1 May 2022
My day started off with a service in the Amsterdam parish (Oranjekerk) that I serve as an assistant-minister. Theme: “A roof over your head”, focusing our attention on the situation of home- and roofless LGBTI youth. It is calculated that every year 600 youngsters (in The Netherlands) are evicted from their home after coming out. In a lot of cases religion is an important reason for eviction. Very sad. If anything, faith should support parents to unconditionally love their children, even when acceptance is still out of reach. Hans Verhoeven, a local rainbow activist, was our guest, sharing with us what he and organisations for the homeless (like HVO Querido and The Salvation Army) are trying to realise for this particularly vulnerable group. I reflected on Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and how Jesus made his house into a home, acknowledging him (as opposed to “the people”) and calling him a son of Abraham in his own right.
After the service, a few questions of a documentary maker on the same topic and then quickly off to the airport. Now, finally in Los Angeles, to find out the theme of the conference is also on youth: “LGBTQI Youth: Future Present Change”. The website says,
“LGBTIQ communities have always stepped-up in times of hardship, and we are again called to bring radical, positive change. Youth have been a crucial presence in social justice movements: the way they mobilise others, speak truth to power and weave intergenerational alliances is a powerful force for our community, and society as a whole. LGBTIQ youth are our future. They are also our present. And together we can change the world.”
Very curious to see how this will work out. Now some badly needed sleep first.
2 May 2022
There is already so much to share that it is hard to see where to start. I am guessing 500 people gathered for the opening ceremony in the plenary room of the Westin Long Beach Hotel. The gay mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia welcomed us, asking us to applaud the staff of the hotel, who are so dedicated facilitating the whole conference for us. Only last year, they were able to create a union, quite something in the United States where the rights of workers are not as well represented as in Europe. We were spoken to by quite a number of speakers. What makes conferences like this useful, I think, is that they bring people together, who are in very different positions, and can now easily connect to see what they can mean and do for each other. It was a relief to hear the LGBTI envoy of the United States speak, appointed by President Biden (I mean a relief as opposed to the previous American administration). The envoy used to be an activist herself, which makes clear the current President wants to get his expertise from the LGBTI movement itself. Martin Karadzhov spoke as the Chair of the Youth Steering Committee of ILGA World challenging us to look for the young people in our own organisation and to see if they are really enabled to participate. I think, in Italy/Albano 2018, we made a good start but we are lagging behind again. We could challenge ourselves to send our youngest member to our annual meetings or make sure at least one of them comes with us.
Interfaith: Safe Space
I spent the rest of the day in the Interfaith Preconference. What a joy that was. How necessary it is to be clearly present as LGBTI people of faith as well was once again clear for me during the plenary. One of the speakers mentioned his “Roman catholic mother”. His words “no judgement there” evoked some laughter. It made me a bit sad. That religious institutes can be a laughing stock I understand all too well, but here a religious individual was mentioned, probably born in this context and raising her son to the best of her abilities (the speaker only had good words for her), not a reason to laugh at all, I think—especially given the fact that quite a lot of religious individuals were in the room, trying to contribute to the aims of emancipation and social acceptance to the best of their abilities, including their religious abilities, me being one of them. To be clear: ILGA World is a safe space for LGBTI people of faith, demonstrated by the organisation of the Interfaith Preconference, organised by the Global Interfaith Network (GIN-SSOGIE), but, still, there is room for improvement.
Interfaith: Sacred Selves
The Interfaith Preconference brought together around 40 people, I think. It was very nice to start off with a devotion that celebrated Id al-Fitr, the festive end of Ramadan. Eid mubarak! It is so amazing to be in a room with people of many religious backgrounds and not perceiving any difficulty at all to celebrate together. These are moments, in which I think, “If only the whole world could see what is happening here right now …” Our queerness must have to do with this, helping us to see things in perspective. Speaking about perspective in their own context, we heard from Ana Ester, a minister in Brazil and two people well known to us: Misza Czerniak and Davis Mac-Iyalla. Misza ended powerfully by making clear that the lives lost in the war in Ukraine are the direct result of the anti-LGBTI fear mongering that is fostered by Russian authorities, referring to the words of Father Kyrill, the Patriarch of Moscow, who stated the war in Ukraine was necessary to protect Ukraine from devious anti-Christian developments such as “gay parades” (paraphrased in my own words). Rev. Toni Kruger Ayebazibwe, the Executive Director of GIN, leading the preconference, then introduced the project “Sacred Selves”, a project that invites all of us to share our own queer perspective. The more stories are out there, the better we can deconstruct the evil narratives of those, who make caricatures of us and oppose our very existence and our right to participate fully and equally in organised faith practice and society in general. I will share the link to the project as soon as it is available.
Interfaith: UN SOGI Expert
Before moving on to the contents of our activist work, we were honoured to meet with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The European Forum was present in two consultations about “conversion therapy” organised by the UN expert in 2019, in Geneva and in Cambridge (US). The report he published recommended to ban conversion therapy globally. We are happy to see countries work on such a ban or have already realised it. Madrigal is now entering the last phase of his mandate, in which he appeals to us for collecting data. The European Forum is happy to have already presented him RICE, the Rainbow Index on the inclusivity of Churches in Europe. I hope to let you know more of the UN expert’s work and what the European Forum can do very soon. More info on Victor Madrigal-Borloz can be found here. It is wonderful the ILGA World Conference brings us UN experts, who are so easy accessible and that really want to know about our experience as LGBTI persons of faith.
We talked about the contents of our activism in the sessions that were still left. We shared our sometimes very personal and painful experiences, our views and strategies on key alliances, gender ideology, sustainability, and backlash. For obvious reasons, I cannot go into detail. We have to be cautious making our strategies public, because our opposition is powerful and very well-organised. It was very uplifting to see, though, what we can do with little ressources and only small numbers of people. It is heart-warming to see so many people dedicating their lives or at least big parts of their lives to this activist work that is so badly needed. I want to mention just one here: Stephanie Budwey, who made a documentary on intersex and faith. Can’t wait to see it. Do visit the website of “i&f”!
3 May 2022
Maria and Rachel
After a very rich first day, it was a bit difficult to pick up on other contents of the conference. I felt a little lost, to be honest. I was happy to run into Maria, partner of Rachel Stockdale, our former RICE Research Officer—or better: she ran into me, occupying the empty seat next to me at lunch. It was lovely to meet her, in Los Angeles of all places. Maria reminded me of how priviliged my life is. When the war broke out in Syria (a war that is still going on, but that most of us seem to have forgotten), she was able to stay in Aleppo at first, with her family. But then, when the bombs started falling everywhere, they had to go. Belonging to the Armenian-Christian minority in a predominantly muslim country, there was no other choice than to flee to Armenia. The family lives in Yerevan now, Armenia’s capital. Now that Russia’s “peace keeping troops” have left the country (to fight in Ukraine), there are more hostilities at the Armenian–Azerbaijani border. So, no absolute safety there either. Meanwhile, Maria is trying to finish her PhD in Belfast (Northern Ireland), living miles apart from Rachel, who is now doing a postdoctorate in Japan. I cannot even begin to think how I would cope with such a challenging situation. I have nothing but respect for Maria and Rachel.
Research: Field Workers
Not really knowing what to expect, I visited a session of the Research Preconference. It was about LGBTQI field workers, so about those, who go out into the field to collect data for research. Not one moment did I think you could research this as well, but of course you can and of course it is right to do so. An important question presented was what research institutions can do for their LGBTQI field workers proactively, minding their mental health, the possibility of traumatic experiences, their safety, and more. It made me think. As a (parish) minister, I am a “field worker” as well. I am aware that I am able to work in a safe environment, but the possibility of not being safe is never far away, as I have also experienced. Whether you like it or not, you are part of a minority and that very fact creates the potential for minority stress constantly, especially when you have already experienced discrimination and exclusion in the past as I have. These experiences vanish in the shades of your memory, but they never completely disappear. I really hope that, for new generations of LGBTI ministers in my church, this is different. Even so, the question for churches could also be: What can they do proactively to safeguard their LGBTQI “field workers”? How could churches mind their mental health, do everything they can to keep them from traumatic experiences, and make sure they can do their work in an environment that is safe? My church has put in place some measurements, but they are mostly directions for the parishes and their boards. For example, in the process of interviewing candidates for their local parish, they are not allowed to ask questions about the sexual orientation of the candidate. Safeguards, however, for LGBTQI candidates/ministers themselves, for when you are actually on the job, have not been stipulated. It seems to me some homework is to be done there. Maybe, what has been developed for fieldworkers in research, can be beneficial to the churches as well.
4 May 2022
The third day of the conference brings the first plenary of the General Meeting of ILGA World, but not before a panel discussion that further explores the conference’s theme: “LGBTIQ Youth: Future Present Change”. An impressive panel of young people is being presented. One of them is from Kiev, Ukraine. Herself being born with HIV, she works for an organisation that tends to people with HIV/AIDS, not only in Ukraine but also in other Eastern European and Central Asian countries. It was impossible for her to stay in Kiev after the war broke out and, like many others, she fled. Now staying in Germany, she still tries to run her organisation, but it is becoming more and more difficult. It was particularly painful to hear her say that she wonders however and whenever she would at last be able to lead a normal life. I can only feel humbled by her courage and perseverance—and that of others. This being said, it is hard to come to a conclusion making clear how the discussion brings the conference theme further and I did not so much experience the panel as a real conversation. It is pretty clear to me we have seen current and future leaders at work here, but it was at the same time not easy to get past the abstractions that words like “intersectionality”, “co-creation” and “inclusivity” can also be. At a particular point, these words lose meaning if not made concrete and presented in the actual work that activists are doing. I missed that a bit.
ILGA World Database
Before I move on to the General Meeting … I almost forgot to tell you that, before the panel discussion, we were given an overview of what will be launched shortly: the ILGA World Database. What an incredible new tool! The work of LGBTI organisations all over the world will benefit from it enormously. The new database is meant to support the advocacy work of the organisations that are members of ILGA World. It gives insight into the different areas of advocacy work. It shows what has been realised in every individual country (or what still needs to be realised), even on a subnational level, and it facilitates the work of every separate community within our movement: SO, GI, GE, SC (the sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics communities). You do not need much imagination to see what meticulous work this database must entail. I am sure the European Forum can use it very well also and let’s see if, in the database, the results of our RICE, the inclusivity index of churches in Europe and Central Asia, can be integrated, if it is not in there already.
I find that I am not the only one representing an organisation all by myself. In the corridors of the (immense) hotel, in which the conference takes place, I find Rev. Ecclesia de Lange, a colleague from South Africa, whom I last met in December 2018 in the office of I AM near Capetown. I AM (Inclusive and Affirming Ministries) is a wonderful organisation that operates throughout Southern Africa to create more awareness in churches and of course strives to emancipate the position of it LGBTI members (and does much more—have a look by means of the link above). I have already met with Ecclesia during the Interfaith Preconference, of course, but now there is some time to talk. We share the difficulty of the sustainability of our work, as most donors are only willing to give on a project basis. Of course, we are very grateful for all support, but it does cause us to always have to deal with a somewhat rocky basis under our work. And then, some donors change their focus or strategy, which makes us no longer fundable. And, as we are organisations that operate on religious fields, we are exotic already anyway. To be clear, we were not lamenting, because we strongly believe in our advocacy work. I will keep saying, it is one thing to change laws and policies, but if you want to change hearts, it is us you need. That vision still needs to break through, I believe, also in the wider LGBTQI movement. I know funding is a scarce good, but it would still be good to see how to share it more wisely, especially in contexts where it is very relevant.
Then finally … the first plenary of the General Meeting (getting there—now off to the conference venue again—I leave you hanging off this cliff in suspense for just a little longer … 😉).
General Meeting: Part 1
The General Meeting of ILGA World brings together almost 1,650 organisations. 500 of those are in Europe and Central Asia. As you can see, representation globally still has to be improved. We are introduced into the new digital voting system, which turns out to be functioning, in the end, but is quite a challenge. It is a relief that voting by showing hands is still possible too. A lot of candidates present themselves for positions on the Board and in the various committees of ILGA World. New organisations are welcomed, but there is also the proposal of the Board to expel two organisations. I do not know if this is a first for ILGA, but it does spark a bit of a debate, unsurprisingly. One of the organisations is to be expelled, because it has shown to be anti-trans in its messaging. There has been and is a lot of tension between some cisgender and transgender women. It seems to be hard to acknowledge the rights of trans women in some sections of the feminist and lesbian movement, not really acknowledging and respecting them as women. It is sad to see that our wider LGBTI movement is not free from this harm and from discriminatory messaging. Writing down these words, I do not yet know whether the organisation we are debating has really been expelled. I will not disclose how I have voted on behalf of the European Forum, but I found it difficult to come to a decision. It seems clear to me that ILGA World has to hold up its standards of radical inclusivity and cannot tolerate any harm done to anyone within our movement, especially not those that were and are even more marginalised in their societies and communities. At the same time, expelling organisations also means losing connection. Cutting them off does not mean they cease to exist and stop speaking and acting harmfully. My question would be, how can we still stay in touch and try to change their harmful words and deeds? Indeed, a very sensitive part of this conference that I think needs much more reflection.
Mariano Ruiz, Artivist
After giving in to my jetlag just a little bit, I returned to the conference venue for informal meetings with drinks and snacks and, last but not least, this day, the performance of Mariano Ruiz, a trans nonbinary cabaret artivist (yes, spelled correctly) from Mexico City. They gave us a Shakespearean tour wholesomely and joyfully mixing up gender roles. It was nice to see Juliet from a very different perspective. Being in Los Angeles, Mariano claimed their very own Oscar for “actress in a leading role” on the spot—and rightly so! We gave them, of course, no less than a standing ovation.
5 May 2022
It is only logical that one of the plenaries should be entirely dedicated to the unification of our movement, especially from a feminist and gender point of view. With us on screen is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women Reem Alsalem (Jordan). The rapporteur pleads to go back to basics in the feminist movement and to operate on the intersection of the global justice and the climate justice movements much more than we do now. In many situations, women tend to be among the first victims as we can also see now as the climate crisis is unfolding. Reem is the first person (at least, as far as I have noticed), who talks more extensively on also having to ally with religious leaders, who are sympathetic to the cause of women’s rights and the emancipation of LGBTI people and their rights. The image the “anti-gender movement” is creating of religion as oppressive per se and the way this movement misuses religious principles for its causes must be refuted, because it does not represent the entire reality of faith and of organised religion. Reem also points out that people of faith are present in the LGBTI movement and at the conference. I am happy this is pointed out with so much emphasis, but I am also a bit sad and worried that it takes so long for this to sink in and become operational. I hardly see any actual attempts from what I call the “secular” LGBTI movement to also form alliances with religious leadership or organisations. It is clear that the LGBTI movement of faith cannot do this alone. At least in Europe, we have already been appealing to this matter of fact.
After this presentation on screen, another impressive panel is presented: a cisgender and transgender woman, intersex and non-binary persons, under the title “Uniting is our strength”. As one of the panellists, the Executive Director of Stonewall in UK, Nancy Kelley, makes abundantly clear this is very necessary. For some time now, transgender and non-binary people are targeted viciously in British media and by right-wing politicians. A moral panic seems to have broken out over their existence and the assumed consequences for society, especially for “our children”. So, there can be no question of division within the movement or between movements. In other shapes and forms, the same seems to be the case in countries like Uruguay and South Africa. To overcome the divide that threathens the LGBTQI movement specifically and the overall social justice movement in general, Kelley suggests the following: (1) to show up for each other as movements or groups/organisations therein without the need for reciprocation and (2) to show up together, even if you do not entirely agree on points of view or actions. To me, this seems very wise and also how “grown up” movements like ours should be(have). Most certainly, something to consider for the European Forum and not impossible as we are a member of the Council of Europe where all kinds of movements come together. It cannot be too hard to connect.
The organisation hosting the ILGA World Conference is “It gets better”. This American organisation specialises in storytelling and a panel of six involved people share what there is to it. Quite a lot, as we find out. Under the title “Writing our own documentary”, several short clips have been created, in which individuals from different groups present themselves. It is absolutely vital the people presented can tell their own story. This makes the selection of funders a matter of sensitivity and precision. The clips shown are pretty convincing to me. The colourfulness of both the people and the set, in which the clips have been recorded, cannot be overseen. All of the recorded people are young, that is, in their twenties and thirties. The reason for this is to be able to show people’s journeys from begining to end, although our journeys are never over, of course. The clips show people, in all their splendour—as rich as I see and meet them at the conference as well. “It gets better” does not leave it there, though. For each group, non-binary, pansexual, transgender etc., ressources are available to be further informed and also to support inclusive education. Here, you will also find the other clips made.
6 May 2022
Your RRR (Rainbow Rev Reporting) is getting a little tired, but here we go for the last bit of reporting. It is hard to envision the work of LGBTQI activists or of any human rights activist, for that matter, without the guidance of the Yogyakarta Principles. On the website created to present the principles, it says, “The Yogyakarta Principles are a set of principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Principles affirm binding international legal standards with which all States must comply. They promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfil that precious birthright.” The principles were formulated in 2007 and in 2017; ten more were added to include new grounds of gender expression and sex characteristics. The Yogyakarta Principles are a strong instrument, because they have been put together by highly regarded people in this field but also and moreover because they are firmly rooted in international human rights law. Three panellists share practices of law reform that have taken the Yogyakarta Principles into account and those that have not. One such bad practice can be found in Western Australia where the Law Reform Institute in 2018 reported on “registration or change of a person’s sex and/or gender status regarding sex characteristics” supporting the legislation process, but getting it all wrong by mixing up sex and gender. (I hope I have formulated this correctly; if not anyone, who has the expertise, let me know.) More examples were given of bad and good practices, but as it was all a bit too technical for your simple minister, I will leave it here. To the dismay of the panellists, the application of the Yogyakarta Principles also suffers under the worldwide pressure of the anti-gender movement, but also under the rise of identity politics, authoritarianism, and white supremacy, which of course often are interrelated.
High time for lesbian activism in times of crisis. It seems the ELC, the European Lesbian Conference, has been founded just in time, because it proofs to be one of the main actors in fighting the crisis of lesbian refugees from the Ukraine. The ELC was founded in 2017. The main reason was the gap that had been growing by the lack of attention for lesbian advocacy both in the wider feminist movement and in the LGBTI movement. The ELC could make sure that topics concerning lesbians would be specifically adressed again. In 2019, the ELC came together in Kiev, Ukraine. The work of the ELC took a drastic turn when, on 24 February of this year, war broke out in Ukraine. Already on 27 February, the ELC Board came together and started intervening. Four safehouses for lesbian refugees were created at the Polish border next to other forms of hosting. Humanitarian aid was given both inside and outside of Ukraine. Until now, 556 women could be rescued out of the country. Another 8.000 women were given aid in Ukraine itself by sending medicine, hormones in the case of trans women, and through childcare. Now that the war does not seem to end in the very near future, the big question is how all these operations can be made sustainable.
General Meeting: Part 2
Yes! The second part of the General Meeting. Well, honestly, I sound a bit more excited than I truly was … Let me say I have great respect for the people in the chairing pool, who have to make this meetings happen. And they have to happen. There is no question about that. It is the moment the democratic values of ILGA World are being practised. I will not bore you with all that passed, but some things are important and/or worthwhile mentioning. The two organisations that were to be dismissed from the ranks of ILGA World (see above), were in fact expelled. I truly do not know whether to be happy or sad about this. To my suprise, there was no majority for a seat on the Board for the Disabled nor for the Elderly. There was a majority to bring down the frequency of the conference from once every two years to once every three years, which I think is a good idea. The burden of organising a conference like this in a world that is plagued by pandemics and in which getting hold of a visa is becoming more and more tiresome (which is an outrage in itself) is increasingly heavy, let alone considering the costs for such a meeting (even when most of it is paid by the participants itself). The next conference will nevertheless still be in two years time, in 2024, and will be held in Cape Town (South Africa), bringing the ILGA World Conference back to Africa (where it was organised only once before). The room where by now all members of ILGA World and the other participants of the conference had gathered almost exploded when the final voting on the next hosting city came through. The other candidates Brussels (Belgium) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) were so kind to also recommend Cape Town as the next hosting city. (Oh boy, do I hope to be sent out by the European Forum again in two years time. 😉)
Closing Ceremony: Carry the Light
The closing ceremony that followed ended with a word of hope and inspiration by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations Independent SSOGIE expert. These ceremonies, especially the words chosen, always strike me as almost religious. Madrigal ended with words about “the Light that we may all carry futher”. I would not have been suprised then being given a blessing by him, but, alas, that did not happen.
Gala Night and Rainbow Families
What did happen was a wonderful gala night with a dinner that was gala-worthy (well, almost: the 10-dollar glass of red wine certainly was not—California is a very expensive place to be). I was happy to sit at the table with people for GIN-SSOGIE, the Global Interfaith Network, and I had a lenghty and interesting conversation with a Finnish activist, who works for a “rainbow family” organisation. Especially nice and hopeful is that they are acknowledged as a family organisation by other family organisations and by childcare organisations. This gives them the opportunity to act together, if necessary. As I understood, in Finland, all parents in a rainbow family are recognised as parents by law—and rightly so, I think. Another step in breaking down the nuclear family, well, that is of course not the family itself, but especially the normativity of this type of family. It was not that long ago that children were not only raised by their parents but also by their grandparents, aunts, and uncles, older sisters and brothers, neighbours. Who again was it that said, “It needs a village to raise a child“?
That was it, my dear kinship. I am writing these words while landing in Dallas. Also happy to be returning home, to Amsterdam, (nick named) Mokum, The Place (to be).
See you all in Zürich or, at least, a lot of you.
Your Rainbow Rev. Reporting,