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Churches in East Africa can help to change attitudes to LGBT rights, says charity

12 August 2022

Cover image from the report by the Arcus Foundation

Cover image from the report by the Arcus Foundation

CHURCHES in East Africa have a necessary part to play in changing attitudes and policies concerning LGBTIQ+ rights, the international charity the Arcus Foundation has said.

Last week, at the Lambeth Conference, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), which includes Provinces in East Africa, published a communiqué that asserted the group’s commitment to condemning “all irrational fear, homophobic behaviour and violence”.

In a blog post published on Thursday of last week, a programme officer for the Arcus Foundation, Erica Lim, wrote that “we cannot create sustainable change without shifting religious narratives toward equity, inclusion, and social justice.”

Ms Lim drew on a report by the foundation, published in May, Faith Based Efforts in East Africa to Combat Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It concludes that the Churches in East Africa, including those that are part of the Anglican Communion, are “well-placed to catalyze policy changes if they wish to do so”.

The Arcus Foundation is an international charity that focuses on LGBTIQ-rights, togehter with other social and environmental causes.

The report examines the situation in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania, and suggests that “nascent collaborations with faith-based communities are generally limited to training and sensitization workshops”, and that the “current primary focus is on creating and maintaining inclusive spaces of worship”.

It highlights the challenge posed by well-organised and well-resourced movements, often funded by organisations in the United States, which advocate against LGBTIQ rights.

Local organisations such as PEMA Kenya, which campaigns for the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people, run “sensitization workshops” with religious leaders, but the Arcus Foundation report identified limitations to this approach in fermenting long-term change. The report says, however, that such encounters, together with one-to-one dialogue, have helped to encourage leaders to preach inclusivity.

The report speaks of discrimination faced by LGBTIQ+ people, such as being denied access to church support programmes owing to a perception that “any inclusivity beyond allowing [LGBTIQ+ people] to be part of the congregation would attract unwanted risks.”

Such risks are not insignificant: the report draws attention to one case, in Uganda, in which an LGBTIQ-rights group was classified as a terrorist organisation.

“For LGBTIQ rights activists who are living in their own communities, approaching faith leaders may not be viable because it increases their vulnerability and may also increase their risks. For this reason, some LGBTIQ activists who are integrated in their own communities opt to stay away from communities of faith altogether,” the report says.

The development of a network of local LGBTIQ+ organisations in East Africa, both to bolster their voice and to “help curb the perception of LGBTQ inclusion as a foreign agenda”, is identified as a crucial next step.

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