In celebration of the International Day against homophobia, biphobia, intersexphobia and transphobia (IDAHOBIT), interfaith partners collaborated in hosting a webinar titled “Faith as a sanctuary–Can LGBTQI+ trust in faith during a pandemic of violence?” The webinar was hosted against a painful context of constant, brutal murders of LGBTQI+ people across South Africa, addressing pertinent question of whether faith can be a viewed as a safe space for LGBTQI+ people within the current climate of violence.
The webinar was moderated by Justice Edwin Cameron, with guests Dr Anastasia Thomson, Siya Khumalo, and Imam Muhsin Hendricks. The panellists shared personal narratives of faith and sexuality, navigating their families located within the heart of orthodox believers. Imam Hendricks spoke of allowing one to journey with their spirituality and sexuality, a journey of self-discovery through critically engaging scriptures, questioning and confidently redefining and reclaiming your faith from a space of knowledge and self-awareness.
Finding faith spaces of acceptance and healing
In response to the question of how we can address pain experienced from weaponized faith, Siya Khumalo recognized the work done in creating affirming churches and denominations, encouraging people to be members of these spaces. He also located the power of “church” within the community, encouraging us to draw strength from scriptures and refusing to allow faith leaders to exacerbate violence against people in their name as members. Faith institutions will be forced to evolve, adapt, or die when the community they serve reflects the love that they are choosing to be blind to. This was supported by Dr Thomson, who encouraged people to be a part of progressive spaces of faith. Another pertinent question that emerged was ‘is it possible that there can be a space for queer people in the faith community and space for healing?’ Dr. Thomson shared the importance of a “realisation of a different kind of faith that is emerging out of personal experiences beyond religious tradition”. For her, it was essential in locating progressive Judaism, one that provided a different lens and centred human rights. “Getting in touch with these inclusive spaces really helps you know and access to information that can really help to reconcile with faith, “agreed Imam Hendricks.
Navigating differences and holding faith leadership to account
Justice Edwin Cameron drew on the lessons taught to us by Simon Nkoli of “organisation, solidarity, and action” in responding to a participant’s question on how we write the next chapter with or without our religious institutions. Khumalo identified the need to find the unity within our diversity to address existing tensions within the LGBTQI+ community. Together, we can use the South African Constitution as the common ground to collectively work to address public perception and social attitudes and holding leaders accountable for human rights violations.
“I think we have to start holding the leaders of these [faith] institutions accountable because it is their concern, whether they themselves are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or not, it is their concern and we must implore them to stand up for the values and the ethics that they claim to represent when they speak from their pulpits and put their money where their mouths are, actually take that action and to spur their congregations and their communities into action,” said Khumalo
The panellists as well as coordinators were invited to contribute to the question of what now, with Thuli Mjwarafrom IAM sharing the following,
“What does this mean, it means signing the petition that is going around. It means tweeting the Department of Justice, writing letters, speaking out and saying that this is an injustice and we’re not going to accept it lying down. It means also that we also speak to our faith leaders because we know our communities in our church, we know our leaders, we know the homophobes… The same knowledge when you come into your faith space, knowing who are the people that we need to have these conversations with. It’s about starting the conversation. It’s about remembering that as we are about to join in prayer, there are those who cannot access the faith space just because they dress in a particular way or they present themselves in a particular way, it’s about including them in the prayer, it’s about inviting them to the table…I mean I know … we say (…) no matter how vocal you are on social media, at times it’s not enough. And this is why, with your visibility, we need action as well. This action can come in forms of volunteering in LGBTQI organisations. Contributions, so if you do donations, (donate) towards Trans-led organisations (and) towards movements of LGBTQI in the community that require the support. As some of them are very limited in terms of how they keep mobilising. It’s about, even if it means opening up your garage to allow parents to come in to have the conversation and you inviting that organisation to lead that conversation about how can we make space in our community, our homes safe for people who are different, but it doesn’t just have to be different in terms of LGBTQI it could be around ableism, it could be about nationality, how do we make our homes, our communities safe for whoever who is part of our community because we need a human-first led community movement.”
Reflections on the webinar