What is IDAHOBIT, I hear you ask? It’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, and it’s on 17 May every year. On this day, people all over the world will stand in solidarity with their LGBTIQA+ friends, family, colleagues and neighbours to tell them that they are loved, and that they are not alone.
Here at Sanctuary, when we worked out a statement regarding LGBTIQA+ people, a few people asked why we were focusing on this and not other marginalised groups in the area. As the leadership said at the time, it was because of the cultural context: We live in a place and at a time when the public face of Christianity is, for the most part, fiercely and implacably LGBTIQA+-phobic. The plebiscite regarding marriage equality was in the offing, and many LGBTIQA+ people were experiencing the public discourse as only intensifying their history of social and legal marginalisation. Meanwhile, some public figures who identify as Christian came out loudly against marriage equality, at times through highly inaccurate and inflammatory statements; and in our own city LGBTIQA+ families and young people encountered Christians protesting against marriage equality near the gates of government schools.
That the marginalisation of LGBTIQA+ people by many Christians is not unusual here was brought home to me when I went to a session run by a local agency on making our organisation more LGBTIQA+ friendly. When it came out that I was a pastor, and that LGBTIQA+ people were welcome at Sanctuary, people were shocked to silence. There was a pause, then someone, disbelieving, checked that they hadn’t misheard. When I confirmed that I was a Christian, they said, “Well, that’s a first, to see a Christian here,” and my heart broke.
It should not need saying, but let’s be clear: Using untruthful, vitriolic, incendiary language, picketing school children and their families, and excluding people from church on the basis of their sexuality or gender shows none of the neighbour-love or even enemy-love that Jesus demands. Nor does it reflect the practices of the one who spent his life seeking out people who were excluded from the mainstream by reason of sexual history, gender, ethnic background, political allegiance, mental illness, other disability, or age, and listening to them, eating with them, loving them, and forming his new community around them.
Instead it is, quite simply, the worst form of persecution, because it targets people who are already extremely vulnerable. Because of the risk of rejection, even by their families, LGBTIQA+ people make up a high proportion of homeless youth; have extremely high rates of mental illness, self-harm, and suicide; and are told in a thousand different ways that they are ‘different’ and will never fit in. Pointing the finger only increases their experiences of marginalisation.
In our particular context, where LGBTIQA+ people can be picketed, name-called, and discouraged from participating in mainstream social institutions, and the churches for the most part enable this or are complicit by their silence, standing in solidarity is an important and prophetic task. On IDAHOBIT, then, let’s follow Jesus by showing our support for our LGBTIQA+ friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, and even enemies. And every day, let’s continue to build loving relationships across human boundaries, whatever they are.
And let’s also remember that loving one group of marginalised people does not preclude loving others, nor is each identity discrete. In his article in The Guardian, Behrouz Boochani profiles a gay Iranian asylum seeker who was imprisoned on Manus Island, and who has been the victim of constant persecution including multiple sexual assaults. The story is a powerful reminder that LGBTIQA+ people may also be foreign, indigenous, young, poor, mentally ill, imprisoned, victim/survivors of violence, or seeking asylum — or most of the above. As those called to love and serve the king (Matthew 25), we are called to love and serve them all.
Photograph: Ryan McGuire, gratisography.com. Used with permission.
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