The Many–And Wrong–Definitions of ‘Gender Ideology’

Earlier this month, the bishops of Panama met with Pope Francis, and the conversation turned to the Vatican buzzword of “gender ideology.”   It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by that term which only church leaders seem to use.  It has never been clearly defined.  In a Crux news story about the meeting, Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín  initially defined gender ideology as:

“. . . [A]ttempts by Western governments and NGOs to impose a permissive sexual morality on poor countries as a condition of development assistance.”

Just two paragraphs later, she changed the definition to:

“. . . [T]he idea that sexual orientation and identity are self-determined rather than given in nature, and it’s seen as a cornerstone of a secular Western vision.”

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza, bishop of David, Panama who publicly discussed “gender ideology” with the press after he met with the pope, seemed to put forward yet a different definition that deals with sex education in schools.  According to Crux:

“Lacunza too brought up the issue of gender theory, saying that in Panama, teaching a liberal, Western form of sexual education in schools is considered a human right, but ‘from our perspective of faith, this has nothing to do with human rights.

” ‘The human rights homosexual people must have are in respect to their dignity, their choices, and that they are not discriminated against,’ Lacunza said. ‘But to go from there to pushing so that society should accept those choices as something good, desirable, digestible, and that it is taught to little children, we are not willing to go there.’ “

One of the main problems of keeping the term “gender ideology” so undefined is that it allows users of the term to let it fit it to whatever idea they want to criticize.  So, while sometimes it is used to describe new ideas of gender roles, it is also used to denigrate gender transition and transgender people, as well as to oppose legal rights for lesbian and gay people.

No educational curriculum that I have read about forces people to make choices about their gender or their sexual orientation.  No one really chooses such things.  Rather, people discover these identities within themselves, just as they, in the normal process of adult development, discover other parts of their psychological and emotional make-up.

So, while the cardinal talks about accepting “choices as something good, desirable, digestible,” in fact he is not talking about the real lives of LGBT people, but about a myth and stereotype about them.

Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta

Another prelate who met with the pope, Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta of Panama City, defined gender theory in yet another way, and characterized it as “diabolical.”   The National Catholic Reporter quoted him:

“Ulloa said that gender theory, which argues that male and female characteristics are largely malleable social constructs, is ‘diabolical’ in that ‘it wants to break a bit with the reality of the family.’ “

Again, this is simply incorrect.  For example, transgender people do not say that their gender identity is malleable or socially constructed, but rather that their stable, interior identity does not match their physical body.

Diabolical? Nothing can be further than the truth.  Growth in self-knowledge is not diabolical, but, indeed, it is divinely inspired as people develop an awareness and acceptance of the way God has blessed them to experience the world and to love other people.

Using the term “gender ideology” is a rhetorical strategy.  First of all, using the term makes it sound like it is an alternative to something natural and de facto.  But, for LGBT people, isn’t the promotion of  heterosexual and cisgender norms a form of ideology?

Secondly, it is a strategy to make a set of ideas sound sinister.  Whoever thinks anything that is an “ideology” is good?  Furthermore, the term makes it sound like there is a master plan lurking behind the “ideology,”  when, in fact, what is behind most of our discussions about gender and sexuality are people who are struggling to live honest and authentic lives.

Pope Francis himself has used the term “gender ideology” as a reference to supposed programs about gender with which he disagrees.  Unfortunately, he, and many other church officials, are often misinformed about the reality of new ways of living out one’s gender.  Church leaders need so much education on gender and sexuality so that they will not use such meaningless and incorrect terms to describe the most intimate facets of people’s lives.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 25,  2017

Catholics Angered by Bishop’s Attempt to Exclude Lesbian and Gay Couples

Catholics have reacted strongly against Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree prohibiting people in same-gender marriages from participating in the church’s life.

Bishop Paprocki (1)
Contact Bishop Paprocki

Bondings 2.0 reported Thursday on the decree released by the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. In it, Bishop Paprocki instructs pastors to bar people in such marriages from receiving Communion, participating in liturgical ministries, entering RCIA programs, and being granted funerals. You can find an initial report by clicking here.

Yesterday, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Bishop Paprocki that you can find by clicking here. Today’s post highlights from other Catholic leaders.

Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT children, published its own letter to Paprocki. The Board referred to the decree as “a hard-hearted document” in which the bishop shows “no pastoral sensitivity, no attempt to dialogue about the positions taken and no effort to reach out to our LGBT children.” The letter continued:

“In denying [LGBT people] the reception of Communion and funeral rites you effectively excommunicate them. Your decree indicates that a dying person who is living publicly in a same sex marriage may be given Holy Communion only if he or she repents. Is being in a same sex marriage on the same level as a person who denies the Creed? Imagine someone in a committed loving relationship for his or her entire life having to choose on his or her deathbed whether to discount a life of love and receive the Body and Blood of Christ or continue a commitment of integrity.”

Fr. James Martin, S.J., who recently published a book on Catholic LGBT issues based on an address he first gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award, posted on Facebook:

“If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. . .they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a ‘sign of unjust discrimination’ (2358).”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement:

“It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life. This is reminiscent of the appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic. . .[The decree] is unchristian and demeaning. It is totally unworthy of our Catholic faith.”

John Freml, a married gay Catholic in the Diocese of Springfield, told The State Journal-Register the decree “puts priests and other church workers in a difficult position.” Another Catholic in the diocese weighed in:

“Cindy Carlson Rice, also a Springfield Catholic, said she was implicitly told she couldn’t approach for communion because of her support for her daughter’s same-sex marriage. . .said the decree was ‘a smack across the face’ to those LGBT Catholics who have stayed involved in the church.”

In the same article, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said that Bishop Paprocki’s decree goes beyond previous restrictions imposed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other prelates. DeBernardo added, “Paprocki is an anomaly and is not in the mainstream of Catholic thought (with this decree).”

Also quoted was Christopher Pett, the incoming president of DignityUSA, who said:

“Bishop Paprocki’s decree makes it very clear why so many (LGBT) people and their families feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church and why so many leave it. . . .

“This document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme. It systematically and disdainfully disparages us and our relationships. It denies us the full participation in the life of our Church to which we are entitled by our baptism and our creation in God’s image.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter told NPR News that he “can’t imagine a cruder thing more at cross purposes with what the Holy Father is trying to do,” and that “privately, 95 percent of other bishops in the U.S. are reading [the decree] and are horrified. Even the ones who are pretty arch on same-sex marriage think this is too far.”

Bishop Paprocki is defending the decree, telling The Washington Post, “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 24, 2017

Related Article

The Chicago Tribune, “Springfield bishop: No communion, last rites, funerals for same-sex couples

 

Bishop: Pastors Must Deny Funerals to Catholics in Same-Gender Marriages

An Illinois bishop has released guidelines about same-gender marriages that may greatly restrict participation in his diocese’s parishes by people in such marriages.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield issued his “Same-Sex Marriage Policies Decree 6-12-2017” earlier this month, which instructs lesbian and gay Catholics along with pastoral ministers on several aspects of ecclesial life.

Addressing the sacraments, Paprocki said people in same-gender marriages should neither seek to receive nor be admitted to Holy Communion because their relationships are of an “objectively immoral nature.” Most strikingly, the bishop decreed about funeral rites:

“Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary [bishop], whose judgment is to be followed (cf. c. 1184).”

Further restrictions on people in same-gender marriages include the following prohibitions:

  • “[They] are not to serve in a public liturgical ministry, including but not limited to reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”;
  • “[They may] not serve as a sponsor for the Sacraments of Baptism or Confirmation”;
  • “[They are] not to be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or receive the Sacrament of Confirmation unless he or she has withdrawn from the objectively immoral relationship”.

Paprocki’s decree also includes restrictions for pastoral ministers. No church worker, acting in a professional capacity, may participate in same-gender weddings. No church properties may host such weddings, and the bishop even forbids “items dedicated or blessed for use in Catholic worship” from being used in such ceremonies. Church personnel are also forbidden to bless same-gender marriages.

Pastors are further instructed to accept children whose parents are in a same-gender marriage for the Sacraments of Initiation, though pastors must use “due discretion in determining the appropriateness of the public celebration of the baptism.” Likewise, such children are to be admitted to Catholic schools and religious education, but the family “must agree to abide by the Family School Agreement.” To read more about that Agreement, which is LGBT-negative, click here.

Finally, the bishop threatened pastoral ministers that a “culpable violation of any of these norms can be punished with a just penalty.”

This Decree is not entirely novel. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput sought last summer to bar LGBT people from both Communion and liturgical ministries in his restrictive pastoral guidelines. Elsewhere, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit and former Archbishop John Myers of Newark both told LGBT Catholics and their allies not receive Communion. What is notable about Paprocki’s guidelines is its treatment of funeral rites and threat of punishment for pastoral ministers.

The Decree is also not Bishop Paprocki’s first damaging act against LGBT people and their families. Last year, he implicitly criticized Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich for suggesting that reception of Communion is to be determined by each person according to their conscience. When Illinois passed marriage equality in 2013, Paprocki held a public exorcism because of the law, and had previously suggested that supporters of marriage equality should be disciplined like children.

Beside the obvious pastoral insensitivity, there are a few other things wrong with Paprocki’s new guidelines. In canon law, Canon 1184, which the bishop referenced in regard to funeral rites, says restrictions on such rites should be imposed on “notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics,” those persons who are cremated for “reasons contrary to Christian faith,” and “manifest sinners” whose funerals would be publicly scandalous.

It is discrimination to target LGBT people when, in a certain sense, all Catholics could be deemed “manifest sinners.” Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments? Yet, funeral rites are not denied to Catholics who pay employees an unjust wage, publicly advocate for the death penalty, or deny climate change.

It is cruel to suggest that people who have, by the dictates of their conscience, entered into same-gender marriages should uniformly be equated with apostates and heretics.

Secondly, threatening Catholic pastoral workers with a “just penalty” is improper for someone who is to be a loving shepherd for the diocese. It borders on spiritual abuse to tell pastoral ministers and LGBT Catholics that, should they adhere to a most fundamental church teaching and follow their properly formed consciences, they could be punished by ecclesiastical authorities.

In a moment when a growing number of church leaders, led by Pope Francis, are opening doors to LGBT people and their families, it is tragic that Bishop Paprocki has chosen to act so harmfully. Despite his claims, it is the Decree itself which is the real scandal in this incident.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 22, 2017

Bishop Rejects Prayer Service for Pride, But There May Yet Be Hope

After giving his initial approval, a bishop in the Netherlands has rejected a prayer service that would have coincided with Pride celebrations.

korte
Bishop Gerard de Korte

The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s cathedral was set to welcome Pride celebrants to an ecumenical prayer service on the day of the city’s Pink Saturday events on June 24th.

In a pastoral letter to the local church, Bishop Gerard de Korte explained his decision to welcome people celebrating Pride to come to the cathedral for prayer. But later, in a second letter, de Korte expelled the service from the cathedral because, in his words, “priests and other faithful have protested the prayer service.”

Mark de Vries of the blog In Caelo et In Terra provided English translations of both letters In one text, de Korte described homosexuality as “a sensitive topic in our Church, leading to much emotion.”

The first letter was a response to the diocese’s presbyteral council, which requested that de Korte clarify his position on the prayer service and homosexuality generally. Of the former issue, the bishop said the cathedral’s pastoral team had “primary responsibility” for the service:

“The cathedral administrator ultimately made a positive decision. It is very important that the service is prepared by the administrator and three preachers from ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They trust each other and are aware of the concerns of a part of the faithful. I have full confidence that the service will be serene. . .Those present at the prayer service will hopefully be encouraged and strengthened in their faith that God loves us unconditionally in Christ. The cathedral administrator and the preachers have asked me, as bishop, to conclude the service with a brief word and a blessing.”

De Korte, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2016, said there will be events on Pink Saturday which do defy church teaching, but that there is no reason to deny people who desire to pray the opportunity and venue to do so.

About homosexuality, the bishop said it was his responsibility to both uphold church teaching on marriage and sexuality, but also “to continue seeking out dialogue, no matter how difficult it often is.” De Korte wrote:

“A great part of our own Church people is influenced by modern secular culture. The result is a deep chasm between the word of the Church and the experience of many outside, but also inside our Church. One thing and another often leads to misunderstanding, anger and regret. . .The Church’s ideal and stubborn reality regularly clash. It is pastoral wisdom to not use the teachings of the Church as a stick to strike with, but as a staff to lean on.”

On a pastoral note, de Korte reached out to lesbian and gay people, and their families. The church’s pastoral care for them should be one of “kindness and friendship” and about “the acceptance of every person as God’s creature.” In his conclusion, de Korte said that in both doctrinal and pastoral concerns conscience is “the final and ultimate authority”:

“Faithful are called to relate to the norms of the Church and form their conscience. . .A tension may possibly continue to exist between the truth of the Church and the conscience of every individual faithful. When parents find that one of their children is homosexual, they are called to surround that child with all care and love. The same is, I am convinced, true for the Church as mother.”

Unfortunately, de Korte undercut the goodness of his letter by reversing the decision to allow a Pride-related prayer service at the cathedral. A second letter released a week after his initial approval explained the reversal.

The bishop said some Catholics’ concerns about the prayer service meant unity in the diocese could be threatened, and he therefore had to cancel the event, even if it is “a disappointment to more than a few.” But de Korte also said not allowing the prayer service at the cathedral would not stop him from “looking for a proper form of dialogue, both internally and externally, no matter how difficult and thankless that may often be.” He concluded:

“People, of any orientation, should find, in our Catholic community at least, kindness, security and friendship. Every person is welcome in our faith community. . .When I was installed as bishop in the cathedral, on Saturday 14 May 2016, I spoke about the importance of mutual trust and unity. I strife [sic] for a clear but also hospitable and friendly Church. I hope and pray that every faithful in our diocese wants to contribute to that, especially at this moment. Especially now, we are called to hold on to each other as a community around the living Lord.”

The ecumenical prayer service will now be held at a Protestant church with Catholics being represented by the cathedral administrator. I offer two thoughts here about this incident.

First, de Korte is a bishop who knows the church needs to reach out in a way that is grounded in reality. His concern for lesbian/gay people and their families seems genuine, and this one incident will not stop his desire for dialogue among the faithful. De Korte may be stuck behind some doctrinal language about secular culture, just as Pope Francis sometimes is, but his heart is in the realm of the pastoral.

Second, his decision to disallow the prayer service may mean he is a bishop unwilling to take risks in the face of controversy. But it could also mean he is humble enough to make decisions in collaboration with his priests and be concerned for the entire church walking together on hard issues. Such attributes are lacking by so many bishops appointed by Pope Francis’ predecessors; thankfully, they are appearing more and more in the current pope’s new bishops.

The bishop’s reversal is problematic and a loss where there could have been a courageous step forward. Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to his archdiocese’s cathedral was recently described as a “miracle” by some. Similar good could have come by Bishop de Korte and other Catholic leaders welcoming Pride celebraters into the church. But these two letters reveal dynamics at work which go beyond a singular incident, and which leave me ultimately hopeful that LGBT issues in the church are moving forward bit by bit. The proof will be in how well de Korte fulfills his promise to dialogue with the LGBT community in the future.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 17, 2017 

 

The Ups and Downs of LGBT Issues in the Age of Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ election in 2013 prompted a new conversation on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, one which has sometimes been challenging to keep pace with given its many developments. That is why, at different intervals, Catholics have paused to take stock of where the conversation is, and where it is going.

ce1b24b3c799d95b5dec38dbd927102c03b016d3_2880x1620New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium this past April was one such pause. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life wrote about the event, which focused on LGBT Catholics in the age of Pope Francis.  In an essay for Commonweal, he described it as a “complex conversation.” Gehring wrote:

“The most painful stories I heard came from gay and lesbian Catholics who have been fired from Catholic schools or other Catholic institutions. . .Margie Winters, a long-time religious education director at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia, was fired in 2015 after a disgruntled parent outed her marriage to another woman. ‘I loved and still love that community because it’s a part of my heart,’ Winters said at the Chicago conference. ‘It was like a death. This kind of firing is a trauma. The sense of exile has been hardest for me.'”

Gehring also attended a focus session on family issues, commenting, “Bishops who can cite the fine print of the church’s teaching on sexuality should also be listening more closely to the raw, honest stories of Catholic parents.” Gehring quoted presenter Deacon Ray Dever, who was speaking about his transgender daughter, Lexi:

“The hard part is seeing one of your loved ones endure self-hatred. . .When the word suicide comes into play, your life changes. We wanted to get her through her junior year alive. There are so many families who reject their LGBT kids and that’s tragic, especially when that is done in the name of faith. I’m no expert but what these families need to hear is God created these kids just the way they are and that God loves them.”

Included in his Commonweal piece was Gehring’s account of another meeting, this time at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school. Catholic educators joined by other experts met there to discuss how LGBT students could be better supported in church-affiliated education. Gehring explained:

“Michael Duffy, director of the McGrath Institute for Jesuit Catholic Education at the university, pulled together the meeting in part because of his experience at some Catholic workshops and conferences, where discussions about LGBT issues have often been unhelpful and narrowly defined.”

Also taking stock of LGBT issues in the age of Francis is America’s national correspondent, Michael O’Loughlin. He wrote an article specifically on how the U.S. church is evolving on such issues.

One notable shift has been friendlier bishops like Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin, and Bishop John Stowe, O.F.M. Conv. The last of these bishops offered two Scriptural reflections at the Symposium in April, which were very well received. Asked by O’Loughlin why he agreed to speak at the event despite intense criticism, Stowe replied:

“Pope Francis talks about a culture of encounter, and that requires a lot of listening. . .What I’ve seen among gay Catholics in my own diocese is a real desire to live their faith and the challenge to do so within a church that is not always accepting or labels them as disordered.”

Subscribers and regular readers to Bondings 2.0 know there is no shortage of LGBT Catholic news, enough for daily (and sometimes twice daily) posts. Gehring is spot on calling this a “complex conversation” because there are so many ups and downs in this age of Pope Francis. What is clear is there is new energy for this conversation, and church leaders are increasingly willing to listen.

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the Symposium, visit the “Symposium 2017” category to the right or click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 4, 2017

U.K. Bishops’ Voting Guide Reveals Pope Francis’ Influence

Conversations on marriage and family initiated by Pope Francis have opened doors within the church for families which are considered “non-traditional” by church leaders. But could the pope’s shift to mercy and inclusion in church discussions be having public policy implications as well? There is good evidence from the United Kingdom that the answer is yes.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 9.57.59 AMLike many episcopal conferences, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) released a voting guide ahead of the U.K.’s general election this June. These guides generally include both guiding principles and specific political positions, which too frequently are reduced to the bishops’ opposition to abortion and to LGBT rights.

It is therefore highly significant that CBCEW’s guide omits commentary on LGBT rights altogether, and poses questions rather than dictating positions on issues which are taken up.

Pope Francis is quoted extensively throughout the two-page document. Among the key principles the bishops draw from the pope are Francis’ words, “We love this human family with all its tragedies and struggles.” The bishops then commented:

“The family is the basic model by which we think of humanity, for the family is indeed the fundamental unit of the human race and therefore to be protected and nurtured. The practical expression of this love is mercy and compassion, extended especially at times of illness, homelessness, bereavement, violence and desolation.”

What follows are brief issue-specific sections,  which have just a line or two of commentary before asking questions of the voter, who is asked to make a conscience decision. This method of engagement is very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ message in Amoris Laetitia that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them.

In the section, “Issues on Family and Life,” the bishops ask the question: “What policies do your candidates propose for the flourishing of family life?” Where too many bishops worldwide have in the last decade reduced family concerns to opposing marriage equality, CBCEW’s membership recognizes that public policy needs to be protecting families against actual problems they are facing.

In the section, “Freedom of Religion and Belief,” the bishops look outward to the protection of all religious minorities currently facing danger because of their beliefs. There are no claims that expanding LGBT rights are persecuting Christians in the U.K., claims which the U.S. bishops continue to make quite vocally about their own context.

The voting guide is not proof that the British bishops have changed their beliefs about marriage equality nor does it suggest they will soon become leading advocates of LGBT non-discrimination. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), who has a positive record on LGBT issues and even said recently he “rejoiced” in the growing acceptance of LGBT people, has said the Magisterium will remain “obstinate” in its opposition to marriage equality.

It is, however, proof that the style and tone of the U.K.’s bishops have begun to more closely mirror Pope Francis’ example. They are focusing on significant injustices in today’s world like migration, care for creation, and human trafficking, and by doing so, are setting aside “culture war” issues. In the church, such changes are not superficial: they are quite substantive.

The guide is also further proof that church teaching does evolve.  Instead of explicitly changing teachings, bishops can simply fail to mention them and then ultimately “forget” these teachings to history. English bishops endorsed civil partnerships for same-gender couples in 2011. They are now letting go of any vocal opposition to civil marriage equality. Perhaps they can now become positive voices for LGBT human rights in a global context.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if bishops’ conferences elsewhere, in their function as political actors, will come to mirror Pope Francis’ model and vision more closely.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 29, 2017

SYMPOSIUM: Frank Mugisha: Stand Up, Speak Out for Global LGBT Human Rights

When I had the honor to introduce Dr. Frank Mugisha at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium a few weeks ago, I described him as a “prophet in our midst.” Why this is the case came through in his address on criminalization laws and the LGBT experience in Uganda, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

“Frank Mugisha still thinks twice before going down certain streets, into malls or nightclubs in his native Kampala, Uganda. Mugisha lives as an openly gay man in a country whose Parliament tried in 2009 to introduce a bill seeking the death penalty for homosexual acts. The bill has cost some Ugandans their life and has made many live in fear, not show up for work, and hide from family and friends. . .”

Frank MugishaThese threats, however, have not altered Mugisha’s determination to see LGBT rights expanded in Uganda and worldwide. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and winner of several other prominent human rights awards, Mugisha leads Sexual Minorities Uganda, the nation’s leading LGBT rights organization.

Mugisha shared with Symposium participants how much Uganda’s LGBT community appreciated Pope Francis’ message of love for all people during his 2015 visit to several African nations. Mugisha had contacted the Vatican to ask for a meeting with the pontiff when he visited the country.  He said an assistant to Francis told Mugisha that a visit would not be possible, but that the pope planned to make clear to Uganda’s religious and political leaders that anti-gay rhetoric is unacceptable.

Though he did not speak publicly on LGBT issues, the pope’s message of love nonetheless challenged Catholics in a nation where the church remains both powerful and quite homophobic. Some church officials are still organizing to bring back the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Act.  He told The National Catholic Reporter that a Ugandan prelate’s new book argues transgender people can be changed. But while Pope Francis visited, Ugandan church leaders remained quiet on the subject.

Mugisha shared how dangerous it still is to be an LGBT person in Uganda, saying, “We live every day in fear.” Last fall, he was arrested along with other people celebrating Pride, about which he explained, “We were put in police custody. Tortured. Forced to bathe in filthy water.”

Asked during a question and answer period how he sustains himself with prayer, Mugisha, a Catholic, replied, “Before I go to bed, I pray about things I care about. I ask God for help. I ask God to listen.”

Mugisha concluded with an exhortation to Symposium participants, encouraging them to be in contact with local solidarity groups as the best means of ensuring global LGBT human rights.  He stated:

“I encourage you to think of any way you can support an LGBT person. Take it personally. Stand up. Speak out.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 25, 2017