During the month of June, thousands of people in Canada will be participating in Pride activities celebrating the lives and freedom of LGBTQ+ people. That won’t be happening in Chechnya, or in Uganda, Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and many other countries.

News media over the last few months have been filled with stories about the detentions, torture, and murders of gay men in Chechnya. Described as a systemic anti-LGBT purge, the men are allegedly being held in what human rights groups are calling concentration camps. It has been reported that families of gay men are being told to “wash the shame away” by killing their children, or the state will intervene.

The United Church of Canada strongly condemns the violence happening against LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya—as well as the daily violence and oppression experienced by LGBTQ+ people around the world.

In the global fight for equality, progress is being achieved in some areas of the world, but homosexuality is still illegal in 72 countries, and punishable by the death penalty in 13 countries—implemented in at least eight. Trans and gender-diverse people also face extreme violence, with 2,343 being reported murdered in 69 countries since 2008. Last year was the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States, with 27 homicides reported, nearly all racialized women. In Brazil one LGBT person is murdered every 25 hours. Killings, violence, and oppression are routine in many parts of Africa and the Middle East.

The United Nations has called on the international community to confront the issue of anti-gay violence and discrimination. In June 2016 the UN Security Council issued a resolution condemning violence against LGBT people. Soon after, the UN Human Rights Council announced the appointment of an “independent expert” to monitor LGBT violence around the world.

Violence and oppression also happens in Canada. It wasn’t so long ago that homosexuality was illegal here. In 2013 there were 186 police-reported hate crime incidents that were motivated by sexual orientation. That’s roughly one every two days! Today, trans and gender diverse people in Canada are still fighting to be protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

The United Church of Canada believes that all human beings are made in the image of God regardless of their sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. Yet, even as we seek to eliminate homophobia and transphobia, we know it is within us. We acknowledge the role that religion (including Christianity) and religious-based homophobia and transphobia play in the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people. And we lament the pain, heartache, and lost lives that religion has contributed to both in Canada and around the world.

As Christians, and as Canadians, we are responsible for becoming more aware of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. United Church members are called to take action to ensure that all people—regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity—enjoy their full civil and human rights in society, to work to end all forms of discrimination against them, and to support the victims of such discrimination.

One clear way that we can move forward is by supporting LGBTQ+ refugee sponsorships. The United Church partners with Rainbow Refugee Society to sponsor LGBTQ+ refugees, and find more ways to support those coming from Chechnya, Uganda, Zambia, Russia, Iran, Syria, and many other countries.

There are many other ways that United Church members are called to live into our existing commitments to justice and stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ family here in Canada and around the world.

As LGBTQ+ communities around the world mark Pride celebrations, may the God we worship inspire us to build bridges of hope and love rather than walls of hatred and fear.

 

Note re acronym LGBTQ+: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual/Two-Spirited, Queer/Questioning (the “+” is inclusive of other identities such as intersex, asexual, pangender, and more). Language is contextual and evolving and while the intent of the acronym is to be inclusive of people of all sexual identities, gender identities and expressions, we recognize that it is not perfect. We also acknowledge that racialized people and Indigenous people (many who do not identify as Two-Spirit) experience marginalization and erasure, within the LGBTQ+ community.