The Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ affairs is a new programme of religious and faith leaders from across the world that hope to affirm that love and acceptance are offered to everyone following a faith- irrespective of their sexuality or gender identity.
Over 370 religious and faith leaders from 35 different countries have signed a joint declaration that looks for forgiveness for religious practices which have hindered and harmed the lives of LGBT+ individuals and furthermore calls for conversion practices, which are often offered in the guise of religious duty, to be banned indefinitely.
The initiative was due to be launched at an event in London on Wednesday at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office but lockdown measures meant the event was instead presented in an online conference.
In a joint statement The Global Interfaith Co-Chairs Reverend Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool,and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, a leading Reform Rabbi said:
“Today is a landmark day for those who wish to see a world where all can flourish independent of their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.
“We recognise that for far too long, certain religious teachings have been misused to cause deep pain to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex.
“This must change, which is why we have joint forces to launch the global interfaith commission on LGBT+ individuals. We aim to provide a strong and authoritative voice from religious leaders who wish to affirm and celebrate the dignity of all.”
Last week, Reverend Bayes said that the new commission and declaration would offer “a platform on which many of us from different faiths can stand across the world in order to give dignity to LGBTI lives”.
The Anglican Communion, which had over 60 signatories, sees deep division and difference across border lines with regard to how it treats its LGBT citizens. Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda uphold biblical teachings and criminalise homosexuality with harsh punishments.
In Nigeria, in the states governed by Sharia Law, homosexuals are sentenced to death and those in states under the influence of the Anglican government are sentenced to up to fourteen years imprisonment.
The declaration assumes accountability for the severity of the damage caused by religious interference in the lives of LGBT+ individuals and seeks forgiveness from those “whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching”.
Importantly, in a western world where surprisingly conversion therapy isn’t as uncommon as pro-LGBTI equality laws suggest, the declaration calls for “all attempts to change, suppress or erase a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression — commonly known as ‘conversion therapy’ — to end, and for these harmful practices to be banned”.
Speaking at the conference Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner added “Conversion therapy is really important for religious leaders specifically to call out because we, as religious leaders, have often incited hatred against LGBT people through certain religious teachers, and therefore we are responsible for holding our hands up and saying ‘We were wrong.’
“This is what we need to do about it: we need to end conversion therapy at the hands of anyone, but particularly at the hands of religious people using, or I would say misusing, religious teaching in it.”
Signatories also included political figures as former president of Ireland Mary McAleese, who helped in founding the commission, was seeking to “take responsibility” for the role of Catholicism in aiding the formation of “an impenetrable wall of attitudes, perceptions, prejudices, and presumptions around LGBTI people”.
Speaking about Ireland’s 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage, she said “I’m very proud of that, because it led our LGBTI citizens to understand that, while many of them were Catholic, and their Church’s laws and attitudes are highly oppressive, that among ordinary, everyday people of faith, the people of God, there was great love.”
The UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz added “I salute people of faith who choose the path of inclusion. LGTB persons are spiritual beings, and seeing the support of their spiritual leaders in action is deeply moving and inspiring.”
Dilwar Hussain, who chairs the group New Horizons in British Islam admits that Muslim communities had been “for so long behind the curve on issues of LGBTQI justice”.
Following a public battle at a school in Birmingham last year, Islam’s compatibility with western values was thrust into the spotlight when aggrieved parents protested and removed their children from mandated education because the school taught children about the existence of LGBT families.
The debate made headline news as those who followed a faith believed their religious expression and rights were being infringed upon, positioning themselves as the “victims” of equality.
“Where does our strong sense of justice go when talking about LGBT people? What moral backbone do we have if we talk about our rights but deny [them] for LGBT people? Surely we should treat others as we want to be treated” Mr Hussain said in his address to the conference.
“If we’re going to be serious about living our faith in this modern British context, we’ve got to look at this with the full breadth of equality that we see around us.”
The UK government funded the commission, despite still having failed to outlaw conversion practices in the UK. Speaking earlier this year Prime Minister Boris Johnson labelled so-called conversion therapy as “absolutely abhorrent.”
The declaration calls for LGBT individuals and those who support equality to sign petitions and pressure local faith groups and leaders to sign up to the declaration.
Links to the petition can be found here – https://globalinterfaith.lgbt/#peti