Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Faith, Homophobia and Human Rights Conference

I was at this conference last weekend. It was organised by LGCM and supported by over 50 organisations, including the Unitarian General Assembly, (I think) the only actual denomination to support the conference.

The conference was initiated because of a report by the Gay Police Association that there had been a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the primary motivating factor was the religion of the perpetrator. When the Gay Police Association released this information they were themselves attacked virulently by conservative religious organisations. I blogged about that here.

The workshops I attended were on the 'Religion and gay friendliness' and one on lobbying againist the religious right by someone from the British Humanist Association. The most powerful speaker by far was Ali Hilli from Iraq, who spoke about how BGLT Iraqis are under constant persecution, often in the form of torture and murder by religious militias in Iraq, including elements that have infiltrated the police. He spoke of an organised and systematic campaign of ‘sexual cleansing’ – execution of BGLT people. There is an underground network of activists working to record homophobic attacks. This comes closer to home when BGLT asylum seekers from Iraq come here to the UK to avoid such persecution. There is a great need for us to support such asylum seekers.

The main thing I took from the conference was the need to build coalitions. We Unitarians are a tiny group and passing resolutions at General Assembly in reality does very little to change the world. What are needed are coalitions around issues that we care about, such as the elimination of homophobia. We should more actively build coalitions with natural partners such as humanist organisations, Quakers, and liberal Jews to lobby parliament and Whitehall and give messages to the press. Alone we do not have the clout, resources and money to do so, but together it may be possible. I had a long conversation with someone from the British Humanist Association which got me excited about building coalitions around agitating for same-sex marriage and the separation of church and state. Podcasts and pictures can be found here.

Giles Fraser of Inclusive Church
Vic Codling of the Gay Police Association

Chris Smith

Malcolm Duncan of Faithworks

Me and Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association

The conference declaration in full is below:

The Faith, Homophobia, & Human Rights Conference, gathered in London on 17th February 2007, calls on all people of goodwill, of whatever faith or none, to affirm and celebrate human equality in all its dimensions and particularly to work for the elimination of any faith-based homophobia and institutionalised prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

We reject the activities of certain religious leaders, seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. We deplore the internalised homophobia within religious institutions that fails to confront prejudice and hate. We encourage and support those faith organisations, which express their commitment to diversity and equality in practice and policy. We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.

We call for further progressive public policy that will deliver comprehensive and effective anti-discrimination legislation, including positive duties, on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, and belief. We call on the newly formed Commission for Equality and Human Rights to listen to the experience of LGBT faith networks and those who have suffered homophobia from and within religious organisations.

Today, the alliance of over fifty faith and secular organisations supporting this conference affirms and celebrates the values of human equality and social justice, rooted in the best of faith traditions, and shared by all who are committed to a fully human vision of a transformed society.


Blogger Mary Bennett, CUC said...

Just a quick note to say the Canadian Unitarian Council did as you suggest - worked as part of a religious coalition for same sex marriage. Lots of info at:

Will you be at British GA meetings in Hatfield?

If so, perhaps we can say "hello".

Mary Bennett, Executive Director

4:35 pm  

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