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Religion

no.4 December 2007


Dear friends,

Index:

IGLYO on... Religion

with this magazine we’re providing you with a broad repertory of topics around the issue of LGBTQ life and religion. The dialogue within IGLYOs community has been started this year by a Study Session in Budapest that aimed at builing bridges to the unknown. Religious faith is somehow challenging for us as LGBTQ young people in manifold dimensions. The rapid changes of our societies provide us with new choices around our ways of identities, loves, lives and intimacies. But enhancement of lifestyles is also challenging and demanding to individuals and can be seen as a danger for those, who believe and rely on only one overaching paradigm of intimate relationship. Religious communities often try to push very traditional and strict models of families and partnerships, marked by heteronormativity that comes along with LGBTQ-phobia. This must not be the case, as there are ways of interpreting holy sources and religious use in LGBTQ inclusive manners. This edition of IGLYOs bulletin is one step in this direction, towards inclusive dialogues: between LGBTQ community and faith based communities, but also within the LGBTQ community among people with different religious backgrounds.

International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Youth & Student Organisation p.o. BOX 3836 - 1001 AP Amsterdam The Netherlands info@iglyo.com - www.iglyo.com Bank Account: 678594953 ING Bank - Amsterdam-Centrum Herengracht 580, 1017 CJ, AMSTERDAM (The Netherlands) IBAN: NL59 INGB 0678 5949 53 BIC (Swift): INGBNL2A

TABLE OF CONTENTS Exodus: the freedom to grow in to hett erosexuality by Oliver P. Spinedi

“My sister Zahra” by Lucy Nowottnick

Religion and gay rights in Europe by Sophie n’t Veld

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Enjoy the reading!

From spiritual outcast to faith advocate

The IGLYO Board, Björn, Bruno, Darren, Fabio and Lucy

Judaism & LGBT: between homophobia and equality

IGLYO on.... No.4, December 2007

IG IGLYO: Building bridges between LGBTQ and faith based communicites

Project Coordinator: Fabio Saccà Editor: Lucy Nowottnick Design Editor: Fabio Saccà Contributors: Alexey Bulokhov, Alon S. CHen, Sophie in ‘t Veld, Nanna Moe, Lucy Nowottnick, José Cristobal Rueda Sanchéz, Bruno Selun, Yoav Sivan, Oliver P. Spinedi, Carmen Daniela Stepan. Proofreading: Christopher Beaton Design & Layout: Assaf Arbel, www.assafarbel.com Printer: NUOVAGRAFICA, www.tipolitonuovagrafica.it

extra resources and further readings to this edition on www.iglyo.com page 2

by Alexey Boulokhov

by Yoav Sivan

by Bruno Selun

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© 2007 IGLYO. Reproduction permitted, provided that appropriate reference is made to the source. This newletter is published with the support of the European Youth Fundation and the European Commission. The information contained in this publication does not necessarily reflect the position of opinion of the European Commission or of the Council of Europe. They are not liable for any use that may be made of this information.

IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007


EXODUS: “The Freedom to grow into Heterosexuality by Oliver P. Spinedi

Oliver Spinedi is a board member of Lambda Youth Network Germany since 2001, responsible for Foreign Affairs and Quality Management. Academically he focuses on cultural anthropology and social science.

“Exodus International” is a fundamentalist Christian organization. It is a non-profit, interdenominational Christian organization that acts mainly in the U.S. but also in 17 other countries worldwide. It offers its members “the freedom to grow into heterosexuality through the healing power of Jesus Christ”. It is Exodus’s view that it is impossible to be homosexual and believe in Jesus Christ. “The bible tells us so. And I don’t believe that it is God’s will, that somebody becomes homosexual”, says Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International. The organization believes that homosexuality is a “multi-causal, developmental disorder that can be overcome with the help of professional counsellors and that an individual can experience transformation through the healing power of Jesus Christ.” How can “freedom” be reached? It seems most common method is called “conversion therapy”, “reparative therapy” or “sexual reorientation therapy” based on psychological treatment, classes, readings and bible studies. Considered a “beneficial tool” by Exodus, the main focus is on: abstaining from homosexual behaviour, reducing homosexual temptation and strengthening the sense of gender identity. People argue that such a therapy can be effective because there is still no medical explanation for homosexuall ity, such as the discovery of a “homosexual gene”. If homosexuality does not have a biological cause, it’s got to be socially constructed – and can be ‘cured’.

www.exodus.to

In almost all Western societies, however, medical associations declare these methods are not only ineffective but potentially harmful to patients, especially if they are young. Thus the use of conversion therapy is highly questionable. While Exodus International declares that a third of their members succeed, there has been no independent proof of effectiveness of these methods.

IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007

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to grow into Heterosexuality

Nowadays religious beliefs are sometimes used to legitimize political goals – terrorism, oppression and so on. Religious fundamentalism and Holy Wars have been rediscovered during the last decade. Although Islamic fundamentalism is a common topic in daily news broadcasts, religious fundamentalism in other religions is rarely paid serious attention. Christianity is not considered a dangerous threat in Western societies as no one would expect terrorism from some sort of military Christians. This is because the influence of Christian fundamentalists is functional and follows rather “viral” patterns.

The freedom

Religion has long been the centre of controversial and circular discussions. Many beliefs are based on historical events or their narration in religious literature. To an athiest or agnostic, it seems likely that such issues and topics (originally written down down hundreds or even thousands of years ago) were done so with one main purpose: to make life easier. Reglious guidance gave humankind a structure to hold on to and a reason to keep living.


to grow into Heterosexuality The freedom

Besides the potential damage done to individuals, there are two threats which are much more dangerous. First, these kind of organizations may have a long-term goal of rolling back legal protection for LGBT people. Exodus concludes in its doctrinal statement: “We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the inspired word of God, the final authority for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction for living.” This logic is representative of fundamentalism: everything done and said can be justified by the word of God and should therefore be accepted and followed. Another possibly more dangerous threat is how organizations such as Exodus International approach people. This refers especially to the “viral” structure they use. “Exodus bridges the gap between Christians who respond to homosexual men and women with ignorance and fear, and those who uphold homosexuality as a valid Christ-centered lifestyle”, says the doctrinal statement. While other Christian fundamentalist organizations take rather strong positions against homosexuality, and even take aggressive action, Exodus International uses a strategy of emphasizing ‘ex-gays’ alit - people who once called themselves gay but who now call themselves ‘cured’ - and wears a mask of compassion. As such, homosexual individuals are no longer denounced as morally or socially corrupt. The ex-gay phenomenon and its supporters instead use kind, gentle terms to communicate with their desired audience: LGBT people in need of support. Perhaps they have suffered or still suffer from authorial or social pressure and they have serious problems with their sexual identity. They may be looking for help, and organisations such as Exodus International offer them just that: an understanding attitude, support and “spiritual mentorship” by so-called experts on the topic. This is an easy way to attract the LGBT community, since it targets those members least able to look after themselves and it attempts to take over the supportive role played by the LGBT community itself. How can LGBT organizations react? First of all, it is important to take organizations like Exodus Inn ternational seriously. The movement is not run by just a small group of religious fanatics who have strict moral beliefs and strange ideas about how sexual identity is a matter of choice. The ex-gay phenomenon is being promoted by a growing, well-organized network. LGBT organizations must be aware what the main goals and methods of these organizations are: to label homosexuality as a “chosen lifestyle” that you can get rid of with the help of “spiritual mentorship”. Furthermore it is important to declare what this means - restricting behaviour via potentially harmful ‘therapy’ that is tantamount to brain-washing. LGBT organizations should continue to provide the public with reliable education and information. There is renewed importance to focus on youth work, youth education and youth support in order to build up a social climate of knowledge, respect and tolerance of diversity. Although Western societies in general may be more accepting towards sexual diversity, the process of coming out is still a hard one for young people. Therefore it is extremely important that LGBT youth organizations offer these young people what they might mistakenly seek at ex-gay organizations such as Exodus International: the freedom to grow into the person they want to be, no matter what their sexual identity. page 4

IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007


“My sister Zahra”

Sharing the experience of a LGBT young people In the muslim / moroccan community by Lucy Nowottnick

Lucy studies Gender Studies and Islamic Science in Berlin and would like to do a doctorate afterwards. Alongside her studies she is working as a student research assistant. Before she joined the IGLYO board she worked for Lambda, the LGBT youth organisation in Germany, for which she organised youth exchanges, took part in international LGBT youth conferences and lobbied on a national as well as on the European level.

How did your parents and the Moroccan community talk about homosexuality and Islam when you were growing up? My parents never talked about homosexuality, and in the Moroccan community they never talk about it. My parents do admit that it exists but for them it is not normal. And that is how most of the Moroccans think about it. They know it happens, but it is not good. And if you do it, if you have same sex relations, please don't tell anybody. Just do it and don't bother other people. So, homosexuals live a life in secret, but there exist a lot of homosexual contacts and networks. It's just another point of view. By the way, our present definition of homosexual relations is very modern, very new. Only recently people of same sex could live together as a family, openly. In Morocco it's not like that. Even when 2 people life together and some people suspect that they are gay, it will not be openly. How did your sister feel when she discovered she was interested in women? How did your Moroccan background influence this? Where did she find people she could talk to about it? She was afraid and didn't know if she could talk about it at home: maybe it would be better not to mention it and to have homosexual relationships in secret? She felt bad because she was going to disappoint her father and she was afraid of his reactions. Was he going to throw her out of the house, was she still his daughter...? She could't talk with family members and it was even difficult to talk with friends. So she found other lesbians to talk with. She also looked on the internet to find out more about it. She was very young so she was very ignorant. IGLYO On...Religion - no.4 / December 2007

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“My Sister Zahra”

This is an interview with Saddie, the director of "Mijn zus Zahra". A 52 minuts documentary where Saddie tells the personal story of her sister Zahra who comes in conflict with her parents because she is lesbian. Saddie tries to show what arab conceptions of sexual orientations and gender as a way to make her sister orientation acceptable for her family and the traditions they're living with…


But just because she never talked about it clearly at home didn't mean she did anything to hide it. Especially on the computer, she didn't hide anything. She wanted my parents to know about it.

“My Sister Zahra�

What arguments are raised against homosexuality by your parents and other members of the Moroccan community? A lot of muslims - especially younger ones and less educated people - say that it's forbidden in Islam but they can never show you where it's written that it is forbidden. So, when you discuss it more, they easily admit that they don't know. That doesn't mean that they agree with you, it just means that the Islam says nothing about it it's not clear. clea Some muslims think it is a disease. And they say we have to help such people. We have to talk to them and try to convince them to change. Other think it's a test from god. And that if you do not admit to these feelings you will pass the test. My parents think it is not normal, that it is not natural. Most people think about it like this. But that doesn't mean that it s not possible to live as homosexual. It is important is to get married, to have a family and to have children. You need to have a good job and then what you do in your private life is nobody's business. But it’s a misunderstanding that muslims are against homosexuality because of Islam. I think it's more cultural... but culture and religion are very interweaved. What was your motivation to make the film? How do you think it can influence muslim / marrocan communities? I'm the oldest daughter in the family and when my parents were wondering if my sister was a lesbian I wasn't living at home anymore. When my mother called me she told me often that Zahra was a bit difficult, like a rebel, and then she told me that she thought Zahra might be a lesbian. I told my mum she was really exaggerr ating but this time it was the truth. My parents asked me to talk to my sister about her homoo sexual feelings and to try to change them. Of course I didn't want to do that so in the meantime I wasn't going to listen to my

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IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007


What do you think would be different if your father was not a Muslim? In the West we have another understanding of what it means to be homosexual. There was a big fight from the fgtbl [What is fgtbl?! I’ve never heard of it and I can’t tell if it’s a spelling mistake or something particular to Moroccan culture.] movement for equal rights. And in Belgium we have progressive laws. That influences the society and the citizens. There was also a big struggle for secularisation. But on the other hand I think most fathers feel bad when they discover that their daughter is a lesbian, I think that is very universal. But non-muslim fathers will be less afraid of the reactions of the neighbourhood. Nowadays. Before, I even think it was the same. But more and more people accept it, and more more gays are visible, so non-muslim parents will accept it more easily than muslim parents. My mum is Belgian and she thinks exactly the same as my father.

“My Sister Zahra”

parents. Then I started thinking about the situation and I understood that it was not going to be easy. As a filmmaker and writer, most of the time I do something with the things that happen in my life and neighbourhood. So the story of my sister was very important and kept me busy. Homosexuality and Islam are hot issues and that's why I first didn't want to do anything about it. I didn't want to bring bad news about the Moroccan communities. But why was I thinking there was only bad news? And as a filmmaker and a sister I was in an exceptional situation and I think this story was a nice starting point. Besides it's very important as a gay person with an Islamic backk ground to have some support. Most of the time it is a sister, a brother, cousin, aunt... it is someone like this who supports you. When I said before that we don't talk about homosexuality, I meant publically or in the family. But on the other hand we like to talk a lot. I have already assisted a lot of film viewings within Moroccan women’s organisations - women who even don't know how to write but after seeing the film they discuss it a lot. And sometimes they come to me and tell me I should always keep on supporting my sister. At least with the film, those gays with an Islamic background are seen to exist.

What do you think would be different in your sister's life if she did not life in Europe but in Morocco? Homosexual life in Morocco exists, but it’s completely different from Europe. A lot of homosexuu als are married. They’re not homosexual marriages of course. But besides their life as a good housewife or husband, as a good father or mother, they often have good contacts among homoo sexuals. It's as a well known secret. In Belgium we are in a situation where coming out is very important: don't hide it, be proud,... so it’s the opposite from the situation in Morocco. Even if it is not easy, she can live openly as a lesbian. But for most of the gays here in Europe with a muslim background, coming out is not always the most important thing - they have also other problems, like racism. Finding others in the same situation, finding places to go out, to meet others – this is more important than telling your father and mother. mothe

Film credits: "Mijn zus Zahra / My sister Zahra" Belgium, 2006, 52 min. Director: Saddie Choua Images source: “Mijn zus Zahra” by Saddie Choua © 2006 IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007

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Religion and gay rights in Europe:

Religion

and gay rights in Europe

not a match made in Heaven!

by Sophie in ‘t Veld, MEP I started working on this article in very good spirits, just days after the Polish elections, when the government of the Kaczynski twins was overwhelmingly defeated by the opposition Civic Platform. The two extremist fringe parties that supported the government did not make the threshold and will not return to parliament. The ousted government became known for the homophobic statements by government ministers. Ironically, the statements helped to get the issue of homophobia high on the EU political agenda. But events in Vilnius a few days later underlined the urgency of fighting homophobia in Europe. Thugs set off smoke bombs in a bar where many participants of the annual ILGA-Europe conference had just gathered. The next day a group of people demonstrated outside of the hotel were the conference took place, holding signs displaying texts such as: ‘Go home!’ and ‘Lithuania – no gay zone!’ My mood takes a dive again. Homophobia will not be eliminated over night.

Sophie is a Dutch Liberal Democrat, Vice Chair of the Intergroup LGBT rights, Chair of the Working Group Separation of Religion and Politics. She is member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs committee and the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee.

All over the world churches of all denominations play a key role in fanning hatred and violence against LGBT people. Europe is no exception. In Poland the ultra-Catholic Radio Marija is a driving force behind the homophobic slant of the Kaczynski government. Though the Vatican is more cautious, it remains silent on the vitriolic hate speech of Radio Marija, and it uses all its power to oppose equal rights for LGBT people. In Russia, Orthodox priests actively participated in violence against the gay pride marches in Moscow and a speech on “morality” by Patriarch Alexey II before the Council of Europe was a scathing attack on homosexuality. Conservative muslim leaders in Europe openly incite hatred and violence against homosexuals. The Anglican church is embroiled in a bitter fight over the position of LGBT people. Even in the tolerant Netherlands a fundamentalist protestant party in government tries to chip away at gay marriage and obliged a lesbian local councillor to step down. After decades of secularisation, religion is back. Reasons for religious revival may differ, but the outcome is remarkably similar across the world: regardless what religion is dominant, it is usually bad news for women and LGBT people. People are anxious about threats of globalisation, climate change, terrorism and mass immigration. They feel reassured and protected by strong, authoritarian leaders. In this climate, conservative religious organisations seize the opportunity and rapidly regain lost ground. In some East-European countries the Catholic church benefited from its aura as liberator from the communist dictatorship to establish a firm grip on the young democracies. For young muslims in Europe, conservative Islam provides a sense of identity and pride in a climate of xenophobia and alienation. After an era of individualisation, people who are looking for a sense of community, comfort and spiritual guidance turn to seemingly moderate parties, who often are ultraconservative wolves dressed up as modern, moderate sheep. The so called “intercultural dialogue”, meant as a platform for smoothing out problems relating to immigration, has in many cases been hijacked by church leaders of all denominations. Political leaders sheepishly accept their claim to representativeness. Thus the debate on the shared values underpinning our European society is now in the hands of conservative religious leaders. page 8

IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007


Political leaders want to be seen rubbing shoulders with religious leaders. It may not be surprising to see Polish politicians of all colours pay homage to their fellow-countryman Pope John II, but then there is the public display of religiosity by Tony Blair, and his ostentatious conversion to Catholicism only days after his resignation as Prime Minister; Chancellor Merkel meeting the Pope and the Dalai Lama; and Prime Minister Prodi obediently withdrawing a proposal for civil unions that had met with the disapproval of the Vatican. The funeral of John Paul II was attended by four kings, five queens, and 70 presidents and prime ministers, reminiscent of medieval times. European institutions are also keen to embrace religious leaders.

Churches justify their position with a reference to freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is indeed a fundamental right, and a very important one. Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are cornerstones of a free society, but so is the principle of equality and the ban on discrimination. There is no hierarchy of fundamental rights. But increasingly churches justify discrimination and homophobic hate speech by referring to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Is this a message of doom and gloom? No it isn’t! There is a lot of good news. Firstly, the issue of homophobia has been put very high on the agenda by the European Parliament, and the Member States know they are being watched. The majority of countries have opened marriage and civil unions to same sex couples, and their number is growing. The EU directive banning all forms of discrimination will materialise, if slowly. The newly created Fundamental Rights Agency has accepted, as one of its first tasks, to carry out a major study into homophobia in Europe, at the request of the European Parliament. National and European courts have generally been very helpful in fighting for fundamental rights, for example by overturning a ban on gay prides or imposing equal treatment in work and financial matters. And finally: we too have the power to change things. Speaking out does help. The best news about the Polish election result was the very high turn out of young voters. And they made a difference!

Image source: www.sophieintveld.nl

IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007

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and gay rights in Europe

The EU leaders - real go-getters when it comes to single market policies - are suddenly very timid when it comes to anti-discrimination policies. After the failed candidacy of Italian homophobic Rocco Buttiglione in 2004, Commission President Barroso only secured the vote of approval of the European Parliament upon his solemn pledge that his Commission would be the champion of Fundamental Rights. But in practice it would seem that his favourite slogan “Europe of results” does not apply to the area of Fundamental Rights. The European Parliament has repeatedly called for legislation outlawing all forms of discrimination, but the Commission has been reluctant to put forward proposals (though rumour has it they are expected early 2008). Whereas the Commission takes on giants like Microsoft for infringements of the market rules, it hesitates to come down on Member States for violation of anti-discrimination rules. (One cheerful exception: competition Commissioner Kroes went after the Catholic church for allegations of receiving illegal state aid.)

Religion

The new EU Treaty contains a paragraph on the dialogue of the EU institutions with churches and non-confessional organisations. In the context of this article, Commission President Barroso has hosted three high level meetings with religious leaders, all male, all conservative. Chancellor Merkel and European Parliament president Poettering attended as well. The latter has invited the Pope to address the plenary session of Parliament. On various occasions the European Parliament has insisted the dialogue should be more transparent and include non-confessional organisations, such as the humanists, and progressive religious groupings. The Council of Europe invited Patriarch Alexey II. In contrast, very few political leaders have the courage to speak out against the rampant homophobia of churches. They are silent when religious leaders incite hatred and even violence against LGBT people. They are silent when local authorities ban gay pride events, bowing to pressure of religious leaders, and they fail dramatically to condemn discrimination, hate speech and violence. President Van der Linden of the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly stated we should not “impose our western liberal values” on Russia, after the violent incidents at the Moscow Gay Pride. The EU Ministers welcomed ultra-homophobic Polish Minister for Education Giertych at their Council meetings without comment.


From spiritual outcast to faith advocate: one queer believer’s journey into activism

From spiritual outcast to

faith advocate

by Alexey Bulokhov

On a plane to Budapest, en route to the IGLYO study session on the intersection of LGBTQ and faith-related identities and communities, I thought back on my personal journey as a queer bee liever. I was born in the Soviet Union where religion was illegal. One could face imprisonment for any manifestation of spirituality. In a way, it was a counterproductive measure because faith only grows stronger under oppression and persecution. After the USSR collapsed, my family was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church. I was in my early teens then and around the same time Alexey Bulokhov is from Russia. came to terms with my gender identity and sexual orientation. Three years ago he left the world of fashion photography to work fulltime on faith-related LGBTQ young adult activism with Soulforce Q. He enjoys sushi and cinema. Mail: Alexey@soulforce.org Al

Later I was disillusioned by the Church due to its public condemnation of LGBTQ people on one hand and what I saw as nonopposition to violence against ethnic minorities in Russia on the other. In my understanding of the gospels, it seemed to go against the Biblical imperative of expansive love and examples of radical inclusion consistently presented by Jesus during his ministry. This dissonance initially inspired my spiritual quest. I studied Christianity and began to learn about other faith traditions. Today, I am most influenced by the Buddhist emphasis on the interconnectedness of all matter and energy in the universe which calls for strict personal responsibility towards all creation. Commitment to religious education continues to inform and drive my activism. It's unfortunate and dangerous when individual ill-informed voices influence particular communities and society as a whole to further stigmatize and persecute LGBTQ people based on a traditional misinterpretation of certain sacred texts. Generally, when people turn to any sacred text, the impetus behind it is rarely to find out how to live, but most often to discover why live. Conveniently, the unequivocal answer to both questions all across the faith spectrum is “to love unconditionally.” That is the shared framework for and entry point into every faith-related dialogue about LGBTQ equality. Religiously motivated discrimination is often enabled by absence of explicit legal protections, or worse it influences punitive civil law. It leaves LGBTQ people ostracized, attacked, homeless, unemployed, separated from their children, and so on. In many cases it leads to suicide. Find the corresponding national statistics and ask your conversation partner: “If love is the life-sustaining force of faith, how come it makes LGBTQ lives impossible? Where is the tragic disconnect between the rhetoric of faith and faith in action?”

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IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007


One approach is to assert that my goals and values are anchored in a vision of a stronger, healthier, compassionate, more diverse community. When LGBTQ people, our families and friends make known our difficult past, limiting realities of today and dreams of a brighter future then faith should, can and I believe will become an ally and not an obstacle to reconciliation.

For example, my deeply devoted mother recently suggested there was no evidence of LGBTQ acceptance in the Bible. That is simply false! To begin with, I showed her the New Testament story describing baptism of a eunuch. Then pointed out the verses in which Jesus himself affirms eunuchs who were born that way, made that way by others or chosen to be that way. This in turn led to a long fruitful discussion of the socio-cultural etymology of the term “eunuch” and how it relates to our current understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality. My mother’s head is still spinning as her ideas about God, creation and love are changing and expanding; re-energized, her faith is intensifying. You’re welcome, Mom! When we invest time and effort into studying faith traditions and share the acquired knowledge with others, we foster rapid progressive change. An American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., in a famous 1963 letter from the Birmingham jail wrote of his fear that the Church of his era “will be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the Church has turned into outright disgust. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” Beyond its Christian implication and immediate historical context, this is a sentiment pertinent to the LGBTQ struggle in the 21st century. centur

Faith helps individuals understand their relationship with the world around them. Thus, the impact

IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007

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advocate

During our time together at the European Youth Center in Budapest it was powerful to witness the damaging aftermath of religion-based oppression which most often is self-inflicted due to internalized homophobia. It was also transformative to seek and share practical ways to heal, affirm and empower ourselves and our communities. One of preeminent Buddhist teachers in Canada, Pema Chodron insists that “we work on ourselves in order to help others, but we also help others in order to work on ourselves.” From South East Asia to North America, LGBTQ young adults are reclaiming their spirituality and leading the charge to revitalize faith traditions all over the world.

From spiritual outcast to faith

Once one engages a faith community with informed respect, much progress is inevitable. Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “My effort should never be to undermine other's faith but to make them better followers of their own faith.” In my experience of working with conservative Christian communities in USA and Russia, when one is asked to identify and uphold one’s central faith principles one reluctantly recognizes LGBTQ people as spiritual siblings. I encourage everyone to educate themselves in theology of a religion of your interest. Be it Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other faith tradition, in most cases the strong beautiful LGBTQ legacy therein has been subject to severe sanctions. However, much scholarship affirms that our lives have been an integral part of sacred narratives and practices throughout history.


faith advocate From stpiritual outcast to

of any belief can only become evident in the way people treat one another. In his artfully polemicc work “The Heart Is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality” William Sloane Coffin asks an intriguing question: “Isn’t social justice the ethical test of any form of spirituality?” In several disturbing, haunting instances of the past, faith has been abused by patriarchal oppressive forces to create and enforce an illusion of categorically unbridgeable division between people. Most notably and tragically, it was colonial construction of race and ethnicity that allowed slavery and exploitation to flourish for centuries. The profound change of such a monstrous worldview (as recently as late 20th century) provides inspiration and a blue print for LGBTQ integration. This is where faith and human rights objectives, rhetoric and mechanisms enable each other so that people can usher in a more humane era. Both faith and human rights frameworks have the power to facilitate communication across socioeconomic and political lines and to make state borders and cultural boundaries irrelevant. That is why faith-related international coalition building between previously disconnected LGBTQ communities is finally gaining unprecedented momentum. On a plane from Budapest, having sorted through the business cards, print materials and notes from all the participants, I began to meditate on our articulated vision of an inclusive world community that honors LGBTQ contributions to individual faith traditions, respective nations and global society as a whole. When I think back to the excitement and reconciliation-oriented commitment of my new friends and fellow truth and justice seekers, words of Madonna’s hit song Nothing Fails come to mind: “I’m not religious, but it makes me want to pray…” All Pictures in this article show Educational Activities in the IGLYO Study Session “Building Bridges to the Unknown - Encouraging dialogue between LGBT and faith-based communities ”, Budapest © by Carmen Daniela Stepan 2007

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IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007


Judaism and LGBT: between homophobia and equality by Yoav Sivan

Yoav Sivan, a Board Member of the Jerusalem Open House, has been the LGBT Coordinator of the International Union of Socialist Youth. His Column Outpolitik appears in Gay City News in New York. Sivan is a member of the Board of Governors of the World Jewish Congress. His website is www.yoavsivan.org

Jews, Judaism and the Jewish people What does being Jewish say about your connection with God? Actually, very little. As a matter of fact most of the people who identify themselves as Jewish or are recognised as Jewish by the Halakha (the Jewish codex of law) either do not believe in God or believe in some "spiritual being", without obliging themselves to a certain lifestyle. If they do believe in God, they show him (or her) no sign of it. By Western standards, Jews are a very secular group. But how important is faith in Judaism anyway? Historically Jewish communities were based on common practice and not on common faith. The Hebrew word for ‘religion’ also means ‘law’. Judaism (similarly to Islam) has a legal system that has been forged throughout thousands of years of scholarly debates and authoritative rulings. Jewish law tells you how to act but not what to believe in. It provides the community with a comprehensive manual of how to conduct their life in every detail, from birth to death. Even if you practise nothing, regularly eat pork on Yom Kippor and you have never set foot in a synagogue, you are still one hundred percent a Kosher Jew in the eyes of the community. The religious Jewish establishment today Among the 14-odd million Jews living around the world, there are three major established Jewish denominations (there is also a fourth much smaller one, the Reconstructivist Movement). •

• •

Orthodox Judaism - usually regarded as the historical continuation of traditional Judaism (ultra-Orthodox Judaism, on the other hand, originated as a 19th century reaction to secularism). There are many subgroups within Orthodox Judaism, characterised for example by geographical origin (Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic, or European vs. Oriental), attitudes toward scholarism and mysticism (Hasidim vs. Mitnagdim), nationalism and zionism (National Zionists vs. anti-nationalistic circles), and even religious zeal (ultra-Orthodox vs. seculars). Conservative Judaism - the name is misleading as the movement is actually progressive. The Conservative Movement is the second biggest Jewish denomination in the United States. Progressive or Reform Judaism, the biggest Jewish denomination in America.

Secular Jews are in a strange position on the map of the Jewish religious establishment. What happens when you are secular, alienated to any religious practise and discourse? The majority of Jews in Israel are non-religious, yet there are considered orthodox by default. IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007

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Judaism and LGBT...

In November 2006, the Israeli media debated one question for two weeks: should gays and lesbians be allowed to march in Jerusalem's city-centre? From the beginning of that debate, it is religious leaders who have risen as the LGBT community’s strongest opponents. Their message was clear and blunt: homosexuality is an abomination. The deputy PM from the Jewish religious party ‘Shas’ said that "gays and lesbians are sick people," And compared the parade to a terror attack. The harsh lingo was especially grave when you factor in the actual violence that occurred in the 2004 parade when a Jewish Zealot stabbed three participants. With religious MPs and Rabbis expressing such strong homophobia, it's easy to conclude that Judaism is homophobic. This is part of the picture but only a part of it. I don’t intend to offer here a methodical introduction to the interrelationship between Judaism and LGBT people, rather my aim is to hint how complex the picture is.


Judaism and LGBT...

Marriage equality in Judaism Two campaigns form the frontline of the quest for equality for LGBT people among the religious Jewish establishment, mainly in America (whose Jewish population is almost as big as Israel's six million Jews): the demands for marriage equality and the ordaining of openly-gay rabbis. The Reform Movement has institutionally acknowledged both demands long ago and has prided itself on socially welcoming LGBT people as an integral part of Jewish life and community. Some fifteen Jewish LGBT congregations flourish in North America, and in the high-holidays their services seek bigger locations to accommodate the hundreds of worshippers o Manhattan, San Francisco or Los Angeles. In the conservative movement a groundbreaking decision was reached in December 2006 to allow same-sex marriage and the ordaining of openly-gay rabbis. In the Conservative Movement there is no debate on the political demand for respect and acceptance of LGBT people, although there is a religious controversy on its halakhic repercussions. Admittedly, the moves toward equality were not without controversy, and controversies are the cornerstone of Judaism – yet even among the opponents you will not encounter expressions such as "gays and lesbians are evil", as is frequently said by Ovadia Yossef, former Israeli chief rabbi and the spiritual leader of the religious party Shas. Gay and Jewish in Orthodox Judaism Can one infamous line from Leviticus explain the homophobia among religious orthodox Jews? I don't know, although I suspect not. It is true that Jewish scholars in the Talmud refer to the Torah ore the five books of Moses in their legal debates, including to the phrase with the ban on homoo sexual intercourse, but it is a common mistake to identify Jewish law with a literal reading of the Hebrew Bible. For example, although capital punishment is often suggested in the Torah, the Talmud considers a religious court which sentences to death even once in seventy years cruel. I wonder what the Rabbis would have said about the State of Texas? Homophobia is a common and extreme expression of conservative values and a reaction to liberal views. Admittedly when religious Orthodox Jews try to base conservative social and political opinions on the Halakha, they often get carried away. Because the Orthodox establishment is much stronger in Israel than in America, and enjoys a state monopoly over religious services, it becomes more socially conservative, and the different religious groups compete with each other in raising the bar of ignorance. That said, the double commitment of gay Orthodox Jews to stay faithful to religious practice and to assert their sexual identity challenges even the orthodox establishment, as demonstrated by the movie “trembling before G-d" though perhaps more slowly than we might hope. Between political and religious struggle The struggle for equality for LGBT people takes place on two distinct fronts, the political one and the religious one, which are too often confused. For example, consider the question of ‘Same sex marriage’: On the political level, I praise the warm welcome LGBT people have enjoyed by the Reform Movement and our recent successes with the Conservative Movement. But I acknowledge that marriage equality in Judaism is first and foremost a religious affair, concerning which I have no standing. I must wait outside The room, where the Rabbis debate their ruling. The question whether a rabbi should perform a wedding of same-sex couples is a matter of Halakhic discussion and should be debated among people who are committed to religious law. Of course I have an intellectual interest in the religious decision and a political one, as well as the simple hope that I will be able to marry under a Chupa within my community. Nevertheless, when it comes to acceptance of LGBT people and combating homophobia, I do come in demands from the religious leadership. Common sense and common courtesy, and I dare say even common understanding of Jewish law, require a respectful attitude to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. You don't need to compromise your religion to acknowledge a person’s identity, needs and distress. Moreover, respect for every human being as a creation in the image of God is a prerequisite to seriously addressing the position of LGBT people within a halakhic framework. This is where our efforts for a political dialogue with religious groups should focus. page 14

IGLYO on...Religlion - no.4 / December 2007


Building bridges between LGBTQ and faith-based communities by Bruno Selun

In the IGLYO Board since September 2006, Bruno Selun has been working on educational issues for the past 3 years, and studies Education and Philosophy in London.

For a week, we focused on how to foster dialogue between LGBTQ and religious communities. Dialogue means first and foremost going past our differences, discovering shared values and shared ideals, and trying to “build bridges”: sustainable relationships in a spirit of brotherhood and kinship. But even if dialogue should be the preferred method to advance human rights and minority rights, Chris Sidoti, from the international NGO International Services for Human Rights (www.ishr.ch), presented a different perspective. Dialogue is only one of four methods that can be used when it comes to human rights and faith-based views; debate, negotiation and confrontation are the others, and when dialogue fails, we should never forget that human rights and minority rights justify the use of more confrontational communication.

Another expert, Reverend Chris Newlands from the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups (www.euro-lgbt-christians.org), joined us for a few days and presented the helpful multifaceted vision of the situation for LGBTI clergy and people in the Anglican Church. The main outcome of the week were 9 projects created by participants, aiming to work on building bridges between LGBTQ and faith-based communities at local, national, or international levels. IGLYO encouraged the realisation of these projects, and offered its help in implementing them. In addition to their projects, participants came up with a set of key points for interfaith and intrafaith dialogue when promoting human rights, which will constitute the basis for IGLYO’s stance in the future. IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007

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IGLYO - building bridges to the unknown

As always in IGLYO events, an enthusiastic and colourful crowd of young LGBTQ activists from all over Europe—and beyond—gathered for a week of intense reflection. The study session “Building Bridges to the Unknown: Encouraging dialogue between LGBTQ and faith based communities” took place in the European Youth Centre of Budapest in November 2007. It was attended by 28 participants from Europe, the United States, Armenia, Israel and Lebanon. Representation was exceptionally diverse, with not only LGBTQ and straight participants, but also people with Buddhist, atheist, Islamic, Christian and Jewish backgrounds and beliefs.


IGLYO - building bridges to the unknown

Although this isn’t IGLYO’s official standpoint yet, the conclusion of this week of work stressed some of the following points: • • • • • • • • • • • • •

No human rights are negotiable Whatever happens, remain non-violent Focus on common values and ideals Respect religious values and stories In faith-based communities, there are both sympathisers and opponents - focus on finding sympathisers and allies! Use diplomacy and shared values rather than confrontation Be creative and constructive, rather than focus on the negative and what will “never work” Use a variety of strategies: dialogue, debate, negotiation and confrontation are all worth trying Introduce human rights wisely, not as a block of pure truth Be prepared to hear about theology, and accept this interpretation of the world All texts and rules are subject to interpretation Remember that sexual minorities are diverse, and not only “gay” Be conscious of, and fight, oppression in all its forms

The team was composed of 5 people from IGLYO and member organisations: Bruno Selun from the IGLYO Board; Giada Cotugno from Italy, Juul van Hoof from the Netherlands, Onur Poyraz from Turkey, and Vanja Hamzi , from Bosnia and Herzegovina The final report will be published in February 2008. IGLYO gratefully acknowledges the Council of Europe and the European Youth Foundation support for this important event.

All Pictures in this article show Educational Activities in the IGLYO Study Session “Building Bridges to the Unknown - Encouraging dialogue between LGBT and faithbased communities ”, Budapest © by Carmen Daniela Stepan 2007

for more information: www.iglyo.com

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IGLYO on...Religion - no.4 / December 2007


IGLYO on... RELIGION - December / 2007