Joyful protesters greeted Pope Francis during World Youth Day celebrations with a kiss. LGBTQ activists organized a kiss-in, or “besaton” in Spanish, to coincide with the Pope’s visit to the events in Panama City, Panama .
The group of several dozen LGBTQ couples and allies met on January 25th outside the Church Del Carmen, a meeting point in past decades for protests against Panama’s dictatorship .
The event had a festive air, with rainbow wigs and flyers advertising the action as a celebration of love. Signs and chants declared “love is love,” and many of those present smiled and laughed as they posed for pictures.
But LGBTQ activists had a serious message for the Pope: “We exist!”
Samirah Armengol, a participant in the kiss-in, told AFP, “They say it’s disrespectful that we kiss in front of a church, but I ask them a question: Why is it not disrespectful when heterosexuals do it? Is it that I am an aberration? We exist!”
Other participants who spoke to AFP also raised the importance of visibility and recognition in the church:
“Wrapped in the multicolored flag of the LGBT movement, Levis Calderon said that the protesters were seeking “visibility” because “the eyes of the world are on Panama” during the World Youth Day celebrations.
” ‘Together as a community, we are saying: We are here,’” said Calderon, 21.”
Pope Francis has offered mixed support for LGBTQ Catholics in the past, usually with enough positive remarks to offer activists hope and encourage them to keep pushing him forward. He famously asked, “Who am I to judge?” in 2013 when questioned about the role of gay people in the church.
And he made headlines again last year by reportedly telling Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay survivor of abuse, the fact that he is gay “does not matter.” “God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,” Cruz reported the Pope telling him.
But Pope Francis has also reinforced the official church stance that homosexual acts are sinful, and suggested last August that gay children should be taken to psychiatrists.
Activists like Armengol, however, hold out hope. She told AFP, “I believe that the pope is more convinced of our humanity than his followers, because he has already said so.”
–Jonathan Nisly, February 4, 2019