I share this article this morning to highlight another aspect to the Syrian refugee struggle. While Syrians are fleeing violence and devastation as a result of civil war and a war with ISIS, it is important to note that among the refugees fleeing there are many who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
These LGBT Syrians are fleeing an added level of intense persecution at the hands of conservative Arab culture, rigid religious discrimination, and a society now dictated by ISIS and hard lined religious zealots who take a very strict interpretation of Islamic Scripture and Sharia Law. They are fleeing criminal prosecution for being who they are and how they present or identify. They are fleeing from certain executions at the hands of ISIS.
There is no question that religious institutions and governments based on theocratic ideology have had intense negative impacts upon the rights of LGBT citizens. There is no question that whether we talk about conservative or radical Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, we see strong voices of hatred, discrimination, and persecution and damnation from these strict religious communities towards persons who identify in the LGBT community.
My goal with this modest ministry as been to illustrate that LGBT people can be spiritual and religious people without having to sacrifice their fundamental rights to being loving people. I am also trying to illustrate that there are places of worship and there are faiths and religious organizations and communities that are open and affirming who would welcome LGBT persons into their respective faiths and religious communities. I am trying to tackle the myths and misconceptions on both sides of this equation of LGBT community and religious community.
It is a very difficult task to crack open the myths and rip them apart when one is faced with examples that seem to support or enable the stereotyping to continue. It is only when people encounter exceptions or become aware of reality as it actually is that they can get a more fair and balanced perspective on just who makes up the LGBT community and the religious communities.
In this case, we should be able to see that radical terrorists aligned with ISIS do not represent mainstream Islam. However, broadly speaking, mainstream Islam remains fairly conservative and still fairly hostile towards LGBT Muslims and the LGBT community-at-large. Some attitudes are changing though and while there are culture clashes between the Islamic mainstream and the LGBT community, some mosques and some Islamic communities are re-evaluating their beliefs and culture norms and looking for ways in which to compromise or reconcile differences. It can be a slow and grueling and frustrating process– but that process is happening.
The same could be said in regards to the Christian community-at-large. As society becomes more acquainted with the LGBT community and the individuals who make up that community, more churches and places of worship have gone back to their Scripture to re-evaluate what Christian love, Christian justice, and Christian hospitality should be. What the Bible and Quran say in regards to love and compassion should outweigh and have more emphasis than what both texts have to say about homosexuality and gender identity issues and gender expression.
The underlying foundation of any religious belief system should be love and compassion. If it’s not– then it’s not worth believing in. What LGBT refugees face is an incredibly difficult challenge– to find places that will accept them not just as refugees fleeing Syria, but as LGBT persons seeking acceptance and respect and dignity– as well as safe haven–from bigotry, hatred, discrimination, and violence against them not just as Muslims or Syrians… but as LGBT as well.