This statement was delivered by André du Plessis,
Executive Director of ILGA World,
at the 41st UN Human Rights Council joint side event
on religious communities affirming LGBTIQ people around the world
We are here today in a secular space: the seat of the United Nations Human Rights Council, committed to upholding the fundamental principle that all human beings – in our fantastic and complicated diversity – are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Human rights is not the only framing under which peoples of the world understand that all are equal, included, respected, and loved. At their core, faith and religion are another one of those places where this message is – or at least should be – preached and hopefully also practised as a universal truth.
And yet, despite inclusion and love and universality at the core of being human, mentioning the letters LGBTQ can send both diplomats and theologians into quivers of nervousness; into fraught and calculated strategies of exclusion; of complicated defensive and offensive tactics.
Are we LGBTQ people really that scary?
I wonder if too often we have stopped talking about the people. We speak of abstract -isms rather than real individuals and communities. And so I’m so glad that today we will hear from persons of faith from real communities who will share with us some of their joyful and challenging journeys on engaging with questions and people of divers sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics,.
An inclusive faith perspective on sexuality and gender can be a profoundly beautiful space that we all can learn from in how we have discussions here at the United Nations. If held respectfully and honestly, they can collectively take us to our deepest core as humans, where we face some of our own most intimate existence, perhaps feeling naked, exposed and vulnerable in front of others, ourselves and also God. This space in itself is an odd gift in its very vulnerability: a place that challenges us to be fully open and to love with all our heart, soul, mind and body.
Sexuality, gender identity… for some even to speak of or hear these things may provoke embarrassment, awkwardness, guilt. But we must listen to the stories that must be shared. We need to hear perspectives that are different from our own, especially from those who are voiceless or silenced. We must enter into evermore respectful and challenging dialogue. For people of faith are compelled by love to communicate with those we find different.
For such listening to be truly respectful it is necessary to suspend judgement. To listen respectfully is in itself an act of acceptance. It may in fact be the first step towards the creation of a more truly inclusive community. I invite you to do that today. All of you.
So here today: this is of course a secular space, but for a moment it is also a sacred space as we listen, and learn. I’m looking forward to hearing from you all.