In 2013, when Pope Francis issued a pastoral statement on LGBTQIA people, he noted “If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” This statement was a watershed moment in relations among mainstream religious leaders and LGBTQIA advocates and activists. When I first arrived in NYC to represent Loretto at the United Nations in 2017, one of the first things I heard was that the death penalty for consensual same-sex acts currently exists in 13 countries, which clearly violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but no one really talks much about this reality at the UN.
Therefore, I was honored to serve as a Reflection Leader at the Ethics of Reciprocity (EOR), a luncheon event hosted on October 26, 2017, by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and several other collaborating organizations. Held in the Delegates Dining Room, with a beautiful view of the East River, this gathering of religious leaders, diplomats, activists and human rights experts was unprecedented because it was the first time that faith-based LGBTI leaders and allies shared their own stories.
Framed as a way to open needed dialogue, we were welcomed by UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour and event organizer Dr. Patricia Ackerman, IFOR’s representative to the United Nations. They reminded us that millions of people around the world suffering increasing amounts of violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Each and every day LGBTI people are attacked and even killed because of who they are and whom they love. This especially impacts our LGBTI and Questioning youth (and especially adolescents at school) who face brutal, relentless bullying because they don’t quite fit traditional gender stereotypes. The data clearly shows that many of these young people end up being driven out of school, running away from home, and are more likely than their peers to take their own lives.
The 120+ attendees at EOR included representatives from a number of conservative, moderate, and progressive religious organizations, and we had the opportunity to listen to stories of faith and daily lived reality from an impressive list of speakers from various countries and faith traditions:
Yvette Abrahams – South Africa – Indigenous African
Murilo Araujo – Brazil – Christian
Tusina Ymania Brown – Samoa – Christian
Rev. Brian Byamukama – Uganda – Christian
Bishop Pat Bumgarder – USA – Christian
Kochava Lior Lilit – Australia – Jewish
Shuhrat Saidov – Tajikistan – Muslim
Rev. Martin Kalimbe – Malawi – Christian
Abubakar Sadiq Yussif – Ghana – Muslim
Pearl Wong – Hong Kong – Christian
Jason Carson Wilson – USA – Christian
Each story spoke of both grief and resilience in these challenging times. The title of the gathering, “Ethics of Reciprocity,” was based on the idea that we should treat others as we wish them to treat us. Often referred to as “The Golden Rule,” this wish finds echoes in nearly all of the world’s major religions. During breaks between speakers, we had the opportunity to reflect upon living out the Golden Rule as we move towards a world free of violence and persecution against LGBTI people.
Never before have so many faith leaders from different countries and traditions gathered at the UN with the express purpose of tackling the challenge of protecting LGBTI people from violence and discrimination. Hopefully, this will be the first of many conversations regarding how we defuse hate and work for positive change. Hopefully, our shared beliefs in faith and human dignity can motivate us to end the physical, emotional, and spiritual violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.
(If you would like a link to the recording of the talk, please email Beth at email@example.com)