Tuesday, January 21, 2014

No One is Free Until We All Are Free: Reflections on MLK Weekend

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King famously said "no one is free until we are all free". I have been thinking about this quote a lot over the past few weeks and months. The LGBT movement for equality has made major strides in North America and Europe over the past few years. Granted, much of this progress is tied to where you live. In many states and countries we can marry; in many we can adopt children; in some we can do one but not the other; and in many we can do neither. It seems, at least in many Western countries that the arc of the moral universe is finally bending toward justice. This has led to a feeling of complacency among many of our brothers and sisters.

The Rev. Winnie Varghese
with Davis Mac-Iyalla
of Changing Attitudes:
Nigeria, when he spoke
at St. Mark's-in-the
Bowery in New York.

Photo Credit: Paul Lane
This progress is, unfortunately, not the case everywhere. In many areas of the world not only are the conditions not getting better, they are in fact getting worse. In June Russia passed the "anti-gay propaganda law" effectively taking away freedom of expression and assembly from LGBT people. There is now a push, much of it coming from the Russian Orthodox Church, to recriminalize homosexuality, which was decriminalized in 1993. This has been largely covered by the U.S. media in the lead-up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next month.

The LGBT community in Uganda was given a reprieve last week when President Yoweri Museveni returned the bill, now infamously known as the "kill the gays" bill, although "softened" to life in prison, to the Ugandan Parliament for review and further discussion. Make no mistake, this bill will rear its ugly head again, supported by American religious organizations as well as many in the Anglican Church of Uganda. Sodomy is already illegal in Uganda.

In Nigeria, a bill titled the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, supported by the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, was passed by the Nigerian Parliament and signed into law by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. This bill not only outlaws "gay marriage" (which was never legal in Nigeria in the first place), it provides for a prison term of fourteen years for anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil partnership abroad. It also criminalizes anyone who registers or participates in gay organizations or clubs or who makes a public show of a same-sex relationship, the punishment being ten years in prison. The arrests have started. While fourteen years in prison may sound draconian, in Northern Nigeria, where Sharia law operates side by side with federal law, those arrested have been handed over to Sharia courts where the maximum punishment is death by stoning!

The progressive gang
The Rev. Scott Gunn, Integrity's President, the Rev.
Dr. Caroline Hall, Davis Mac-Iyalla (Changing
Attitude: Nigeria), The Rev. Colin Coward
(Changing Attitude: UK) at the Primates' Meeting
in Tanzania in 2007

Photo Credit: Scott Gunn
Used under Creative Commons License.
Some Rights Reserved
In Uganda and Nigeria, as well as other countries with harsh penalties for homosexuality (many of which are vestiges of British colonial rule), these bills seriously threaten health services providing HIV treatment to MSMs (men who have sex with men).

What can we do? Educate ourselves. Get the word out: these developments, especially those in Nigeria, have largely gone under the radar of the U.S. media. A good source of information is on the Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora web-site: http://nigerianlgbtindiaspora.wordpress.com/

As an Episcopalians / Anglicans we can urge our bishops to speak out. Find out who the Indaba partners of your diocese are and ask your bishop to speak with them about this; ask him or her to contact the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sign Nigerian LGBT rights activist Davis Mac-Iyalla’s petition to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York which can be found here.  At press time the petition was approaching 1,000 signatures.

As a U.S. citizen, you can contact your Senators and Representatives in Congress and ask them to contact the State Department, which -- although it has publicly condemned these laws -- could do more. It has been reported that the Canadian government has already cancelled a state visit by Nigerian President Jonathan which was scheduled to take place in February. Keep the pressure on.

Keep our brothers and sisters in your prayers and those of your local parish.

"No one is free until we all are." We still have a long road to travel.

Paul Lane is the Diocesan Organizer for New York and Acting Chair of the LGBT Concerns Committee of the Diocese of New York


james lodwick said...

Is there a way to sign the petition to the Archbishops without having to join Facebook?

Christian Paolino said...

Hi James:

you should not have to join Facebook to sign the petition. This link should take you directly to the petition on the change.org website.