centred largely around opposing opportunities in the Church for homosexuals.
In March 2023 the Ugandan parliament passed one of the world’s most repressive laws against homosexuals and bisexuals. Signed into law in May, it criminalizes not only same-sex relations between consenting adults – already prohibited since British colonial rule in the country – but also homosexual and bisexual identities.
It also criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuals”, which can include the rental of housing. A single denunciation is sufficient to destroy livelihoods. Vague in its formulation, the law purports to protect Ugandans’ “religious and traditional family values”. Of note is that evangelical churches from North America have been working for years in Uganda to promote homophobic laws and thereby actively support persecution of LGBTIQ+ individuals.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, inter and queer (LGBTIQ+) people are the object of religiously motivated discrimination around the world. Religious value systems strongly influence social attitudes toward love, sexuality and morality in large parts of the world – in both negative and positive ways. Churches play an important role in changing policies and attitudes toward LGBTIQ+ rights.
Working with churches and congregations is a key part of German development cooperation. Religion also plays an important role in debates on LGBTIQ+ rights at the United Nations. It is often religious actors who oppose the human right to non-discrimination. In so doing, they often use the right to religious freedom like a stop sign for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people, as described by Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief from 2010 to 2016.
Churches and other religious communities marginalize homosexual, bisexual and trans people, exclude them from participating in community life, force them into invisibility, and also participate in state persecution – like currently in Uganda.
For many LGBTIQ+ people, faith is part of their identity. And churches shape their social fabrics and communities. In our experience this is especially true of the much more religiously influenced countries of the global South. Yet there are also many positive developments, including open churches and congregations, and regional and worldwide networks of religious LGBTIQ+ people like the Global Interfaith Network (GIN) and the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA).
As part of the “We believe in change” project from January to December 2023, the Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation is reporting on positive developments within churches and religions and on difficult internal debates, as well as on networks of religious LGBTIQ+ people. We are exploring the tensions between the right to religious freedom, the right to non-discrimination, and the protection of LGBTIQ+ people from violence in international human rights work. There are spaces for LGBTIQ+ people in international human rights work that can be used in more and better ways – and we also discuss exactly how this can work.
We want this project to initiate transnational dialogue, foster the exchange of ideas, and bring people from different communities together. As such we warmly invite everyone who’d like to be involved in these efforts to contact us at: sarah.kohrt (at) hirschfeld-eddy-stiftung.de
Sarah Kohrt, Project Director, Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation
A publication for the Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation’s 2023 project entitled “We believe in change”: Human rights, freedom of religion or belief, and preventing discrimination. All publications for the project can be found under the tag WBIC-2023 (some content in English).