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18· Features ·1stMarch 2010


Godandgaypeople: amatchmade inHeaven?

Like two people you never expect to see in the same roomtogether, homosexuality and

religion are often seen as completely incompatible. Hilary Aked considers other possibilities

Nothingquite sumsupthe apparent in- compatibilityof religionandhomosex- uality like the sight of the good people of theWestboroBaptistChurchwaving ‘GodHates Fags’ banners in the faces of the grieving relatives of – probably mostly straight – dead soldiers while the coffins carrying the remains of their brothers and sons are lowered into the ground.

We’ve all seen Louis Theroux and

is also of coursehuge influence exercised on government policy on gay rights (or lack of them) by orthodox Christian forces inmany countries fromUganda to the USA. But there are also groups like the Lesbian and Gay Christian Move- ment (LGCM) which challenges homo- phobia inChristian communities.

marvelledat the ability of thesepeople to be quite so bloody-minded, illogical and frankly random. And sometimes a staunchly – even fanatically - atheist friendwill tell you glibly “Religion - not money - is the root of ALL evil and op- pression and suffering and discrimina- tion…and by the way RichardDawkins is aGod”. It’snot that simple of course.Absence

of religious beliefs doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination rule out rabid homo-

Howcan you getmore obvious than a rainbow

coloured hijab?


LGBTMuslims. It has a sister organisa- tion in theUSAcalledAl Fatiha, and in the UK started with just six members, but now has hundreds registered. Pav Akhtar, the LabourMP who heads the group, spoke at a recentmeeting onstop- ping homophobic hate crime. He de- scribed the double difficulties faced by gayMuslims. The Islamophobia many have to contend with in wider society is also present in LGBT circles. Akhtar said he’d witnessed the abuse gayMus- limwomenreceivedwhenthey attended a Pride festival wearing rainbow- colouredhijabs - theywere spat onby fel- lowrevellers. If the ‘justification’ for this was anassumptionthatMuslims arehos- tile to gay people, it is not only deeply ironicbut also inconceivably stupid: can you get more obvious than a rainbow coloured hijab? Meanwhile,

Church, and steps back from impeding legislation. It’s the act of discrimination that is most damaging; prejudices are harmful but can be tolerated so long as they arenot actedon- andslowlybroken down, especially after legal foundations for discrimination are eroded.


by some - suchasCatholicMEPStephen Hughes - for his comments, others, such as JonathanSacks, theChiefRabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, praised him for “de- fending democratic principles of free- dom of speech and religion.” But the attractive and fascinating thing about all ideologiesbasedultimately onscriptures is that possible interpretations are pretty much endless. One group can claim ownership of any given holy book, and denounce an-

Inayat Bunglawala

media spokesmanfor theMuslimCoun- cil of Britain (MCB), an umbrella group representing around 500 diverse affili- ated organisations, wrote on the Guardian’sComment ifFree last year that “gayMuslims need support” and argued that the respect and tolerance religious communitiesdemandshouldbe recipro- cated and replicated in their own atti- tudes to the gay community.This again, quite a brave stance,metwith resistance bymanymore conservative strands.The official stance of the whole organisation on the Equality Bill’s sexual orientation regulation is

interesting. Their

Above and bottomright:Muslimgay pridemarches in London and Copenhagen.

phobia. More to the point, not all reli- giousbeliefsnecessarily gohandinhand with homophobia. Twoweeks ago,RowanWilliams, the

ArchbishopofCanterbury, issueda “pro- foundapology” to lesbianandgayChris- tians for recent rhetoricwhich pandered to the traditionalist wing of the church. He’s no radical, and not an obvious can- didate for a gay icon,but creditwhere it’s due; this was quite brave. It came days after thePope’sdeclarationthatCatholic bishops in teh UK should fight the EqualityBillwith“missionary zeal”.Be- cause the Equality Bill aims to end dis- crimination - including that based on sexuality – it is apparently discrimina- tory towards religious people (by, it seems, denying them the legal right to discriminate; themind boggles.) Williams also spoke of “schism” in

theChurch.Homosexuality isbecoming the key dividing issue in the Christian church.Andof coursemostmedia atten- tion is given to thosewhomake vitriolic pronouncements about the hellfire and brimstone awaiting ‘sodomisers’. There

At the endof January theydenounced

theHouse of Lords decision to approve amendments to the Equality Bill,which essentially let those who wished to dis- criminate on the grounds of faith off the hook. Rev. Sharon Ferguson said: “It is sadthat someChristians are takingpride in an amendment which makes Chris- tian organisations able to operate at a lower level of fairness and equality than the rest of society.This is adismalway to bear witness to the gospel and is not in keepingwith themessage and actions of theChrist they claimto follow.” So while some schools of thought

within Christianity remain defiantly black and white, others seem to at least allowfor shades of grey - and some go so far as to ‘embrace the rainbow’. Similarly there are a variety of posi-

tionswithin Islam.With a faith so often insidiously presented asmonolithic and static, it’s important to note several counter-examples to the generally held belief that homosexuality is always


‘Imaan’ is an advocacy group for

spokesman said: “We affirm our belief that the practice and promotion of ho- mosexuality is forbidden according to the teachings of Islam.However theSex- ual Orientation Regulations are not about religiousbeliefbut aboutprohibit- ing discrimination in the provision of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation.TheMCBstands opposedto discrimination in all its forms.” While this attitude will still cause

conflict for anyonewho grows up think- ing they either have to hide their sexual- ity of abandon their religion, at least it’s more pragmatic than the Catholic

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, Christianmartyrs. Analysis of early Greekmanuscripts has suggested that theywere‘erastai’ (lovers)

Islam and Christianity are not the

only ideologieswhichencompass a spec- trumof views. Last year there were two youngpeople shotdeadandtenmore left injured by a gunman who entered a Tel Aviv gay support centre. Annual gay pridemarches are oftenmetwithviolent protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, despite the fact that in terms of gay rights at least, the mostly Jewish population of Israel is generally seen as progressive. There is perhaps a need for a corrective though, to the absolute di- chotomy sometimes set up between Is- rael and other, predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern countries. In Syria and Jordan gay bars operate albeit usually quite discreetly. In Lebanon however, admittedly relatively more secular, gay bars are more common and more open. These aremulti-faceted societies. The worst case scenarios, the situa-

tions that do suggest that religion and homosexuality justdon’tmix, arisewhen different religious ideologies form un- pleasant alliances linked to shared ho- mophobia.While thePopewas criticised

Opposition to same-sex marriage has been based

on scripture; but so has support for it

other group with a different interpreta- tion. The contest over meanings can never definitively be won or lost. The AmericanManhattanDeclaration based its opposition to same-sex marriage on scripture – but so did the Affirmation Declaration which was founded inre- sponse and supports same-sexmarriage. Whether religionfunctions insociety

to pushfor regressivemeasures or other- wisedependsonthe relative strengthand support ofdifferent elementswithineach faith.And on an individual level, people raised since birth as one religion or an- other, who later discover their sexual preferences,willundoubtedly face tough choices. But Heaven (the Soho night- club) is not necessarily the last place on earth you should expect to see someone wearing a cross, turban, hijab or kippah while grinding to The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin’.

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