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Fighting Fundamentalisms Through Faith

Thank you to Sheherezade Kara, Communications and Advocacy Manager with ARC International, for this submission.

In the field of gender and sexuality rights, representations of religion tend to be dominated by fundamentalisms, with dogma being used to justify discrimination, stigma and abuse against those who transgress the narrow confines of patriarchal and heterosexist norms. It was therefore a welcome change to participate in the development and launch of the Global Interfaith Network for persons of all Sexes, Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions (GIN-SSOGIE) in South Africa this January; a network of conceived by participants at an inter-faith pre-conference to the ILGA 2012 World Conference in Stockholm.

ARC International was invited to be one of among 70 participants in this first official meeting; others included religious leaders, theologians, academics, human rights activists and funders. Individuals had travelled from all over the world to contribute to the network’s design, mission and objectives, representing the Pacific Islands, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.

According to its mission statement, members of the network are committed to using “beliefs and traditions to ensure that the views, values and rights of people of all SSOGIE are recognised, respected, and valued”, and the founders reject the incompatibility of religion with values of inclusivity and non-discrimination. With a steering committee composed of activists of different faiths and regions, the network promises to be truly global in scope. The conference that birthed the network saw Imams, priests, a bishop, a Buddhist monk and followers of various (and no) religions sharing inclusive spiritual ceremonies on a daily basis.

Whilst an important goal, the network aims to achieve more than simply bringing people of different faiths together and providing a safe space for people of all SSOGIE. The set of objectives adopted at the conference are ambitious, and include building capacity and resources, such as theological studies, and engaging in human rights advocacy efforts at all levels, from the local to the international.

With this latter objective, GIN-SSOGIE will provide a much-needed counter-narrative to those forces that use religion to lobby for the restriction of gender and sexuality related rights. This is certainly true in our work at the United Nations, where US-based fundamentalist groups, states such as Russia and the Holy See, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have dominated discourses around religion, tradition and culture, promoting exclusive, discriminatory and damaging interpretations.

This unholy alliance uses legal arguments to claim that state sovereignty, the right to freedom of religion, and children’s rights (among others) are threatened by the recognition of gender and sexual rights — a claim that has repeatedly been refuted by human rights experts, the UN Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human Rights — and spends a tremendous amount of time and resources trying to redefine the principle of universality of human rights to its antonym. Similarly, advocates for sexuality and gender-related rights in UN spaces tend to focus on the legal basis for the recognition of human rights, whilst not engaging in theological debates or lines of argument grounded in religion or culture.

It is certainly time to try another strategy.

GIN-SSOGIE aims to “heal the experienced separation between faith identities and SSOGIE” and works “in the belief that all faiths are inherently inclusive of people of all SSOGIE”.

Let’s hope this message will provide a positive contribution to the deconstruction of fundamentalisms.

The network is expecting to launch its website very soon, and a follow up conference is due to take place later this year.

Watch out for announcements from the GIN-SSOGIE network in future issues of Facing Fundamentalisms.