The conference of ILGA Europe in Turin was my, Michael Brinkschroeder's, first personal contact with ILGA. I was very happy to meet Yves, Randi and Karen, Forum friends who know these conferences for many years and where very helpful for me.
European Forum workshop
The workshop of the European Forum under the title The spirit of human rights. How to foster constructive dialogue with tradition based churches was run by Karen Badalyan, Joseanne Peregin and Michael Brinkschroeder. Our virtual preparation by email and skype was made in close cooperation with Diane Xuereb who couldn’t attend the conference. Taking up the title of the conference, we decided to focus on the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Apostolic Churches, which are most explicitly based on tradition. Our aim was to show up a strategy for social dialogue with these churches using the ecclesial acceptance of human rights as common ground for a dialogue on human rights for LGBT people.
We began the workshop with a vote on the question: „Regarding the attitude of Christian churches towards LGBT people, what is the best strategy - clash or dialogue?“ Surprisingly there were only few votes in favor of clash among the 45 participants.
After a short introduction into the European Forum and its activities, we presented two different situations within churches: Karen Badalyan from We for Civil Equality (Armenia) reported the official position of the Armenian Apostolic Church on homosexuality. It is based on bible verses (e.g. Lev 20,13; Matt 19,4f.) and comes to the conclusion that homosexuality is a spiritual malady (e.g. „male addiction“) and a sin, which was imported from the West. Although very much needed, in Armenia a constructive dialogue with church leaders is impossible and only few priests are willing to listen.
In contrast, Joseanne Peregin (from the Drachma Parents Group in Malta) told about her experience with several years of continuous dialogue with the Roman Catholic bishop of Malta. This dialogue has helped to improve the church’s unterstanding of LGBT people although progress comes in very little steps in Malta. Giving a very impressive practice example, she emphasized the important role of the parents in this dialogue because bishops can develop empathy for them more easily.
The third part (Michael Brinkschroeder) started with reflections on the different role that arguments from tradition play in various churches. Then it was shown how even traditional churches like the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Church have changed during the last decades by accepting the key role of human dignity (and to a lesser degree: of human rights) in their social doctrine. This change allows to articulate questions of LGBT life in terms of human rights instead of traditional sexual morality. This line of argumentation was supported by new perspectives on biblical texts.
The following discussion was held in a constructive atmosphere with high interest in our practical experiences with the dialogue with church leaders and in the work of the parents groups. For some participants from the Balcan area it was an eye opener that dialogue with churches is possible at all. We received some excellent feedback and I think that the workshop was very successful.
I want to give thanks to Karen, Joseanne and Diane for their valuable contributions.
ILGA conferences are a an important place for networking. Besides to the Forum friends, I made some very interesting contacts:
- A new lesbian Christian group (called G’re.co), was founded in Greece only one month ago and wants to become member group of the Forum. Her representative, Konstantina, is highly interested in the Forum’s work and will come to Amsterdam.
- IGLYO will hold a conference on interreligious dialogue in Belgium 2012 and is interested in a cooperation with the Forum.
- Davis I. is a Christian, born in Nigeria, who had to flee to the UK after his coming-out. He would like to join the next Forum conference.
- Carolien L. is the Dutch coordinator of our first transgender pre-conference in Amsterdam and we had a good exchange about the content and the aims of this new pre-conference.
- Many others from Ukraine, Bosnia-Hercegovina etc.
Outlook for the next years
In 2012, the ILGA Europe conference will be in Dublin (end of october) and ILGA World conference in Stockholm (in november). This double costs need a decision on the budget. In 2013, ILGA-Europe conference will be held in Zagreb.
Reflections and Ideas
Contacts with several participants from the Balkan area brought me to the conclusion that the European Forum should try to offer the Safe Space Training Course for this region. At the ILGA conference, there were many activists from these countries, while they are lacking in the European Forum. The reason may be that Christian churches and Islamic religion are very conservative and homophobic because they are used to form national identities. This has prevented the coming into existence of Christian LGBT groups in these areas.
In order to improve the fundraising of the European Forum and its political capabilities we should use the political experience of ILGA Europe better. Why don’t we set up a kind of leadership training for Forum members where this know how can be learned?