Published: Tuesday, 01 March 2016 19:32
Cash that would have gone to LGBT History Month helps instead to build a Humanist classroom in Uganda, writes BARRY DUKE, editor of The Pink Humanist.
UGANDAN tabloids are notorious for their lurid anti-gay headlines, such as the one above, but, so far, I have not seen one declaring “Godless Homos Have Classroom Named After Them”. This, most likely, is because Ugandan gutter press hacks haven’t yet cottoned onto the fact that in Uganda’s northern Gulu region, an organisation called Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods Uganda (HELU) is quietly beavering away to create a religion-free community in which children are given a secular education while their mothers learn valuable, life-changing trade skills.
Among HELU’s supporters is the UK’s only gay humanist charity, the Pink Triangle Trust, publishers of The Pink Humanist, and, by way of thanking the trust, HELU recently named one of its classrooms after veteran gay activists George Broadhead and his spouse, Roy Saich, a couple based in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, who have been together for 51 years. Broadhead is the PTT's secretary.
According to its website, HELU is a Humanist community-based organisation established to promote Humanism as life stance, and where people are encouraged to shape their lives without depending on religion.
Agnes Ojera, HELU’s Programme Manager, is quoted as saying: “It requires a lot of resilience and courage to be a Humanist in Uganda.” Non-believers, she says, are up against “extreme religious and traditional practices accompanied by unfavourable Government policies.”
In the past, the Pink Triangle Trust has helped fund the UK LGBT History Month, launched in 2005 in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 in 2003, and intended to raise awareness of, and combat prejudice against sexual minorities. The event takes place during February each year. All was going well for the event organisers until some bright sparks hit on the idea of giving this year’s History Month a religious theme. What on earth were they thinking?
On Stonewall’s website I was horrified to read this message: “At Stonewall we’re proud to work with lots of inspirational LGBT people of faith in our work to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. We’ll profile role models and their stories throughout the month.”
Equally horrified was the Pink Triangle Trust, and it withdrew funding from the 2016 event. When I ran a piece on the Freethinker website about History Month’s religious theme and the angry reaction to it by Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, Pink Triangle Trust trustee Diesel Balaam commented:
The Pink Triangle Trust normally helps to fund LGBT History Month, but pulled the plug this year in protest at the depressingly pro-religionist direction the organisation has taken. Instead, we donated the funds to an a Ugandan Humanist charity, which, among other humanitarian work, supports LGBT people who are being persecuted by religionists in that country. Unfortunately, the leftists who control LGBT History Month are the usual contemptible Corbynistas who want to suck up to religionists of every stripe. I’m sure Terry Sanderson would endorse the PTT’s decision not to fund LGBT History Month this year and would also urge all freethinkers to support and donate to the PTT charity via its website and online magazine, The Pink Humanist.
Stonewall even produced an online booklet entitled Christian Role Models for LGBT Equality, with a foreword by Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, who said:
It will come as no surprise to some, and as a huge surprise to others, that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people exist in every community, in every workplace, in every region, from every ethnic background, and in every religion.
Religion is often the most sticky of these to reconcile. Some will say that LGBT people cannot possibly exist in faith communities; that faith communities do not accept same-sex relationships or those who transition; that LGBT people can be ‘cured’. And of course these beliefs can, and do, exist.
As a result, there are many LGBT people who reject their faith or feel an ever widening chasm between two parts of their core identity. However, there are also many religious communities, groups and places of worship where these beliefs do not exist. This book focuses on the experiences of Christians from across the world. Their backgrounds and religious traditions are all different: some are priests, some are in relationships, some have been imprisoned. Some of the people in this book identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, and others are the staunchest of allies. But what they all share is a belief that God is love and acceptance.
I thought LGBT History Month was supposed to be a celebration of our past struggles and achievements. I imagined it was there to honour those heroes who had paved the way for our present freedoms.
What is there to celebrate about religion’s part in our history? It is one continuous catalogue of persecution, discrimination and hatred leading sometimes to lethal consequences.
The design for the badges and posters for the 2016 event was created by Gareth Marshall, of the University of Bedfordshire, who claims on the LGBT History Month resources page to have been inspired by the phrase “leap of faith”.
I chose this phrase because I believe It is a very powerful, and personal message. It is about believing and having faith both in one’s religion, and in oneself. It represents a risk we take for a better outcome and future, a push forward in acceptance and tolerance within and towards to LGBT community, and the strength it can take to come out as a homosexual, bisexual or trans person.
But Sanderson said:
Religious bodies have been the enemy of gay progress since the beginning of time. They have been cruel and vindictive on an individual level and relentlessly opposed to any general progress that might have freed us from a cage of fear and loneliness. It was Christianity that kept us in the closet, not just for centuries but for millennia. And it isn’t much better now.
It used to glory in burning us at the stake, but the Catholic Church has gradually, over the centuries, had its overweening power stripped away. Now it has to be more constrained. That doesn’t stop it continuing to oppose any legislation that might make equality a reality in nations where it still holds sway. At present, it is fighting hard to stop Italy from legalising gay civil unions . . . Even the supposedly benign and friendly Church of England recently threw in its lot with the Anglican bishops from Africa who mercilessly incite hatred against gay people. They demand punitive laws from their governments and often get them.
Islam, too, is intensely hostile to gay people and their relationships. Recent polling by the Pew Research organization in the USA showed that in 33 of the 36 countries surveyed, 75 percent of Muslims think that homosexual acts are immoral.
And in some of them that translates into death sentences or long imprisonments for those having the audacity to love each other. We have seen the horrible pictures of young gay men being thrown from high buildings by Islamic State fanatics – if that doesn’t kill them, the mob below is waiting with their stones to finish the job.”
He concluded: “I get annoyed with gay Christians who continue to put money into the collection plates of an institution that is actively trying to take away their human rights. It is depressing that so many gay people remain under the malignant spell of religion.
What self-respecting gay person supports an institution that hates him or her? And why have we allowed our History Month to be hijacked by the apologists for this endless persecution?
Then gay Scottish secularist Garry Otten, in a Gay Star News feature pointing out the dangers posed by religiously motivated censorship and its effect on gay communities in particular wrote:
As the UK celebrates LGBT History Month with a theme of religion this year, we should remember the people who are still being sentenced or murdered in the name of religion, merely for sharing their views.
A dark legacy of religious censorship blights us all, particularly LGBTI people. Novels, poems, art, music, film and sexual expression remain what they should never have become – battlegrounds.