Breathing in the Spirit of Human Rights

Christians speak out for the Human Rights of LGBT People - A project of the European Forum

The European Forum

The European Forum is a Europe-wide, ecumenical organization working within and through Christian churches for equality and full inclusion of LGBT people. Founded in 1982, the European Forum now has 46 member groups from 22 countries all over Europe, representing nearly six thousand members. European Forum members come from many different Christian denominations: Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Baptist, Salvation Army, Methodist, Reformed, Evangelical, Waldensian, Armenian Apostolic, Metropolitan Community Church, ecumenical groups and others.

The European Forum has supported LGBT Christians in Eastern Europe for more than a decade through scholarships for 63 participants from 13 different countries. In 2005-2007 the European Forum developed and held a three module Safe Space Training Course in theological argumentation concerning homosexuality and human rights attended by 9 Eastern European activists eager to challenge conservative religious leaders and politicians who use faith based arguments to deny LGBT people their human rights.

The European Forum has 9 member groups from 7 different countries which were part of the former Soviet Union (Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova). Together with two other member groups from Romania and Poland they organized themselves on a regional level in the Forum of LGBT Christians in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EEF). The European Forum supports them financially, through workshops and personal presence of volunteers at the annual EEF conferences which started in 2008. This became an opportunity for mutual support and capacity building for a number of leaders in the region, acting as multipliers in their own local communities back home.

The European Forum took also a leading role in preparing ILGA World’s Pre-conference on religion in Geneva (2006) and the Interfaith Pre-conference of ILGA World meeting in Stockholm (2012). It forms part in the emerging Global LGBTI Interfaith Network, and has an active presence at various General Assemblies and events organized by the World Council of Churches since 1995.


Background of the Advocacy Project

During recent years, several European institutions and UN bodies have repeatedly reported serious violations of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, particularly in Eastern Europe. These reports officially make clear that violence and hate crimes, as well as discriminatory laws and practices against LGBT people, are a challenging problem both in Europe and worldwide as well as acknowledged the role of the religious fundamentalism and Religious Right groups in legitimizing and motivating these types of oppression.

Until now, there is no strong international voice of religious LGBT organisations fully equipped to advocate on behalf of LGBT people of faith and to counteract religious based homophobia. The European Forum is the only European actor able to support and galvanize advocacy initiatives on behalf of this constituency, which requires capacity building measures for strengthening its organizational and advocacy capacity.

The experience, degree of maturity, and growing visibility of the European Forum places this civil society organization in a very good position to begin to pro-actively influence decision-making processes affecting human rights issues at the European level from an inclusive Christian and social-justice perspective.

Moreover, as leader of a broad LGBT constituency, the European Forum can help transfer advocacy skills and advocacy arguments to mainstream human rights NGOs, LGBT groups and religious allies with whom they work, articulating a Christian voice in the favour at the LGBT rights at European level. This is the reason why the European Forum sees the need to demand human rights through active lobbying for LGBT human rights within European and international political organisations, by adding a Christian perspective, as well as through lobbying for the full inclusion and equal rights of LGBT people within international Church organisations, by adding an LGBT perspective, so that ultimately every LGBT person in Europe finds a social atmosphere in which he or she is breathing in the spirit of human rights in everyday life.

As the European Forum is a European organisation, the advocacy project has its focus on multilateral European organisations with a special emphasis on the Council of Europe (CoE).


Goals of the Advocacy Project

The general purpose of the project is to build on the European Forum’s experiences in advocating on behalf of LGBT Christian groups and to increase its capacity for conducting strategic, sustained advocacy work that integrates all aspects of the organizations’ work (including institutional development, coalition-building, counteracting fundamentalism, advocacy at the level of the European institutions).

Planning and systematizing the advocacy work is ultimately intended to empower the European Forum to conduct more effective, more proactive advocacy in combating religious based homophobia.

This means more specifically:

  1. Increasing the capacity of the European Forum to act as a European watch dog in combating religious based homophobia affecting LGBT rights, especially in Eastern Europe;
  2. Resourcing and strengthening the constituency of the European Forum to articulate their progressive voice in relation to the European institutions and international religious bodies.

Planned activities / tasks of the project manager

The following activities are planned and will be executed by the project manager in cooperation with the Board and the Advocacy Project Working Group of the European Forum:

  1. Mapping and monitoring the impact of the Religious Right upon the LGBT rights in countries from Eastern Europe.
    • This activity will involve documentation, interviews with various actors in the region, document analysis about the main human rights concerns for our European countries & region and will serve as a base for advocacy actions. This has already been done for Russia, but needs to be continued and extended on other countries of the region.
    • During this project an analysis report of the data collected as a result of the mapping and monitoring process will be developed, and will be launched for the use of our membership and partner-organizations.
  2. Enhancing the advocacy capacity of the European Forum in relation to the Council of Europe. This activity will involve:
    • establishing a new office within the building of COC Netherlands in Amsterdam;
    • creating an advocacy plan in cooperation with various partners and the European Forum Board;
    • coming up with various advocacy based papers on anti-discrimination, civil partnership and equal marriage for LGBT people and freedom of religion and belief for LGBT people, as a response to the positions expressed by various Religious Right institutions and the Holy See;
    • receiving formal recognition as an International NGO by the CoE;
    • co-organising a side event on LGBT, Religion and Human Rights in Strasbourg.
  3. Institutional capacity building for the European Forum, essential for strengthening a European voice of reference in combating various advocacy initiatives invoking freedom of religion and belief with the purpose of restricting LGBT rights. It will involve:
    • representing the European Forum in Strasbourg at session weeks and at the INGO Conferences,
    • establishing contacts with the LGBT Unit, the General Rapporteur for LGBT Rights and ILGA Europe as well as other PACE members and relevant European secular and religious based bodies, etc.;
    • organizational and advocacy training for the Board and the new established European Forum’s advocacy group working as the reference group mainly in relation to CoE and advocates to their national PACE members, in parallel with
    • the preparation of a strategic advocacy plan for 3 years and
    • an operational financial plan for supporting future Forum activities;
    • study tour to Strasbourg planned for a parliamentary session in the mid of 2014, facilitating the contact and advocacy based dialogue between PACE members and other relevant actors from CoE and LGBT representatives from Eastern Europe;
    • preparing promotional material as a leaflet about the European Forum and a video message from Church leaders.
  4. Assuring a broad participation and identification of the European Forum member groups with the advocacy project.
    This includes co-organizing the Annual Forum Conference in Tallinn in May 2014. It will be an European event focused on the clash between freedom of religion and other fundamental human rights as a central topic. It will be also the right format to introduce and gain knowledge and support for advancing our advocacy agenda to our membership.