Friday 29 January 2010

Four wasted decades - the Anglican inability to engage with homosexuality

There is a thread running through the Anglican Communion’s engagement with homosexuality that I find curious - the inability to grasp the nettle despite tentative initiatives over 4 decades. I’m interested in the history of the Anglican Communion’s failure to grasp the nettle and wonder if there are lessons to be learnt.

In 2005 The Episcopal Church produced a response to the request made in the Windsor Report 2004 that the church explains how a person living in a same gender union may be eligible to lead the flock of Christ. TEC presented ‘To Set Our Hope on Christ’ (TSOHOC) to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham in 2005. I attended the presentation. Since then the report seems largely to have been forgotten but I recently re-read it.

A long appendix outlines the historical development of beliefs and policies regarding sexuality in the Episcopal Church, USA. It was at the General Convention in 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots of 1969 (the key event that led to the modern gay rights movement), that a resolution was passed instructing the Executive Council to 1) Initiate studies to express Christian attitudes with respect to ... homosexuality; and 2) Develop an educational program designed to communicate such attitudes to the Church at large.

What struck me re-reading the report is that nothing happened as a result of the resolution. The report, says TSOHOC, was probably referred to staff, since there is no mention of a follow-up study, a bare mention of homosexuality in the 1970 General Convention Journal, and a cryptic entry in the minutes of a House of Bishops meeting in 1972. Integrity was founded in 1974 and General Convention dealt substantively with homosexuality for the first time in 1976, nine years after the 1967 resolution.

The Windsor Report Appendix Three reprints resolution 10 from the Lambeth Conference 1978 and Resolution 64 from 1988. Resolution 10 ‘recognised the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality ...’ Unlike TSOHOC, the Windsor Report doesn’t say what happened in the decade following Lambeth 1978 nor Lambeth 1988. Does the silence mean that nothing at all happened? As far as I’m aware, no action was initiated in relation to homosexuality. Resolution 10 also addressed marriage and family life, broken marriages, abortion and genetic engineering. Were they deaslt with? Who was responsible for the failure to initiate action on Resolutions 10 and 64 recommendations about homosexuality – the Anglican Communion Office?

In the 1950s Church of England bishops were among those who advocated for reform of the law in relation to homosexuality which resulted in the 1967 Act. There was a confidence in arguing for decriminalisation, at the same time upholding ‘traditional church teaching’. The confidence exhibited then has evaporated over the following five decades. Why – what happened?

Post Stonewall 1969 LGBT people became more articulate and visible and more confident in arguing and campaigning for change. We were pretty much invisible in the 1950s and yet the Church of England was well-aware that homosexuality was an internal as much as an external issue.

Why did General Convention take 9 years to respond and the Anglican Communion 20 years - by which time forces of opposition had time to organise, with Tony Higton’s 1987 General Synod motion and the 1997 Kuala Lumpur Statement.

Was it simply that those who were responsible for initiating action were incompetent, or was it a failure of nerve, a fear of engaging with homosexuality, prejudice, lack of confidence? I would love to hear from someone who was at Lambeth 1987 or 1988 or working for the Anglican Communion Office then. Even more curious, how did those resolutions get onto the agenda in the first place? If there was enough confidence to table the resolutions, why the inability to take action after Lambeth? Now, we can only speculate how different the landscape might be today if the Communion had started deep and dispassionate study in 1978.

What is the Communion avoiding now? The most strident voices in the Communion are either demonising homosexuality or trying to marginalize the pro-gay Christian experience by presenting ex-gay ministries as the solution. The majority in the Communion would like to be persuaded that there is no such reality as homosexuality, no gay gene to prove that I exist in my gay identity. What a contrast with Church of England bishops in the 1950s. At least they were under no illusion as to the reality of homosexuality and the effect on a minority group of criminalizing sexual activity.

It has been left to the secular realm and to a minority of courageous Provinces and Christians to maintain the campaign not just for equality but at the moment for the very survival of LGBT lives in Africa. Christians who dare to make the case for LGBT people and exemplify mature, adult gay experience and ideals are vilified.

So what lesson can we draw from five decades of Anglican history? Never, never let the Communion forget that the Body of Christ includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Never, never allow the church off the hook, never let the church escape judgment for its prejudice towards LGBT people. Never lose faith in Christ, whose unconditional love embraces all of us.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Anglican witch hunts

On Tuesday, Christina Beardsley concluded her post with the comment: “I am convinced, more than ever, that for those who favour the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England the time for revolt has arrived.”

The necessity for revolt has become critical because the Church of England and other Provinces of the Anglican Communion are pursuing policies which persecute LGBT people and are contrary to the much-vaunted Anglican documents. The Church of England continues to take a stance towards her LGBT members and priests which is prejudiced and hostile. Ultimately this stance will be defeated. Either the church eradicates LGBT people from membership or grants us the same dignity as we now experience in UK society – there can no longer be a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, dishonest fudge.

I have two questions for the House of Bishops following Monday’s debate on the Equality Bill.

Why did they think the amendments debated on Monday were so important that 7 bishops and one archbishop were required to attend and vote? Were the Equality Bill amendments really that threatening to the church’s ability to discriminate against unwelcome categories of people? At least Lord Harries of Pentregarth, a patron of Changing Attitude, was present and voted against the decisive amendments. The collegiality of the House of Bishops is only allowed to fracture in retirement when bishops become free to express their true thoughts and vote in accordance with their principles.

Which brings me to my second question – are the present House of Bishops really of one mind on the Equality Bill? Are there not bishops who might have voted with Lord Harries, and if there are, why did none of them attend and vote on Monday? Were they intimidated by the strength of opinion of their more conservative, reactionary colleagues?

Changing Attitude hears rumours of witch hunts being conducted against gay male clergy in different dioceses from time to time. (Lesbian clergy are, of course, exempt from the homosexual obsession which characterises some male bishops.) Single male priests are asked about the status of other men living in Vicarages and clergy houses. Some have been asked directly whether they are engaged in a sexual relationship. Such bishops are not, of course, interested to know whether a priest might be involved in a loving relationship with another man, only whether a ‘genital relationship’ exists. Many bishops with whom I have very friendly encounters would be horrified at the idea that witch hunts are being conducted against gay Anglican priests, but they are already taking place.

Some of the bishops who were there on Monday knowingly ‘tolerate’ the presence of partnered gay clergy and laity in church employment or in leading worship, preaching and teaching. They are hypocrites. Other bishops may be naive or ignorant enough not to realise that some of their clergy and laity are gay and possibly partnered.

Bishops who follow the policy and teaching of the church to its logical conclusion engage in witch hunts and terrorise their clergy. In Uganda Anglican bishops support a Bill which threatens life imprisonment or the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’, which definition includes having sex with the same person on more than one occasion.

The mind of the House of Bishops is deeply, fatally compromised because bishops are unable to be honest with each other or even with themselves. They are driven by extreme opinions within the Anglican Communion, homophobic attitudes in Africa and bigoted lobby groups in the West – just read the threads on Stand Firm or accept the witness of my gay friends in Uganda who tell me that every Christmas sermon last year was preached against homosexuality and in favour of the Bill.

Changing Attitude continues to support lay and ordained Anglicans in private. Many of them are subjected to extreme treatment at the hands of the church and her bishops, including levels of prejudice and abuse which would never be tolerated in secular employment. We will continue to campaign for a church which changes its attitude towards LGBT people, from a witch hunting church to one which embraces loving, faithful lesbian and gay relationships. Meanwhile, let us be revolting! If you would like to campaign with us please become a supporter of Changing Attitude. We can only achieve a healthy, holy, loving church with your help.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

When revolt rather than acceptance is a plain human duty

Every so often I like to re-read the writings of the late Donald Mackinnon, Scottish philosopher and theologian. Today it was his public lecture – though still not an easy read – in the early 1960s on ‘moral objections to Christianity’.

Mackinnon was very much the eccentric professor, and as a lecturer he could be fierce-sounding, and sometimes almost terrifying to behold. In this particular talk he lambasts, amongst others, ‘certain sorts of clergy’ who – remember that this was 1963 - give the impression that ‘the effective exclusion from sacramental communion of divorced persons who have remarried is the highest form of the Church’s moral witness’. And he adds that the cynic might be tempted to ascribe their ‘heartless zeal’ in this respect as compensation ‘for their unwillingness to engage with the other besetting moral issues of our age, for instance the moral permissibility of nuclear weapons’.

Mackinnon’s punches were frequently, and painfully, on target, and it was interesting to read these words in the light of what happened yesterday in the House of Lords, when certain bishops and peers rallied opposition to secure three amendments to the Equality Bill, which the tabloid press has declared - wrongly I think, though the intention is evidently there – will effectively bar LGBT people from leadership (including ordination) in religious organisations. (As I understand it the legislation, as amended, would serve to protect religious organisations from legal action if they were to refuse to appoint someone to a particular post on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender reassignment).

In the debate Lord Ali made the important point that ‘sexual orientation’ was the wrong expression. Most religious bodies would be prepared to accept someone whose orientation was homosexual: it was sexual conduct that was the issue. However, no one seemed to develop this idea, except that, when the Archbishop of York asked for examples of cases that illustrated the supposed injustice of the status quo (which it was claimed the three amendments were merely reinforcing) Lord Ali’s swift reply was ‘Jeffery John and John Reaney’: the former a celibate at the time of all the fuss about his appointment to Reading and the later a single man when he was appointed as Hereford Diocesan Youth Officer.

In fact Jeffrey and John are but the tip of an iceberg of inequality, and the Archbishop is naive if he thinks that the status quo is beneficent. For example, I could list here – and probably will one day – the Trans clergy who have been shabbily treated by their bishops; currently they outnumber those who have been well-treated. We don’t hear much about these, and other cases like them, perhaps because the people concerned are reluctant to make a fuss, or maybe they are intimated by the, at times, frightening power of the institutional church.

Mackinnon, ever an astute observer and trenchant critic of the latter, wrote as follows:

‘A false passivity, an invalid acquiescence in intolerable evils, a cultivation of obedience for obedience’s sake, when revolt rather than acceptance is a plain human duty – these moral illusions have been fostered by misunderstanding of the work of the Christ and dignified by the language of sacrifice, even of love’.

And having read the Lord’s Hansard report for yesterday I am convinced, more than ever, that for those who favour the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England the time for revolt has arrived.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Do you believe that God has called you to this ministry?

This question, or something like it, is asked of candidates for ordination, frequently, and at various stages. It is the ultimate question: the only one that truly matters, though the call, or vocation, must be tested by the wider church, which usually involves a long and rigorous discernment process.

Why then should three Church of England Bishops be so concerned to screen out candidates who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LBGT)? And not just those who feel that God is calling them to ordained ministry but lay ministry as well; in fact, anyone who aspires to a leadership or public role in a faith community?

I am referring, of course, to the Bishops of Winchester, Exeter and Chester, who are said to be campaigning in the House of Lords to defeat the Equality Bill, lest faith communities find themselves accused of discrimination, as happened in the case of John Reaney, a diocesan youth officer, in the diocese of Hereford.

A rigorous discernment process, which the Church of England has in place, combined with professional interviewing and human resources processes, should be more than sufficient to ensure that those who are selected for training, or particular posts, lay or ordained, are indeed the people that God has duly called.

It is, therefore, an absolute disgrace to seek to prevent a person of faith from entering the selection process, or to disqualify them from a post, simply for being LGBT. It is, nothing less than an assault on their God-given humanity and a dreadful denial of the integrity of their faith journey.

Much has been heard recently from the bishops in the Lords about the need to balance individual rights with the rights of the faith communities, but we hear very little about the incredible gymnastics that goes on in the hearts and souls of faithful LGBT people who have to manage the call of God to service and membership of the body of Christ with such apparent rejection from their senior pastors. For some the tension is too much, and they turn to other, more welcoming churches, like the Metropolitan Community Church, while others turn away completely and begin to hate the Church with a passionate hatred, and who can blame them?

But the call of God continues – that, at least, cannot be frustrated by amendments to Parliamentary Bills. And God calls people – often indiscriminately, or so it might seem according to our prim and proper notions of who should and should not be called. God doesn’t seem to notice the labels that we attach to ourselves or to other people: he calls men and women, and - to quote playwright Jo Clifford – those who are ‘something in between’ (God’s New Frock) as well.

And there’s another thing that puzzles me about the current episcopal agitation. I’ll let Colin and others consider their amendments from the sexual orientation point of view, but twice now, within the last few weeks, in the House of Lords, bishops have pointed out that the Church of England has not yet made up its mind about ‘transgendering’ (by which, presumably, is meant transitioning). Indeed one of the three bishops I’ve mentioned stated that he would be willing to ordain or to officiate at the marriage of someone who had transitioned from one gender to another, though he admitted that he was aware of colleagues who would not be prepared to do this. In that case, if no agreement has been reached, why is it thought necessary to include transgender people in this list of exemptions at all? Evidently it has not yet become a matter of dogma on which all believers concur.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

'A sign of a healthy and mature society'?

Dr Stephen Whittle, OBE (right) and his wife Sarah Rutherford:
married in June 2005 in Heaton Mersey Methodist Church.
The couple, who had been together for 26 years, have four children.
Stephen was born female and transitioned to male in the 1970s.

Yesterday, in the House of Lords, Baroness Thornton, speaking on behalf of the government, accepted two amendments to the Equality Bill relating to transsexual people: 58A from the Bishop of Winchester (moved in his absence by the Bishop of Southwark) and 58B (moved by Baroness Gould of Potternewton).

These amendments were designed to protect clergy and ministers from claims of discrimination should they to refuse to solemnise a marriage where they had reason to believe that one of the parties had undergone gender reassignment.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gives transsexual people who transition to their acquired gender the opportunity to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. If granted they can then apply for a new birth certificate that states their acquired gender, and thereby obtain the right to marry someone of the opposite sex to their acquired gender.

Prior to this Act transsexual people could pass through the entire process from male-to-female or female-to-male, and all their documents would be changed, except the birth certificate, which continued to record a gender the very opposite to the one in which the person was living. Producing the birth certificate, in these circumstances, was always the final indignity for the person who had undergone gender reassignment, and the anomaly of living in one gender yet remaining legally a member of another prevented someone who had transitioned from marrying a person who was the opposite to their acquired sex.

Thankfully, the Gender Recognition Act brought that situation to an end, but an exemption was included for Anglican clergy (in England and Wales) who objected to gender re-assignment on conscientious religious grounds, and who would otherwise have had to marry a couple, one of whom had transitioned, because they lived in their parish.

This exemption appears to have been overlooked in the current draft bill, and so the Bishop of Winchester’s amendment restores it, for the time being, to the legislation, while Baroness Gould’s extends its protection to clergy beyond the Church of England and the Church in Wales.

Back in 2003, Claire MacNab, Vice-President of the Transsexual lobbying group Press for Change, could not foresee a problem with this kind of exemption, not least because Press For Change is an organisation with a passion, not just for Trans peoples’ rights, but for Human rights generally, and therefore, had no desire to deny the rights of those who questioned the possibility of gender reassignment on religious grounds.

Yesterday Baroness Gould took a similar line: ‘Surely it is a sign of a healthy and mature society that we can recognise someone’s true gender while also recognising that some people of faith – who undertake the important duty of solemnising marriage – may not accept that a man or a woman can change gender under law, due to their religious convictions’.

Likwise, Baroness Thornton, for the government, put it like this: ‘This is an area where the Bill should strike a balance. In striking that balance, we agree that, as under current law, people of faith who have the ability to solemnise marriages, should not be forced to go against their strongly held religious convictions’.

I can see all this about the balancing of competing rights and yet I am still troubled that there is something mean-spirited about such amendments – and horribly impractical too. How is a minister to establish their reasonable belief that the couple who have come to book their wedding are not a natal man or woman and that one of them has undergone gender reassignment? Wouldn’t it be hugely presumptuous or intrusive to suggest that they have done so? And how embarrassing if one were proved to be wrong: as the case of South African athlete Caster Semenya is demonstrating people’s gender is not always that easy to read.

Behind these amendments I detect the spectre of hostility to same-sex marriage for that, according to those who deny the possibility of gender re-assignment, is what such a marriage would be, were it to go ahead. Since, according to their beliefs, a woman cannot transition to become a man, nor a man transition to become a woman, then the couple sitting in the vicar’s study, or the parish office, are actually two women, or two men, depending on which of them has transitioned.

My advice to any Trans person who wishes to be married in church, where there is no legal impediment, would be to find a minister who you know is likely to be sympathetic. It’s easy enough to establish this. Don’t go to a church where you’re bound to be rejected. Word on the street will tell you which church is likely to be inclusive and welcoming to those who are different. And then be honest with the minister about one’s past, for the minister’s sake, as well as for your own and your partner’s sake. It’s safer that way: if the people who need to know are in the know. For what you are planning is going to be the happiest day of your life, which you’ve probably awaited for a very long time, and neither the day, nor indeed its preliminaries, should ruined by the minister’s views, however conscientiously they may be held.

Friday 15 January 2010

The church's gutless failure to observe its own commitments

I seem to be in an angry mood today. The images from Haiti are profoundly distressing and attention is rightly focused on the devastation to human life which is unbearably painful to witness. My engagement with LGBT people in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Guyana and elsewhere also fuels my anger and leaves me feeling useless and powerless.

The stance of the Anglican Communion towards the Anti-homosexuality Bill in Uganda has become for me a litmus test, a defining moment in the Communion’s lack of commitment to its own policies for LGBT people.

Last Friday, I very selectively wrote about the positive elements of Lambeth 1.10, Windsor and Dromantine towards the church’s LGBT members. These commitments fall a long way short of Changing Attitude’s goals, of course, but they lay an important foundation for Christian attitudes opposed to homophobia and positively committed to welcome LGBT people as children of God.

Tragically, the Ugandan Bill shows yet again what has been perfectly clear from Kuala Lumpur Statement of February 1997 and the Lambeth Conference 1998. The majority in the Communion are deeply homophobic and prejudiced towards LGBT people and have absolutely no intention of welcoming us as children of God. Instead, they support the demonization and further criminalization of LGBT people.

(This may not be entirely true, of course. I also receive reports about bishops in Africa who privately dissent from the stance taken by their Primate. The problem is, the bullies and bigots are widely reported, but those with more nuanced and compassionate views are intimidated by them into silence).

Elsewhere in the Communion, public comment on the Bill came too late and was equivocal for reasons of non-interference in another Province and fear of accusations of colonialism. Some bishops have, nevertheless, condemned the Bill outright.

Archbishop of Canterbutry - Ugandan legislation is of "shocking severity"
The Rt Revd Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol, comments on the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill
The Archbishop of Wales' statement about the Uganda Bill

Total opposition to the Bill is the inescapable position to be adopted in accordance with a church committed to Lambeth 1.10, Windsor and Dromantine in their entirety.

The problem, always, is that these documents also allow the self-proclaimed majority in the Communion to condemn the Episcopal Church in the US and the Church of Canada for putting into practice the implications of being a church which welcomes LGBT people as children of God. This is the battleground, still to be fought over, the incompatibility between claiming to welcome LGBT people but excluding us from equality in relationship and ministry.

The Communion is shown to be deeply compromised and often impotent in its progress towards enacting the positive elements of teaching embodied in the church’s own documents.

This has to be a defining moment for those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Anglicans and for those who affirm us in the Communion. The church is committed to defend and protect the vulnerable. Every day I witness stories of the devastation wrought on LGBT lives because of human and Christian prejudice. There are LGBT people who are starving, homeless, sick and dying as a result of prejudice against homosexuality.

According to the Ugandan Bill, gay people are neither vulnerable nor sinned-against. No, we are the sinners, sick, evil, transgressors of God’s law, deserving of the punishment threatened in the Bill – death, life imprisonment, exclusion from society.

We have to carve out, physically and forcefully, a place for ourselves in the church, easier in the west than the global south. If the Communion won’t act on the commitments in its own reports and documents, then we have, physically, to mine our way out of the prison and into the Communion, wherever we live, digging tunnels into the infrastructure, laying mines where appropriate to explode Christian myths, excavating and quarrying out spaces that can become spacious and holy, as exemplified by the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada.

LGBT people whose lives are manifestly holy and infused with God’s grace have to carve out space for ourselves in every part of our Communion, with courage and sometimes grim determination.

So often, CofE Inc. and Anglican Communion Corp. cannot find the courage or the words to affirm publicly what it knows and practices in private. Oh, I know many bishops whose relationship with me embodies the positive in 1.10, Windsor and Dromantine. Some of them edge into the public realm with pro-gay statements. But in the Councils of the Church, in General Synod and the House of Bishops in particular, I see a terrible failure of nerve, which can only be the result of intimidation by bullies in the Communion.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Is the death knell of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill being sounded?

Gug, the gay Ugandan blogger, celebrated the 9th anniversary of his relationship with his partner on Sunday 10th January and posted a picture of the anniversary cake with a moving account of their first meeting and weeks together:

Today he has blogged about the reports of yesterday’s rambling speech by the President on the first day of the meeting of the NRM (ruling party). Unprompted he brought up the Bahati bill, saying there were foreign policy issues to consider, he had had lots of phone calls, and the government was going to talk to Bahati about the bill:

Gug expresses his thanks to all those concerned citizens of the world who have put pressure on their own governments. It is this pressure above all that will do the trick. When we ask our leaders to speak to the Ugandan President, then we are doing LGBT Ugandans an immeasurable service. Thanks, a lot, says gug. Gay Ugandans cannot speak, even when it is their lives under threat.

There is certainly pressure on the government to back down but gug doesn’t know whether it is yet enough. The President has withdrawn from total commitment to the Bill though not very decisively. For the last three months Buturo, and Ssempa had effectively been defining the foreign policy of Uganda but they are no longer being allowed to do so. The government seemed to be paralyzed in the decision making process and for that, gug is cautiously thankful, waiting and watching with bated breath.

During the statement, the NRM members (including MPs) became rowdy, shouting, talking with each other, mumbling, grumbling. The statement was certainly unpopular. But was it the death knell to the kill the Gay Bill? News reports were mixed though some of the pundits were very, very clear that the death of the Bill was underway.
New Vision, the government paper, reported that President Yoweri Museveni cautioned those advocating for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to “go slow”, saying the matter was a sensitive foreign policy issue. The President said although Ugandans should not allow their values to be compromised, they should equally not move ahead with the issue recklessly.

Museveni said he had been questioned about the bill by several foreign leaders, including the Canadian prime minister, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who called him for over 45 minutes over the issue. He told them that the bill was brought up by a private member and he hadn’t had time to discuss it with him.

He said: “It is my judgment that our foreign policy is not managed just by some individuals. We have our values and our stand, historically and socially, but we need to know also that our partners we have been working with have their systems.” Members apparently murmured in disapproval and shouted: “No, no, no!” when he added: “This is a foreign policy issue and we have to discuss it in a manner that does not compromise our principles but also takes care of our foreign policy interest.” The Cabinet had decided, he said, to call Bahati and discuss the bill with him.

The Press has spoken, says gug, and Bahati was on WBS discussing the meeting, still defiant. The matter was not yet settled and he would be talking with the executive and parliament etc.

The one person whose comments need to be attended to when listening to the confusion coming from the Uganda government about the Bahati bill is the President, says gug, and he spoke yesterday with great caution. The Ugandan Government has yet to make up its mind about the Anti-Gay Bill.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Probing away: bishops and the medical model of Trans people

Yesterday evening in the House of Lords, an amendment to the Equality Bill, relating to Gender Reassignment, by the Bishop of Chester, Peter Forster, was moved, in his absence, by John Hind, the Bishop of Chichester. Bishop Peter’s amendment called for the words ‘under medical supervision’ to be added to the description of the category of people protected by this section of the Bill, namely, a person who ‘is proposing to undergo, is undergoing, or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’.

Although a majority of Church of England Bishops voted in favour of the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which did so much to overcome the legal injustices experienced by transsexual people, it is the negative statements of some of their colleagues that tend to be remembered. Inevitably, therefore, this sort of intervention is unlikely to be welcomed by Trans groups, and, especially, those who have been rejected by their churches, but it was offered as a ‘probing’ amendment and, as such, I think that it has served a useful purpose.

Firstly, it shows that the drafters of the Equality Bill have really listened to Trans people by eschewing a purely medical model of gender reassignment, which can be inappropriate because of the limitations of an individual’s age or health.

Secondly, it has demonstrated that Section 7 of the Bill is, as its title suggests, about transsexual people who transition from their birth gender to their acquired gender, with or without hormones or surgery.

So far this point has not been clear, mainly, I think, because at the consultation stage, Trans organisations and individuals, knowing that Transphobia was by no means limited to transsexual people alone, were keen that the legislation should protect the widest spectrum of transgender people.

Yesterday however, Baroness Thornton spelt out very clearly that ‘Clause 7 of the Bill does not cover transvestites, or others who choose temporarily to adopt the appearance of the opposite gender’. Even Trans-friendly probing amendments at an earlier stage were unable to establish this outcome conclusively

and it will be a disappointment to many Trans people, and their allies, who recognise the complexity of transgender people’s experience: that people can, and do, move from one category to another, and that the indeterminate and androgynous are probably the most at risk. The Baroness went on to add that those who did so present did not deserve to be treated badly either, but that the Bill’s anti-discrimination provisions were intended specifically for people with gender dysphoria (the opposite of euphoria, and therefore, meaning ill-at-ease with their birth gender) who had undergone a ‘permanent’ change of gender.

However, a lack of clarity hovered over the debate because no one seemed able to answer the question, put twice, once by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and again by Baroness O’Cathain: what were they to make of paragraph 27 of the document prepared by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which stated that 'Most transgender people do not live permanently in their acquired gender'?

Someone ought to have replied that, whilst this might be true of transgender people - 'transgender' being a term which covers the broad spectrum of people who do not fit the gender binary - most transsexual people who undergo gender re-assignment do, in fact, live permanently in their acquired gender.

Here I have to agree with Bishop Hind’s closing remark that the Lords need to ‘do more work to understand what we are talking about’, as well as his point that ‘this is a question not just of doctrine and liturgy but of pastoral care.’ My own small contribution in this area, with the help of my friends, has been to draft a set of pastoral guidelines on transsexual people, specifically with pastors, clergy and congregations in mind:

Withdrawing the amendment Bishop Hind also promised to consult with his colleagues on this issue. It would be wonderful if they were also prepared to include in these discussions the Trans laity and clergy who are members of the Sibyls, especially in view of Bishop John’s haunting and inviting words:

‘It seems to me that there are big questions about how we understand what it means to be a human being and the role of gender, and I do not think that we are quite at the end of that discussion yet’.

Saturday 9 January 2010

2010 – The Year to affirm all that is positive in 1.10, Dromantine and Windsor

It’s time to remind ourselves of the positive elements (from a pro-LGBT perspective) that are present in the three key documents produced by two Instruments of our Communion in the past 12 years. This is a very deliberately selective reading. Those opposing developments in the Communion choose to focus on those elements in the three documents which support their position. We must do the same.

The Communion has committed itself to a path not simply of listening, but of assuring us that we are full members of the Body of Christ; is unreservedly committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people; that debate on this issue cannot be closed whilst sincerely but radically different positions continue to be held across the Communion; and that any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care.

The Church of Uganda is faced with making a decision about it’s support for or opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the light of commitments made in these documents. The Church of Nigeria may face the same questions if the Same-Sex Marriage Bill is reconsidered.

As each Province begins to consider its response to the final version of the Anglican Covenant, we need to constantly remind our Communion of the positive commitment made to her lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, in EVERY Province, who are accepted NOW as full members of the Body of Christ.

Lambeth 1.10

… recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

… calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.

... requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us.

The Dromantine Communique

We also wish to make it quite clear that in our discussion and assessment of the moral appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship.

The Windsor Report

We remind all in the Communion that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 calls for an ongoing process of listening and discernment, and that Christians of good will need to be prepared to engage honestly and frankly with each other on issues relating to human sexuality. It is vital that the Communion establish processes and structures to facilitate ongoing discussion. One of the deepest realities that the Communion faces is continuing difference on the presenting issue of ministry by and to persons who openly engage in sexually active homosexual relationships. Whilst this report criticises those who have propagated change without sufficient regard to the common life of the Communion, it has to be recognised that debate on this issue cannot be closed whilst sincerely but radically different positions continue to be held across the Communion. The later sections of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 cannot be ignored any more than the first section, as the primates have noted. Moreover, any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care. We urge provinces to be pro-active in support of the call of Lambeth Resolution 64 (1988) for them to “reassess, in the light of … study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude toward persons of homosexual orientation.”

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Living the vision in 2010

“Justice is rebuffed and flouted while righteousness stands at a distance;
truth stumbles in court and honesty is kept outside,
so truth is lost to sight, and those who shun evil withdraw.”
Isaiah 59.14,15

These two verses from last Wednesday’s lesson for Evening Prayer resonated in a week when I was reflecting on the coming year and the strategy which Changing Attitude needs to follow in response to the events of 2009 and the issues which I anticipate will become the focus in 2010.

The Anglican Covenant is now on the table and the Church of England will be invited to adopt the Covenant. If it will in any way inhibit the presence of LGBT people in the Communion, then it has to be opposed. Will the Covenant be brought to General Synod for ratification before Synod is prorogued at the end of the July session?

Justice for LGBT people in the Church of England, the Anglican Communion in general, and countries like Uganda and Nigeria specifically, is being denied and flouted. For the majority of LGBT Anglicans, righteousness is a distant dream, truth stumbles in court (literally in many African and Caribbean countries), and honesty is a quality tragically lacking in groups opposed to homosexuality.

As a result, truth is far too easily lost to sight. I have to really focus and concentrate as I read documents and reports to catch the places where truth elides into myth and falsehood. The recent article in Red Pepper in Uganda is simply the latest example of the way in which lies are easily told and disseminated. But Red Pepper’s lies and myths are obvious and relatively easy to check. Less easy to identify are the myths being created by conservatives in the UK about Equality Legislation (take a look at Thinking Anglicans’ report ‘What Michael Foster really said about the Equality Bill).

Those who shun evil withdraw, says Isaiah. This is a great temptation. Why continue to engage with a church which so easily supports and encourages attitudes about homosexuality (which some who call themselves traditionalist hold with real integrity) but which swathes of Christians use to persecute and vilify LGBT people?

For my spiritual health and my ability to maintain a creative relationship with God, the world, my friends and those I love, involvement with the church is sometimes the last thing I need. Many LGBT Christians and supporters of equality and truth have given up on worship and commitment to the life of the institutional church.

The increasingly ambivalent, intolerant attitude of the Church of England towards her faithful LGBT members is hard to live with and leads people to abandon not only the church but support for groups like Changing Attitude.

In 2010 we must continue to publicize and challenge the teaching of Anglican leaders which is contrary to Christian principles. In much of our Communion LGBT people live in an environment of fear and intimidation, an environment created with the active support of bishops and Primates. The Archbishop of Canterbury is reluctant to alienate the larger, growing Churches from the Communion by criticizing their attitudes towards homosexuality, even when Primates support legislation that would imprison and execute gay people.

We are now fighting for our place in the Anglican Communion. In England where LGBT people have been granted significant legal equality, we are being marginalized by the Church. We are invited to sacrifice our place in the church for the unity of the Communion.

The Anglican Covenant is in danger, indirectly, of institutionalizing the persecution, murder and demonization of LGBT Anglicans. For the sake of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the Communion, for the sake of LGBT members of the Church of England, and for the spiritual health of all Christians, the Covenant must be vigorously opposed.

“Justice is rebuffed and flouted while righteousness stands at a distance.”
We LGBT Anglicans cannot afford to allow righteousness to stand at a distance, not in Uganda, Nigeria, Brazil, South East Asia, India, the West Indies, the USA, England, not anywhere in the Communion. We can never ultimately rest until the threat of execution, imprisonment, violence, prejudice, exclusion or diminishment of our place in the church is overcome and defeated.

Our call as LGBT Christians in 2010 is to live into our dream, our vision for the future of our Communion and the Christian church. We will continue to work to create a truly inclusive, LGBT loving and affirming church by living the vision ourselves.