Catholics Seek Justice for LGBTQ Refugees, End to Criminalization Laws

LGBT+ Catholics Westminster at London Pride 2019

Catholics in England have raised alarms about that nation’s treatment of LGBTQ asylum seekers, while Catholics elsewhere have highlighted the need to oppose conditions which cause LGBTQ people to flee.

The LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council is concerned about how LGBTQ asylum seekers are being received by the United Kingdom’s Home Office after reports came out of refugees being mistreated and humiliated, reported Independent Catholic News:

“The LGBT African Asylum Seeker Research Project Report describes inappropriate behaviour by Home Office officials, including suggestions to applicants that ‘it isn’t possible to be gay and Christian’, and references to Bible verses which have frequently been misused to justify homophobic abuse.

“The report also raises concerns about the integrity of the application process, with refusals justified on the grounds that discrete individuals were unable to prove their orientation because they hadn’t disclosed this to their families, or because of their dependence on non-LGBT+ friends.

“The pastoral council said in a statement: ‘Having an LGBT+ identity is normal and occurs in people of all faiths, all cultures and all ethnic groups. There are several LGBT+ Christian groups both in the UK and around the world, and the mere suggestion that it isn’t possible to be both LGBT+ and Christian is wrong.

” [‘]The Home Office makes a valuable contribution to community safety and walks a difficult line in the course of fulfilling this duty. However, any harassing, humiliating or persecutory treatment on any account is unacceptable. It contravenes the principles of the UK’s Human Rights Act, and is in violation of the Home Office’s own responsibility to fight crime in all its forms.

” [‘]We urge the Home Office to issue a statement about these reports and, if they are true, to conduct an independent investigation into its practices and procedures.’ “

Meanwhile, recent developments in Uganda are a reminder of the contexts which many LGBTQ refugees are fleeing. Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo announced in an interview last month that new legislation would be introduced to intensify the nation’s already-harsh laws criminalizing homosexuality. The government has since firmly denied any such plans are underway.

Regardless of whether the legislation is in the works,  LGBTQ people remain under attack. Gay and gender non-conforming Brian Wasswa was murdered in October, the fourth such LGBTQ-related killing in three months, according to the human rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda. And late in the month, police arrested sixteen LGBTQ activists on the nation’s standing criminalization law which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The activists were subjected to forced anal exams before they were released, reported The Washington Post.

These killings and abuses, as well as the mere possibility of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill resurfacing prompted some Catholics to speak out against anti-LGBTQ violence and criminalization. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told NBC News:

” ‘When politicians, members of Parliament call for laws, the reintroduction of the ‘anti-gay’ law, they are responsible for this increase in vulnerability in the LGBT community.’ “

Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge on LGBTQ issues in the Catholic Church, tweeted:

“The Catholic Church should stand up against these laws. One can oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons, but people being executed for same-sex relations is something that everyone should reject. Here LGBT issues are pro-life issues. And LGBT lives have infinite dignity.”

Later in the month, Martin tweeted:

“In many places #LGBT issues are life issues. In some countries you can be executed for same-sex relations. In many countries you can be beaten and arrested for LGBT activism. The Catholic Church should publicly oppose these clear assaults on human dignity.”

Martin has decried criminalization laws previously, one of the growing number of Catholics publicly standing against laws that criminalize being LGBTQ. Last year, Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, a lesbian activist from Uganda, makes an impassioned call for Pope Francis and Church leaders to oppose the criminalization of homosexuality. Then, this past April, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, met with 50 LGBTQ advocates who presented him with preliminary research on anti-LGBTQ criminalization in the Caribbean. This meeting was hailed as a sign of significant progress.

But more Catholics need to raise their voices like LGBT+ Catholics Westminster, Mugisha, Fr. Martin, and Warry. The situations in both the U.K. and Uganda make clear that the needs of LGBTQ refugees and people who remain in hostile contexts remain quite pressing. To quote Mugisha when speaking at New Ways Ministry’s 2017 National Symposium, “I encourage you to think of any way you can support an LGBT person. Take it personally. Stand up. Speak out.”

One voice who could have a major impact in the lives of LGBTQ people who are criminalized and subjected to violence is Pope Francis. For several years now, Catholics have participated in New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut campaign, calling on Francis to condemn laws that criminalize homosexuality and be vocal about the church’s teachings on human dignity and non-discrimination.

We encourage you to add your voice to the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, which you can do here.

For a chronology of how Catholic leaders have responded, positively and negatively, to anti-LGBTQ criminalization worldwide, click here. For New Ways Ministry’s full resources on criminalization issues, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 5, 2019

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The Tablet, “LGBT Catholics fear for gay Christian asylum seekers

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