Editor’s Note: Content in today’s post may be disturbing to some readers as it deals with violence against LGBT people, including a brief description of such violence.
Pope Francis is celebrating a liturgy for contemporary martyrs today, held at the church of St. Bartholomew in Rome which functions as a shrine for martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. Those remembered will include persecuted Christians, pastoral ministers killed because they worked for justice, missionaries, and resisters against totalitarian regimes, reported Vatican Radio.
I want to remember LGBT martyrs as well: those people who have been killed because of their gender and/or sexual identity or because of their advocacy for LGBT human rights. In particular, I remember LGBT people in Chechnya who are en masse being kidnapped, tortured, and even murdered. One Chechen gay man told the BBC:”If beating you with their hands and feet is not enough, they use electric
“If beating you with their hands and feet is not enough, they use electric shock. . .They have a special black box and they attach wires to your hands or ears. The pain is awful. It’s terrible torture. . .They used to detain people before all the time to blackmail them. . .Now [the aim] is the extermination of gay men, so that there are none left in the republic.”
Once they are released from these torture scenarios, the now outed victims have faced reprisals from their own families, including at least two honor killings, according to The New York Times. While Chechnya’s president denies any persecution, human rights groups based in Russia are secretly helping to evacuate LGBT people from the country.
Critics will contend LGBT victims of violence are not martyrs; they were not killed because of odium fidei (hatred of their Christian faith). But in early Christianity, the word “martyrdom” meant a witness to the truth of faith. Today’s LGBT martyrs are witnesses to the truth of how God created them, and thus witnesses to the Creator. They include high-profile leaders who demanded equality, like Ugandan LGBT rights activist David Kato or U.S. gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk. They also include those who simply refused to deny a God-given identity, like the many transgender people, particularly women and people of color, murdered each year.
Though it is the Easter season liturgically, this is also a time of crucifixion for too many people. Blessed Oscar Romero, himself a martyr, challenges us, as the people of God, with these words:
“For the church, the many abuses of human life, liberty, and dignity are a heartfelt suffering. The church, entrusted with the earth’s glory, believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples it offends God. As holy defender of God’s rights and of [God’s] images, the church must cry out. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images. There is no dichotomy between [the person] and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.”
No, murdered LGBT people are not universally martyrs odium fidei, but I consider them martyrs odium amoris, or for “hatred of love.” This designation is an emerging, though not yet canonical, category for those killed because they died acting for the common good. As such, they demand to be remembered and honored by the church.
Pope Francis may not share my thinking or specifically include LGBT martyrs in his prayers today. Sadly, he has too often remained utterly silent about LGBT victims of violence. I am unaware of any church leader who has expressed solidarity with LGBT people in Chechnya. This makes our prayers, as LGBT people and allies, all the more important and urgent.
Who are the LGBT martyrs that are special to your heart? Please name them in the “Comments” section of this post so that we can pray to them and with them today and in the future.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 22, 2017
Next weekend, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country where homosexuality is criminalized, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.