A representative of the Holy See to the United Nations has objected to interpreting international law in ways that would specifically protect LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.
Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, who represents the Holy See at the United Nations’ Geneva offices, issued the objection in a statement about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) 2020 “Note on International Protection,” an annual report on the Commission’s work.
Jurkovič’s statement in response to the Note is multifaceted. He acknowledges that there must be “a wider interpretation of the definition of a refugee” to meet evolving needs, but he downplays the need for LGBTQ-specific protections:
“However, to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of interventions related to protection, assistance, and durable solutions, it is critical that the UNHCR maintains a holistic and integrated approach to its activities. This is the only way to ensure that all those who are in need of protection receive it, and to avoid the risk of stigmatizing particular individuals or populations, whether they be from majority or minority communities.
“In this regard, the Delegation of the Holy See wishes to place on record its disagreement with the assertion in paragraph 11 of the Note on International Protection (EC/71/SC/CRP.9), that ‘refugee law now recognizes that those facing persecution on the grounds of age, gender and sexual orientation or gender identity may be refugees’ . The categories ‘sexual orientations’ and ‘gender identity’, used in the text, find no clear and agreed definition in international law and risk the introduction of new forms of discriminatory categories within the international humanitarian community. The inclusion of these terms is not necessary to ensure that anyone seeking protection because of persecution, for any reason, receives protection.”
Paragraph 11 is a largely positive development. The Note shares how the agency has “made significant strides” in protecting LGBTQI people through improved training, safe space creation, and more. But the Note also acknowledges that there is still much work to do in countries where UNHCR is active where LGBTQI people are frequent targets of discrimination and violence. In this regard, the Note comments “their protection needs remain little understood or addressed.” Looking forward, UNHCR reports that “regional consultations involving displaced and stateless persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics” are planned.
The Holy See’s opposition to the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” is not new. Even when the Holy See’s delegation condemned the criminalization of homosexuality in 2009, it objected to the final resolution issuing such a condemnation because the resolution included those two terms. Indeed, just this past March, Jurkovič himself criticized a United Nations report on the human rights of women and of LGBTQ people as “particularly unacceptable and offensive” for the report’s critique of how religious beliefs are sometimes used in oppressive manners. New Ways Ministry’s chronology of church leaders’ treatment of anti-LGBTQ criminalization, which so often leads to refugees and asylum seekers, is a chronicle of just how mixed the wider church’s record is on these issues.
The world is, even if slowly, moving in the direction of equality for gender and sexual minorities. This reality means that myopically choosing to attack the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” means the archbishop’s otherwise good and necessary message about defending refugees is undercut significantly. And every time church leaders like Jurkovič fail to defend, or worse, actively oppose LGBTQI rights, this dynamic is true. The Catholic Church cannot continue to be a voice for the oppressed if it furthers oppression itself by obsessively seeking to stop LGBTQ equality.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 31, 2020