Conference hears of Iraqi gay persecution

22 February 2007

by Simon Sarmiento

AN Iraqi gay-rights campaigner, Ali Hilli, received a standing ovation at a conference on faith, homophobia, and human rights in London on Saturday.

Mr Hilli, the founder of Iraqi LGBT, described how multiple fatwas issued by leading Shia clerics, with the collusion of the Iraqi government, were giving divine authority for the murder of gays and lesbians by Badr and Sadr militias. This had recently been confirmed by a UN Human Rights Office report, which also quoted a religious court judge as saying: “Most [gays] have been killed, and others have fled.”

The Iraqi government had condemned the UN report, saying that rights for homosexuals “are not suitable for Iraqi society”.

The 200 people attending the conference, organised by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), included representatives from a wide range of organisations, and all the main faiths. They ratified a statement that “deplored” what it regarded as “internalised homophobia within religious institutions”.

Christian leaders in the UK were criticised, particularly in relation to the recent attempt to exclude Roman Catholic adoption agencies from the forthcoming Sexual Orientation Regulations in England, Wales, and Scotland.

A former Labour Cabinet minister, Lord Smith of Finsbury, was critical of the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd George Cassidy. In a recent House of Lords debate on the new Northern Ireland anti-discrimination regulations (News, 12 January), Bishop Cassidy had said that “the regulations clearly demonstrate the need to strike a fair balance between the rights of homosexual people to be treated with dignity and respect, and the rights of Christians and other people of faith to manifest their religious beliefs.”

Arguing that “there was not an absolute right to manifest a belief in action if that action caused harm to others,” Lord Smith said that Bishop Cassidy had merely put more elegantly some of the justifications of discrimination used by others outside the House of Lords.

Lord Smith also expressed sadness that Dr Williams, in his attempts to hold the Anglican Communion together, had appeared to “give house-room to arrogant and homophobic views from some parts of the Anglican Communion”.

The conference’s statement said: “We reject the activities of certain religious leaders’ seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. . .

“We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths: love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.”

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