Hundreds of religious leaders around the world have declared that LGBT+ people “are a precious part of creation” and called for a global ban on conversion therapy.
The government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has funded a conference held Wednesday (16 December) to mark the launch of the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives.
The Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives, organised by the Ozanne Foundation which works with “religious organisations around the world to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender”, aims to provide a voice for religious leaders to “affirm and celebrate the dignity of all, independent of their sexuality, gender expression and gender identity”.
The commission has 21 founding members, including Argentinian lawyer Roberto Manuel Carlés, who has advised the Pope on justice and human rights issues, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church bishop Mark Strange, the former president of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese and reverend canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, daughter of archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Central to the commission is a declaration, which has already been signed by more than 370 religious leaders from 35 countries and all main religions, including archbishop Desmond Tutu himself.
The declaration asks for the forgiveness of the LGBT+ community for the harm that religious teaching has caused its members, and calls for an end to violence against queer communities around the world, and a global ban on conversion therapy.
It has been produced as both a document and a video, calling for religious communities around the world to “celebrate inclusivity and the extraordinary gift of our diversity”.
The declaration states:
We come together as senior religious leaders, academics and lay leaders from around the world to affirm the sactity of life and dignity of all.
We affirm that all human beings of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions are a precious part of creation and are part of the natural order.
We affirm that we are all equal under God, whom many call the Divine, and so we are all equal to one another. We therefore call for all to be treated equally under the law.
We recognise with sadness that certain religious teachings have often, throughout the ages, caused and continue to cause deep pain and offence to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex.
We acknowledge, with profound regret, that some of our teachings have created, and continue to create, oppressive systems that fuel intolerance, perpetuate injustice and result in violence. This has led, and continues to lead, to the rejection and alienation of many by their families, their religious groups and cultural communities.
We ask for forgiveness from those whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching.
We believe that love and compassion should be the basis of faith and that hatred can have no place in religion.
We call on all nations to put an end to criminalisation on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, for violence against LGBT+ people to be condemned and for justice to be done on their behalf.
We call for all attempts to change, suppress or erase a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression – commonly known as “conversion therapy” – to end, and for these harmful practices to be banned.
Finally, we call for an end to the perpetuation of prejudice and stigma and commit to work together to celebrate inclusivity and the extraordinary gift of our diversity.
It is now available for all people of faith to sign, and the commission encourages the public to invite their own faith leaders to sign the declaration.
Ozanne Founation director Jayne Ozanne said: “We are encouraging all people of faith to sign this declaration, so that we can give a clear message to all countries that religious teaching does not tolerate prejudice and should never be used to endorse discrimination.
“Our hope is that LGBT+ people and their allies will share it with their own faith leaders and ask them to sign it too.”
Dilwar Hussain, chair of New Horizons in British Islam, told a press briefing on the launch of the commission: “I’m really honoured to be a part of this, and I’m especially honour because I think Muslim communities have been, for so long, behind the curve on issue of LGBT+ justice.
“There’s a lot of talk in Muslim communities of equality, of prejudice, of discrimination. Often that’s quite communitarian, often that’s about us.
“I think if we’re going to be serious about addressing issues of justice and injustice in our society, we’ve got to have an argument that’s morally consistent. We can’t have an argument that’s just partial and sectarian. That’s just not going to work, and it’s not religious to think in that way.”
Reverend canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, South African anti-apartheid campaigner and daughter of Desmond Tutu, was formerly a priest but was forced to give up her license after marrying her wife, Marceline, in 2016.
She said: “I am proud to be a founding member of the commission. I know from personal experience the deep pain that can be caused by certain religious teachings.
“There are many LGBT+ people who suffer emotional hurt and physical violence to the point of death in countries across the world. For this reason, we are joining forces as faith leaders to say that we are all beloved children of God.”
Tutu van Furth will give the opening keynote speech at Wednesday’s virtual conference, which will involve 20 speakers including the UN Independent Expert for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz. The conference will be followed by a private, in-person celebration at Westminster Abbey.
Despite the UK government providing funding for the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives and its declaration calling for a global conversion therapy ban, conversion therapy is still legal in the UK.
Ozanne said she hopes that the declaration “gives a very clear signal that religious leaders want this ban”.