Embracing Faith and Identity: Latin America's LGBTI+ Activists
Originally hailing from Latin America, Bob, Jenny, and Jorge proudly embrace their identities as members of both the LGBTQIA+ community and their faith while actively advocating for intersectionality. "I believe in a God who embraces love." Building Bridges, an annual initiative by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, brought together queer believers to share their personal experiences and spread the message of inclusion, respect, and understanding.
As we celebrate 75 years of human rights, the narratives of Bob, Jenny and Jorge take on an even greater significance, reflecting both progress and challenges that persist in the quest for universal rights. Their stories underscore the inherent connection between faith and human rights, demonstrating that one can be both queer and religious, attending places of worship while actively advocating for the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals.
Amidst the vibrant celebrations of Pride and Queer week in the Netherlands, they made a unique pilgrimage to churches, engaged in enlightening roundtable discussions at COC Netherlands, and even had a chance to converse with both the religious envoy and the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam. All of this was part of their participation in the Building Bridges programme.
Queer Faith and Human Rights
Bob, a Pentecostal pastor from Brazil, grew up in challenging circumstances, finding solace and community in his local church. Despite grappling with his sexual orientation, he embraced his identity and established "Evangelicals for Diversity," an organization that supports inclusive churches and families, challenging religiously motivated violence against the LGBTIQ+ community.
Jenny, from Guyana, hails from a strict Hindu family. Empowered by an organization called "Guybow," she advocates for the rights of lesbian and bisexual women. Their space provides a safe haven for the LGBTIQ+ community, promoting acceptance within a society that sometimes clings to discriminatory views.
Jorge, from Cuba, found refuge in the Metropolitan Community Church after being expelled from his previous Baptist church due to his advocacy for LGBTIQ+ rights. Despite Cuba's history of homophobia, Jorge and his fellow church members persistently challenge prejudices, spreading a message of love, inclusion, and belonging for all.
Funding and Social Acceptance
The challenges faced by these activists are twofold—funding and social acceptance. In Brazil, Bob highlights the difficulty of obtaining support for LGBTIQ+ projects due to a government line that disqualifies funding for religious programs. This poses a double challenge for faith-based organizations like Evangelicals for Diversity, who struggle to find support both from the LGBTIQ+ and religious communities. Furthermore, they face resistance from conservative religious leaders who use theological discussions to counter their progress. Bob explains, "Theology is not an extra point that you discuss. It's important to discuss the Bible... But it's also important to defend and protect LGBTIQ+ community and LGBTIQ+ rights."
In Guyana, Jenny describes how the newfound status as an oil-producing country has caused some funders to overlook the ongoing struggles of the LGBTIQ+ community. She emphasizes that despite economic growth, support is still crucial to uplift the marginalized. "Even though the country might be developing, the people within the community are still suffering. So we still need that help and support from them."
Similarly, Jorge in Cuba faces the challenge of accessing funding, with most resources going through the government. He reveals, "Social projects have a lot of work to do to be able to have fundings." This poses significant obstacles for community initiatives, making it difficult for their projects to thrive and achieve sustainability.
Dealing with individuals who don't believe in the intersection of faith and LGBTQ+ identities poses its challenges, and yet activists like Bob, Jorge, and Jenny approach these conversations with compassion and determination. Bob stresses the importance of both intellectual and spiritual dialogue, using prayer as a means to understand the Bible from an open-hearted perspective. He shares, "I need to have patience and bravery to listen to bad things, so the person is going to say... I'm ashamed for Jesus." Bob also uses his expertise in ancient Greek to debunk harmful interpretations of the scriptures.
Jenny values sharing her experiences with those who think differently, approaching them with understanding and empathy. She recalls encounters with people who initially disapproved of her identity, saying, "I will try to convey this person, a relative of them, to accept them. But if I know you and I know your relative doesn't accept you, I'll try to speak with that relative before even saying anything to you." Jenny believes in the power of storytelling to bridge gaps in understanding, even in her own community where she faced bullying in the past.
Through prayer, patience, education, and personal connections, these activists persistently strive to dismantle misconceptions and promote acceptance for the intersection of faith and LGBTIQ+ identities. Their commitment to compassionately engage with those who hold different beliefs is a testament to the power of open-hearted dialogue in fostering understanding and empathy.
Hope and love
This diverse group of individuals from Latin America has found tremendous value in exchanging perspectives and sharing their stories. Bob expresses gratitude for finding a place where he can be embraced as a pastor without judgment, taking the smiles and conversations back home with pride. Jorge reflects on the incredible impact of connecting with like-minded individuals, realizing that there are many others fighting for the same cause, which provides support and a sense of solidarity.
When asked to send messages to each other, they offer words of encouragement and strength. Bob urges them to celebrate themselves and their lives, embodying a God who embraces joy and love. Jenny reminds them that they are strong and have a purpose: "Together, we are creating a world where everyone can be their true selves, and that is a legacy worth fighting for." As they return to their respective countries, they carry with them newfound hope, love, and a stronger sense of community, ready to continue their vital work for a more inclusive and accepting world.
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