People of faith gathered June 13 at the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches-sponsored Chicago Forum on LGBTI Solidarity in Africa to discuss and share theological reflections on and the reality of being LGBTI on the continent.
"Sometimes we pretend as if this is an isolated reality," the Rev. Julie Boleyn, Unity Lutheran Church of Berwyn pastor and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries co-chair, said. "This affects us all."
The forum was among Pride events held this weekend, highlighting the coalition's theme"Solidarity: Standing on the Side of Love," with organizers saying that misuse of religion has helped make being LGBTI a harsh reality for queer Africans. Broadway United Methodist Church, 3338 N. Broadway, hosted the forum.
"It can be abusedsomething that hinders," Boleyn said.
She moderated the forum, which included Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary professor Cheryl B. Anderson as well as Judith Kotzé and Ingrid Schoonraad of Inclusive & Affirming Ministries ( IAM ) South Africa.
Anderson, who is a straight ally, illustrated the dangers of misused religion. Anderson researched HIV/AIDS for the last decade. She's traveled to Africa regularly for the last five years.
Besides skin color, heritage and history, Anderson said Africans share something else with their African-American brothers and sistershigh HIV rates.
"Globally, HIV is a disease that [predominantly] Black people have," she said.
Religion, particularly Christianity, has played a part in the spread of HIV, according to Anderson. While she noted that Blacks are predominantly Christian, Black Muslims have lower HIV rates. Biblical interpretation, Anderson said, has supported a paradigm of male dominance and female subordination.
"Men are privileged," she said. "It's an easy way to spread the virus."
High HIV rates and high rates of gender-based violence go hand-in-hand. Violence ensures subordination. According to the Bible, Anderson said, it's unnatural for privileged males to be subordinate.
Antigay supporters view being gay as being subordinate males. That idea helps fuels homophobic attitudes worldwide. Anderson acknowledged battling those attitudes during her time in Africa.
Of course, homophobia is rampant in the United States as well. While homophobia isn't confined to the Black community, Anderson couldn't deny its prevalence there, given its prevailing religious leanings.
"Black people tend to be evangelical conservatives," she said.
Anderson noted that the late Audre Lorde's notion of the "mythical norm" perfectly describes the evangelical Christian. Lorde, a lesbian writer, radical feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist, declared straight, White, Christian males were, essentially, the American society's ideal.
Schoonraad, a White South African woman, described the challenges of working in several African countries. Religion has been one of those challenges.
"I've been 'too gay' for the churches and 'too churchy' for the gays," she said.
Schoonraad, a self-described feminist, shared witnessing female subordination in action. She recalled when a prominent church leader came to a workshop and a woman bowed in front of him. Subordination, in part, has put 15-year-old African girls most at-risk for HIV infection.
Lack of education is the other problem, Schoonraad said, adding she learned sexuality isn't discussed in schools or churches. Knowledge is the key to freedom, she said.
"There will be no LGBTI liberation without [discussing] sexuality," Schoonraad said. "People are dying. They are dying in the name of God."
Jesus, according to Anderson, shows us that they're dying in the name of another god. She said the Jesus she knows didn't marginalize the marginalized.
"He went against traditions," Anderson, an Old Testament scholar, said.
That's not her interpretation of the gospels. That's how they read. Interestingly, Anderson said antigay preachers don't consistently preach from the gospels. Despite their reading of Biblical text, Anderson said Jesus hasn't forsaken LGBTI people.
"Where two or more are gathered, Jesus is with us," she said.
Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program ( CLASP ) Co-Founder John Adewoye said engaging African religious leaders is essential to liberating LGBTI people. However, Adewoye stressed how ingrained homophobia is in their minds.
For instance, despite being a former Catholic priest, Adewoye said people have questioned whether he's a Christian. So, he wasn't optimistic communications would be fruitful.
"They don't listen," Adewoye said.
In response, Anderson said laity can be very effective. She said congregation booed its pastor, after he preached antigay message.
"We just need to keep working with every single group," Anderson said.
The Biblical scholar said misinformation about what the Bible is and what it says is prevalent. That misinformation creates dangerous situations for people around the world. Kotzé said Black lesbians in South Africa are targeted for "corrective rape."
"How can rape be corrective?" she said. "[There's] no uproar in society. It's normal. We need to be educated."
Kotzé said education is a key to the liberation of LGBTI people.
"You need to change their hearts," she said. "Make it safe for discussion [of sexuality]. If our hearts are open, that isn't enough. You need to move. Go and open the door."
Also see LGBTI solidarity in Africa discussed at community forum by Carrie Maxwell