Update on NUSLGBT13 and Religion

I reckoned the dozens of people who read my previous post on LGBTQ People and Relgion might want to know how things went at conference.

So, to the best of my recollection, the motion which contained the text of the original motion *and* Emma’s amendment and another amendment  passed with all its parts intact. Correction: with CR1 removed.

What was strange was that students who had been abused in religious contexts said that conference resolves 1 and conference resolves 5 were actions that would make them and people like them feel unsafe and asked for those parts to be removed but conference voted to keep them anyway.

Conference resolves 1 was “To condemn anti-religious sentiments found within LGBT communities and the LGBT rights movement”. The argument to remove this was that condemning “sentiments” seems an awful lot like condemning the people who feel that way or at the very least suggesting that the way they are feeling is wrong. There are many reasons, some of them very understandable to have and express negative feelings toward religion or religions, the argument went, and this is totally different from having / expressing negative feelings about a person because of their religion. Condemning peoples feelings seems t=like telling them how they should feel and is erasing of the experiences of people who have very understandable reasons to feel negatively toward religion – it’s simply incompatible with affirming in Conference Further Believes 8 “Rejection of any and all religious practice is a legitimate response to abuse experienced in that context”
The argument for keeping Conference Resolves 1 was that condemning sentiments was not the same as condemning people who have those sentiments, that whilst it may be very understandable why someone might feel that way those sentiments are still harmful and they should be encouraged to change how they feel about religion and that it is necessary to condemn these sentiments in order to properly work with students of faith and faith-based organisations.

Conference voted to keep Conference Resolves 1. CORRECTION: Conference voted to remove Conference resolves 1.

Conference Resolves 5 states “To commend and promote religious organisations supportive of their LGBT members.”

The argument to remove this was from Emma. She argued that there was no point commending groups for doing the “pastoral bare minimum” of supporting their members – all religious groups should be doing this anyway or they’re failing people they committed to supporting and nurturing. She further argued that “promoting” religious groups is inherently unsafe for those who’ve needed to leave religion because of abuse.
The argument to keep Conference Resolves 5 I couldn’t hear very well but seemed to be essentially “if we don’t promote LGBT-friendly religious groups, how will people find them?” and that commending groups for being inclusive was somehow essential to working together with people of faith.
Conference voted to keep Conference Resolves 5.

So now the NUS LGBT Campaign has active policy to be mindful of the needs of survivors of faith-based abuse and in the same motion active policy to condemn any anti-religious sentiments those students may have and to commend and promote religious organisations that abused students may struggle to see as any different to those who hurt them. Right.

Comments very welcome from people who heard / remember the debate better than I did. I have further thoughts about these arguments and about what the NUS LGBT campaign as a whole and your local LGBTQ group or faith group can do to follow the best possible understanding of this policy but those thoughts can wait.

LGBTQ People and Religion

The NUS LGBT Conference is coming up. I’ll be there but as I’ll be there as my partner Emma Brownbill‘s enabler I won’t actually be allowed to speak on conference floor. So, if you want to know what I have to think about anything that’s going to conference you’re going to have to ask me before conference starts.

Or I can blog about my thoughts now, before I get to conference and temporarily take on the status of a non-student whilst on conference floor.

There’s loads of stuff going to conference and lots of it’s really important but there’s one motion I’d like to talk about now. That’s 508 – LGBT People and Religion. The motions document is available here.

Motion 508: LGBT and Religion
Conference believes:
1. Religious organisations often reject and discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
2. LGBT communities often view religion(s) as a threat, both to individuals and their lifestyle choices. In
turn, LGBT communities can reject religion(s), and LGBT individuals of faith or who affiliate with a
3. LGBT individuals often find themselves in a no-win situation whereby they are rejected from both their
religious community and the LGBT community for indentifying as both LGBT and religious.
Conference further believes:
1. Religions are not necessarily homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic despite their often being
interpreted as such.
2. There is a difference between the dogmatic and oppressive tactics of particular religious leaders and
their institutions and an individual’s expression of their own personal religious beliefs.
3. LGBT people have every right to feel comfortable talking about their religious beliefs within the LGBT
4. The LGBT community should treat LGBT individuals of faith with respect as the LGBT movement
cannot achieve equality unless we work together in solidarity against prejudice and discrimination in
whatever form or nature it manifests.
Conference resolves:
1. To condemn anti-religious sentiments found within LGBT communities and the LGBT rights movement.
2. The NUS LGBT Campaign will properly consult with LGBT students of faith or from religious
communities as to how the campaign can best support them.
3. The NUS LGBT Campaign will provide student activists with arguments for expressing solidarity
with LGBT people of faith who are experiencing prejudice and discrimination.

508 broadly aims to condemn anti-religious “sentiments” within LGBT communities and activism, for the NUS LGBT campaign to consult religious LGBT people about what they need and for the campaign to work in solidarity with religious LGBT people. Other than questions about exactly how one goes about condemning “sentiments” rather than speech and actions and quite what is meant by “antireligious sentiments” anyway, this is so far so good.

But it doesn’t go far enough which is why Emma submitted an amendment. Her amendment draws the campaign’s attention to another group of LGBT people whose needs are routinely overlooked – those who have suffered faith-based abuse. That is, rather than individuals who have been attacked because of their faith, those who have been attacked because of their gender or sexuality *by people with faith-based motivations* or in a religious setting. Crucially, her amendment covers both those people who choose to stay in a particular religion and also those who choose to leave. The amendment wants all work done on issues of LGBT and faith to be a “safe environment for survivors of faith-based abuse” and to “elevate the voices of survivors of faith-based abuse”.

508x Losing My Religion

Conference Believes
Much progress has been made in reconciling LGBT and faith communities in the past decade
This dialogue has prioritised understanding between LGBT people who have affirmed their faith and those of no faith
The voices of LGBT survivors of faith-based abuse have been overwhelmingly silenced in these efforts to promote positive relations
Conference Further Believes
No individual’s LGBT identity is a matter for anyone else’s personal conscience
The experiences of LGBT survivors must be central to our understanding of LGBT and faith relations
Uncritically supportive presentations of faith create spaces which are exclusive and unsafe for survivors of faith-based abuse
Rejection of any and all religious practice is a legitimate response to abuse experienced in that context

Conference Resolves
That all of our work on LGBT and faith will be conducted reflectively and critically to create a safe environment for survivors of faith-based abuse
That all of our work on LGBT and faith will elevate the voices of survivors of faith-based abuse who have both affirmed and renounced their faith

I want to say a few words about why I believe this amendment should pass.

Something few people know about me is that I very seriously contemplated becoming a Christian when I was younger. I was spurred on by some people and books and websites that pushed a very clear line on homosexuality and gender identity – being anything other than heterosexual and cis was a sinful choice for which people would have to repent. G-d would of course still “love” a “sinner” like me but I’d have to change, it was wrong to feel like I did, to want what I wanted, to do what I did and if I didn’t stop feeling, wanting and doing what I did then that G-d would punish me. I felt pushed to make a choice and made the only choice I felt able to live with and rejected Christianity after being offered ex-gay material.
That time in my life affected me deeply and continues to affect me. For a long time, I had a fear of Christians and churches. I avoided LGBT and Faith events at my University because I knew they were dominated by Christians and I wouldn’t be able to cope. I didn’t want people to see me cry.

When I did eventually try those events I got mixed responses to my revelation of past almost-Christianity but one reaction I got over and over again was the assertion that now that I knew that Christianity didn’t need to be homophobic or transphobic I could be a Christian now. This often came with the assertion that “Not all Christians are like that!” and my experiences and concerns brushed away to further the idea that LGBT Christians who were struggling with the perceived dilemma between their faith and their sexuality or gender could stop worrying and get on with being Christian.

I am not a Christian and I never will be. I know and have known for a very long time that “Not all Christians are like that”. This doesn’t change the way trauma affects me, it doesn’t make it safe for me to be around large groups of Christians. It certainly doesn’t make it “okay” that what happened to me happened.

I’m going to talk in generalities now because talking in specifics is so hard and painful for me. I know I’m not alone. I’ve met many people over the last few years who left religions or even religion entirely because they were told explicitly or implicitly to choose between their faith and their sexuality or gender.
People I know have been disowned from families, kicked out of religious schools, exorcised (yes, exorcised), told to leave religious groups and club, sent to ex-gay treatment, gossiped about, ostracised, bullied, assaulted… and that’s just what other people did to us. Much of the long term damage comes from what we ended up doing to ourselves. G-d’s love is a pretty scarily huge thing to believe you’re losing.
We’ve talked amongst ourselves about how events focussed on helping LGBT people of faith stay within their faith hurt us by dismissing or downplaying our experiences. Very few people make the choice to leave a religion entirely in complete ignorance of segments of their religion who would be more accepting of their sexuality. It’s not difficult to find out about the existence of such views if you can access wikipedia. We make that choice because we as individuals have been hurt too much to stay within a religion that hurt us.

What this amendment promotes is the idea that leaving a religion is an understandable choice and potentially a very good choice for an individual person who has been harmed in the name of that religion. Leaving a religion is not necessarily a worse or a better choice than staying in it and events that focus entirely on the merits of staying are not safe events for people who made the choice to leave.

It would be better to present both options and the constant focus on the option to stay alienates those of us for whom that would have been a bad choice.

I don’t know if my University is typical or not but our Faith and LGBT events were focussed on reconciling faith with LGBT identity and events talking about religious homophobia and transphobia were discussed but never happened. Having the one kind of event without the other seems unreasonably biased in favour of those who can reconcile their faith with LGBT identity and I feel it rather lets religion off the hook. We should face head on the fact that much homophobia and transphobia has been religiously motivated or backed up by scripture. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore that.

Focussing only on the “reconcilling” leads to erasing and silencing those who’ve been hurt in the name of religions. Focussing on both religious homophobia and transphobia AND on those religious groups who are welcoming doesn’t.
Religious groups have harmed many of us and remembering that is an important part of preventing more harm. Religious homophobia and transphobia isn’t all in the past, it’s here and now affecting people in our community. Telling people like me that we were just in a “bad” group might be true but feels like a slap in the face if I’m honest.

Tackling Anti-semitism and Islamophobia in LGBT communities is really very important. So is making sure that those of us who’ve been harmed by religious homophobia feel safe. Don’t do one without the other, please vote for the amendment at conference if you’re going or talk to your delegates about the amendment if you’re not.