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Will UK aid package make God-fearing Malawi more tolerant of homosexuality?

BACK in January 2016, The UN rights office urged Malawi to protect LGBTI people after it quoted a Malawian political party spokesman as saying gay and lesbian people were “worse than dogs” and should be killed.

According to this report, Kenneth Msonda, a spokesman for the People’s Party, one of Malawi’s main parties, made the statement earlier in the month on his personal Facebook page and repeated it in media interviews, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, adding that it was concerned both by Msonda’s remarks and by the authorities’ “alarming” failure to prosecute him.

“We are concerned that the failure to prosecute this case sends a dangerous message that inciting others to kill gay people is legitimate and will be tolerated by the authorities – in effect encouraging violent threats and attacks on the gay and lesbian community in Malawi,” the rights office said in a statement.

Msonda was charged with inciting others to break the law after two civil society organisations initiated a criminal case against him over his remarks, and was due to appear in court, but shortly after the Director of Public Prosecutions informed the Chief Magistrate’s Court that it was discontinuing the case.

“It’s pretty alarming because essentially people will see that you can incite people to kill someone simply because they belong to a particular group,” UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The UN rights office said Malawi had a responsibility under international human rights law to protect people from hatred and violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Earlier, in 2015, it was reported that the Malawian government would not arrest or prosecute gay citizens while lawmakers reviewed existing anti-gay laws, a hangover from colonial days. But Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Member of Parliament Bon Kalindo later vowed that he will not support any attempts to repeal anti-homosexual laws if parliament is tasked to deliberate a bill to recognise gay rights.

But in a move indicative that an imminent change for the better could soon become a reality, Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika gave a warm welcome to openly gay Scottish Minister of State, David Mundell when Mundell visited the country to present an aid package of £86-million.

Evangelist3Then, in a remarkable departure from Christian intolerance, a UK-based Malawian evangelist, Elizabeth Kalonga, left, praised Mutharika, reportedly saying: “I would like to applaud the UK government through Scotland for sending out aid to Malawi at a time when people are dying of hunger. It was brave of the Scottish Government to send a gay politician to a country where homosexuals are vilified.”

Kalonga who recently “stirred a hornet’s nest” for rallying support on gay people, added:

“It appears to me that the Malawi government now realises that gays must be embraced into our society, because they are part of us, they are as human as everybody else.

“I am happy that Malawi affably received Mr Mundell as a just British politician with open hands and did not judge him for his sex orientation. This is stepping stone towards changing our attitudes on people.”

She further took a swipe at the clergy in the country for promoting hate speech by preaching to the world that homosexuals are sinners, saying such acts are dangerous to modernity and to the human race.

“If God is love, why then must we, who claim to be men and women of God, preach detestation and abhorrence and so much hate to our faithful and encourage them to hate other people and label them as sinners . . . Seriously, in this time and age we still think being homophobic is a right way to go?”

Unfit to stand trial

A short story by JACK HASTIE

IALDABAOTH, the presiding demiurge, was in the chair. The accused, Yahweh, in the dock. The clerk of the court read out the indictment: you are charged firstly with GENOCIDE; Namely that (1) in 1556 anno mundi you wilfully destroyed the entire human race, with the exception of one family, by drowning. And that (2) after the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt you did incite Joshua to carry out a systematic holocaust of the Canaanites.

Secondly, with sundry other incitements to MURDER viz that of Agag King of the Amalekites by Samuel; Michael Servetus by John Calvin; bishops Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley by Mary Tudor; Thomas Aikenhead by the Church of Scotland, to mention only a representative few.

Thirdly, with malicious HOMOPHOBIA in that you destroyed the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis XIX, 24-5) and that you commanded your followers to treat homosexuality as a capital offence, as reported in your autobiography (Leviticus XX, 13).killer competitionPH

The clerk sat down.

Council for the defence rose.

The chair recognised him: “Mr Freud.”

“My lord, I submit that the accused is not fit to stand trial.”

“On what grounds?”

“The accused has a demonstrably unstable personality. I will submit medical evidence of four conditions that render him incapable of rational, moral behaviour.

“Firstly my client is BI-POLAR. In addition to the charges listed in the indictment, which he does not deny, he wishes to be considered also his murderous intentions as described in his autobiography (Leviticus XXVI 14–39), in which he threatens his own followers with a series of tortures which the Court will be appalled to hear.”

Ialdabaoth intervened: “I hardly see this as an argument for the defence, Mr Freud.”

“Can I presume upon the Court’s patience?” Freud continued. “On other occasions he has healed the sick, encouraged little children to come to him, exhorted his followers to ‘do unto others as you would be done by’, love your enemies and love your neighbours as yourself.

“He has offered himself to torture by crucifixion in order to underline his principles.

“These are documented fully in the second volume of his autobiography. However, even in this phase there are traces of an underlying streak of intolerance and arrogance. I quote, ‘no man cometh to the Father but by me’ (John 14,6) and ‘there is no home to believers but the church’ (as quoted by Cyprian of Carthage). There is also a worrying indication of an urge to self- harm by courting martyrdom.

“In a more recent mood swing he seeks to re-invent himself as ‘the ground of our being’, to re-interpret his autobiography as allegory, never intended to be taken literally and to distance himself from his previous atrocities.

“May I now move to the second evidence of clinical malfunction? My client suffers from PARANOIA. He admits as much himself in his autobiography in which he states, categorically, ‘I am a Jealous god’ and then goes on to list a series of collective punishments he proposes to inflict on the children of those he thinks are opposed to him (Exodus XX, 5).

“My third contention is that my client suffers from OBSESSIVE/COMPULSIVE DISORDER. If the court will be patient enough to read this lengthy and repetitive document” – he passed the book of Leviticus to the clerk – “it will realise that his insistence on the minutiae of rites and ceremonies, burnt offerings, ritual purity – clean and unclean foods, purification of women, ritual bathing – Sabbath observance, redemption of slaves et cetera, et cetera, et cetera renders him incapable of making rational judgements.

“My fourth clinical submission is that my client suffers from SCHIZOPHRENIA. There are two symptoms which support this diagnosis: firstly he has developed the illusion that he is three persons simultaneously.”

Freud passed on copies of the minutes of the Council of Nicaea of 325 and of Constantinople of 381. “He has even given a name to one of his alter egos and a title to another. This a classic case of split personality of the Jekyll-and-Hyde variety, since the original personality is almost exclusively evil and the more prominent alter usually, though not exclusively benign. It is difficult to know to which of the personas his more recent atrocities are to be attributed.

“Secondly in his third personality phase he inspires his devotees to talk unintelligible nonsense, as reported in Volume II of his autobiography (Acts II – Pentecost). There is some evidence that the cause of these mental conditions may be genetic, since his younger brother, Allah, has recently been exposed as a murderous psychopath and sadist.”

The council concluded his argument: “On the basis of these well-documented accounts of the mental history of my client I submit that he is not fit to stand trial.”

The presiding demiurge turned to the Council for the prosecution: “In view of what the court has heard do you intend to continue with the prosecution, Mr Nietzsche?”

“My learned colleague has put the case more comprehensively than I could myself. I would withdraw my case if a formal verdict of guilty but insane can be recorded,” Nietzsche replied.

• The illustration above was provided by US artist Shell Fisher. You can see examples of his other work here.

Cake and Equality

Human rights campaigner PETER TATCHELL explains why he supports Christian bakers

IN MAY 2014 Gareth Lee enters Ashers Bakery in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He wants a cake depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the motto “Support Gay Marriage” for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia. Ashers, run by a fundamentalist Christian family, the McArthurs, initially accept the order, but contact Lee a few days later to say they cannot fulfil it because it goes against their religious beliefs.

Backed by the Equality Commission, Lee sues the bakery. The NI Equality Commission then announces that it is beginning legal proceedings against the business. In March 2015 a 17-hour, three-day courtroom battle commences. Lee tells the court that he was left to feel like a “lesser person” when the firm refused his order.

The McArthurs, who own Ashers, tell the court they could not “stand before God” and produce a cake supporting gay marriage. Then in May 2015 District Judge Isobel Brownlie delivers her judgment, finding that Ashers discriminated against customer Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs. The firm is ordered to pay him £500 in damages.

The case of clashing religious and equality rights attracts interest from across the world, and also ignites a political row, and the Democratic Unionist Party attempts to introduce a conscience clause Bill which would give business owners the right to refuse service if it impinges on their sincerely held religious views.

In October 2015 the McArthur family announce their intention to appeal against the judgment, and their challenge to the ruling begins in February 2016, but is adjourned until May 9.

At the start of the appeal, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell entered the fray, siding with the Christian Institute, which is supporting the McArthur family.

Under the headline “I’ve changed my mind on gay cake row. Here’s why” he wrote: “Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee.

“I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict. My reasons for supporting Gareth’s claim were:

“1. Ashers had falsely advertised their services, saying they were willing decorate their cakes with any message that a customer wanted. They did not say there were any limits on the designs or wording.

“2. I feared that Ashers actions could open the flood gates to allow sectarian loyalist-republican discrimination and discrimination against women, LGBTs and minorities – and their points of view.

“Now, two days before the Asher’s case is being considered by the Appeal Court, I have changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.

“While Christian bed and breakfast owners and civil partnership registrars were clearly wrong to deny service to gay people, this case is different. It is about the refusal to facilitate an idea – namely, support for same-sex marriage.

“I will continue to oppose the proposed ‘conscience clause’ in Northern Ireland. It is intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people. I do not accept that people of faith should be permitted by law to deny service to LGBTs – or anyone else. Discrimination against people is never acceptable.”

Tatchell added that the bakery’s refusal to create the cake “struck many of us as discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice. Ashers believe that the relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are wrong and should not be eligible for the status of marriage. They translated these beliefs into action and declined to make the cake. Ashers would have decorated a cake with a message celebrating traditional heterosexual marriage and promoting a Christian organisation. Surely this was an example of clear-cut anti-gay discrimination? . . . I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus. Yet he never once condemned homosexuality. Moreover, discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.

“Nevertheless, on reflection, the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision. For sure, the lawsuit against the bakery was well intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage and gay blood donors remain banned.

“The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith, sexuality and so on.

“However, the court erred by ruling that Gareth was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.

“His cake request was not refused because he was gay but because of the message he wanted on the cake. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.

“Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination because same-sex marriage is a union between persons of the same-sex and therefore refusing to provide a service in support of same-sex marriage was de facto sexual orientation discrimination.

“I disagree. Refusing to facilitate a message in support of same-sex marriage is not sexuality discrimination. It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.

“On the question of political discrimination, the judge said Ashers had denied Gareth service based on his request for a message supporting same-sex marriage. She noted: ‘If the plaintiff had ordered a cake with the words “support marriage” or “support heterosexual marriage” I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided.’ Brownlie therefore concluded that by refusing to provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage wording Ashers had treated him less favourably, contrary to the law.

“This may be a case of differential treatment. However, it was not discrimination against views held or expressed by Gareth but against words he wanted on a cake. Moreover, the law against political discrimination was meant to protect people with differing political views, not to force others to further political views to which they conscientiously object.

“The finding of political discrimination against Gareth sets a worrying precedent. Northern Ireland’s laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas, such as same-sex marriage, with which they disagreed – let alone on a cake.

“The judge concluded that service providers are required by law to facilitate any ‘lawful’ message, even if they have a conscientious objection to it.

“This begs the question: Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one the words of a Holocaust denier? Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.

“It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.

“In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require private businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful but not discrimination against ideas and opinions.”

All is well that ends well

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.

Sanderson said:

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.

gay historyThe 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.