This is an opinion piece written by
Tuisina Ymania Brown and Luz Elena Aranda, Co-Secretary General of ILGA World.
A condensed version of this article was originally published on Openly
When Pope Francis called for civil unions and spoke of the right of our LGBTI communities to a family, joy has been the first reaction for many of us.
For Catholics he is not only our spiritual father, but a hugely influential voice globally to hundreds of millions of people. His words of inclusion will resonate and hopefully drive inclusive change in countries, churches, communities and homes around the world.
After many years of being shut out in the darkness of exclusion, should we be surprised by these words that express support for us to access a most basic level of humanity?
Although unprecedented for a Pope, the support expressed by His Holiness is a basic level of human right protection.
Yes, we have a right to a family;
Yes, whether or not we have come out, we hope that our families won’t turn away from us;
Yes, we have a right for our love to be legally recognised. At least 28 UN member States have marriage equality, and 32 more recognise some form of civil partnership for same-sex couples.
And whilst we celebrate the support from Pope Francis, it is also a reminder for us that what may be obvious for LGBTIQ communities and allies may still not be for many across the world.
We are still conveniently scapegoated by conservatives and religious leaders for their own political gains, and the current pandemic gave us many examples of this - from campaigns in India falsely accusing trans people of spreading the virus, to multiple attempts to remove legal gender recognition.
Laws continue to target us. In 68 countries worldwide, for example, consensual same-sex relations are punished by law, and at least 13 have provisions that explicitly criminalise trans persons. From ‘conversion therapies’ to medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children, horrific practices are the harsh realities we’re subjected to. We are being told that we need to be ‘fixed’, despite our own knowledge that there is absolutely nothing wrong with us.
The acceptance and respect we call for is seldom given for granted by society at large, and this is why words such as those of Pope Francis will resonate with many in our communities. There is hope that we use them to potentially make a real lasting difference.
We know how life-changing it will be for tens of millions of LGBTI persons worldwide – both LGBTI Catholics themselves and those living in traditionally Catholic societies - to hear these words. Our hope is that they will warm the hearts of those who have rejected or left faith because they were repeatedly made feel unwelcome, as well as offering hope to those whose faith stands unwavering.
But whatever our reaction may have been while reading the words by Pope Francis, we know that they must be followed by actions.
Respect cannot be a pick-and-choose matter. It needs to be about all aspects of our lives, and not just our right to our families and our personal relationships, but also about everyone in our communities.
For far too long, the Church has been at best silent when our communities are attacked, or has actively contributed to those attacks itself.
The targeting of trans persons through odious and fallacious “gender ideology” arguments and the centuries-old limiting of the role of women in societies are two examples. Its long-standing silence on the damage caused by ‘conversion therapy’. Tolerating religious leaders who openly advocate for them. Refusing to stand-up for the bodily integrity and protection of intersex persons. These actions continue to maim, hurt and kill LGBTI people every day.
Many in our communities battle with trauma from the rejection we faced in religious spaces. But we at ILGA World have always kept the belief that one day faith will also be a part of the solution to open-up conversations and bring change.
As this happens, it is vital that we pay special attention and listen to the members of LGBTI communities with lived experiences of faith.
These meaningful dialogues are happening in many spaces, from local places of worship and families, to theological seminaries and regional gatherings, right up to the international level, including intra-denominational discussions and at the United Nations. These initiatives are often led by the courageous LGBTI people of faith.
We see more and more leaders showing up for marginalised groups, and their presence and words can offer hope for a world where we might all live in peace and dignity.
Meaningful words become a part of our dialogue, which lead to actions. Until that happens, the struggle for our communities will continue until all of us are truly free and equal.