Finding LGBTI allies among Muslims, Catholics and more

Muslims for Progressive Values member protests against repressive Saudi Arabian policies. (Photo courtesy of
Muslims for Progressive Values member protests against repressive Saudi Arabian policies. (Photo courtesy of

Not all religions are opposed to LGBTI rights, although the volume and intensity of some anti-gay fundamentalists may create that impression.

In fact, many faith-based efforts are under way at the United Nations in the quest for recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people, according to a recent study by human rights consultant Sheherezade Kara and the Arcus Foundation.

Some are Muslim, some are Catholic, some are Unitarian-Universalists, some are Protestants.

The full report is online. These are some excerpts from its summary of findings, with subheads added:

‘Significant support … from various faith perspectives’

Research into this topic has uncovered significant support by groups working from various faith perspectives for advocacy efforts on a full range of SO/GI/I rights issues at the international level, particularly in joining national
coalitions for Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions or treaty body shadow reports that include SO/GI/I [sexual orientation (SO), gender identity (GI) and intersex status (I)] rights issues.

Faith advocates also joined mass joint statements to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in particular statements calling on the HRC to take action on SOGII related violations.

Sheherezade Kara, author of the report on faith-based support for LGBTI people, in 2014. (Photo courtesy of
Sheherezade Kara, author of the report on faith-based support for LGBTI people, in 2014. (Photo courtesy of

Other notable support was given during … the HRC plenary discussion on human rights and SOGI, where groups working on gender and sexuality rights in the context of Muslim societies wrote a letter to the HRC President to counter the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)’s opposition to the SOGI panel.

Appeals for change

A relatively small number of faith groups have joined efforts to counter initiatives on “traditional values” and “protection of the family.” …

COMANGO, the Malaysian national UPR coalition, dealt with the politicisation of religion in relation to SOGI and the criminalisation of sex work in their submissions. The national coalition in Mozambique recommended that the authorities speed up the registration of an organisation working on SOGI rights. A submission by a church group in Venezuela was concerned about the interference of the Catholic Church in State actions on LGBTI rights.

[The] he overall picture was very positive, with supportive faith advocates not shying away from the key issues targeted by conservative and fundamentalist religious groups, namely family rights and relationship recognition. …

Inadequate support for LGBTIQ refugees

[The] UN High Commission … has lamented the challenges in getting faith groups working on asylum or refugee issues to be inclusive of LGBTIQ persons. This does not mean that no faith groups are supportive of LGBTIQ asylum seekers or refugees, but that such efforts are not obvious at the international level.

Asian countries are the most active

Regionally, the most support given to national coalition submissions dealing with SO/GI/I was in the Asia-Pacific region where support was given in 8 countries, followed by support in 6 Western countries, 3 in Africa, and2 in Eastern Europe and 2 in Latin America and the Caribbean. Most of this support was for UPR submissions (88.5%). …

In 2008, Catholic members of Dignity USA support LGBTI rights. (Photo courtesy of Huffington Post)
Richard Ferrara, right, of New York, holds a sign and the rainbow flag along with others during a Dignity USA demonstration Saturday, April 12, 2008 in In 2008, Catholic members of Dignity USA support LGBTI rights. (Photo courtesy of Huffington Post)demonstration across the street from the United Nations complex ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to the U.S. next week. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Potential for a positive impact, but ‘largely invisible’

States and political blocks have repeatedly made claims at the international level that acknowledging human rights for all persons regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity would be contrary to their religious,

cultural and/or traditional values.  Having global and wide-reaching support from faith advocates for the human rights of LGBTIQ persons provides a much-needed counter-narrative to such claims, and shows that there is room within the context of various world religions to advocate for human rights without discrimination.

Unfortunately the majority of such efforts remain largely invisible, particularly those which represent one signature among tens or hundreds to a joint statement. However, having faith groups work with LGBTIQ advocates and support SO/GI/I issues in national coalition submissions can provide support and solidarity in the face of government politicisation and manipulation of religion. For example, in spite of being declared unlawful by the Malaysian government and being attacked in the media for supporting the rights of LGBT people in its UPR submission, COMANGO, which included faith groups, stood by its submission and condemned the government for using Islam as a political tool to silence criticisms of human rights violations. …

An increase in the efforts (and in the visibility of the efforts) of faith advocates to support SO/GI/I human rights issues would provide a uniquely critical response to the arguments of the highly organised, well funded and powerful religious right-wing who are committed to undermining the universality of international human rights law in the name of religious, cultural and moral values.

The report also cited many organizations’ letters of support for LGBTI rights as well as events supporting LGBTI rights that were organized by:

  • Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)
  • The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
  • Muslims for Progressive Values
  • The Fellowship of Reconciliation

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at

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