The month of June is largely referred to as Pride Month all over the world. It is the time of the year that those who identify with the usually isolated and dissociated Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community celebrates, discuss, and fight for awareness and acceptance.
So the Vatican find it fitting to publish its first-ever paper on the subject of gender science.
In recent years, scientists have come to agree that anatomy does not determine gender and that gender should not be defined only in binary terms. Gender instead stretches along a vast continuum, they contend.
In its paper, the Roman Catholic Church headquarters rejects this notion, at one point calling the idea “fictitious,” and repeats antiquated beliefs that gender is either one thing or the other and nothing in between. The paper goes on to say that sexual orientation is a choice.
The paper outlines an education-centred strategy to oppose gender theories originating from what the Church critically labels “a strong emphasis on the freedom of the individual.”
Catholics, the paper says, have a responsibility to promote teachings that reaffirm the value of traditional gender roles, and the identification of gender with sex assigned at birth. It is not so much the individual’s choice to live outside traditional gender roles that should be challenged, the paper says, but rather the deliberate effort to make such choices acceptable and justified by the broader society.
The paper goes on to list the damaging effects the Church believes queerness and gender fluidity have on families.
It also conflates genderqueerness and non-monogamous relationships, saying for instance that “the duality in male-female couples is furthermore seen as in conflicting with the idea of ‘polyamory.’” Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved.
In the paper, the Church acknowledges the importance of sexuality as part of human identity. But then it negates the right of individuals who don’t fit into specific gender norms to embrace their own sexuality, and denies the existence of identities that are not simply male and female, or that are at odds with sex assigned at birth:
The Christian vision of anthropology sees sexuality as a fundamental component of one’s personhood. It is one of its mode of being, of manifesting itself, communicating with others, and of feeling, expressing and living human love. […] In fact, it is from [their] sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society.
The paper acknowledges that something positive has emerged from the demands of accepting people regardless of their gender and orientation: the concept of respecting every person, for instance, and of embracing femininity.
The Church proposes to use education to deny people the freedom to live the gender with which they feel most comfortable.
It also reinforces gender stereotypes beyond nonconformity, and underscores the idea that women are inclined toward motherhood, service, and sacrifice, equating their social value with “a kind of affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood which has inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society.”
The church’s latest position on Same-Sex Relationships is likely to irk some liberal members of its community.
Earlier in March, a French sociologist and writer Frederic Martel alleged that a majority of the Catholic priests in the Vatican Clergy are engaging in homosexual behaviour, and more than 200 members of the College of Cardinals are homosexual.
Writing in his expose, “In The Closet Of The Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy,” the writer goes so far as to claim the disagreements present in the church today stem from an internal battle among those who are homosexual and leading a double life and, those who are not.
While the climate in some Western countries and churches is accommodative to members of the LGBTQ+ community to openly express who they really are and how they identify, the issue is not so ripe in most African countries. Thirty-two of Africa’s 54 nations have laws that criminalize consensual, same-sex conduct, according to Human Rights Watch, with varying provisions.
South Africa became the first nation on the continent to decriminalize homosexuality in 1998 when the Johannesburg High Court ruled that the nation’s sodomy laws violated the country’s newly adopted, post-apartheid Constitution.
Since 2010, several more countries in Southern Africa have decriminalised same-sex relations, including Mozambique, Angola, Lesotho and recently Botswana.
In some countries, longstanding laws criminalising homosexuality are not enforced at all, while in countries that have never had anti-gay laws, there remains social stigma, violence and discrimination.
Some governments have taken an active role in cracking down on gay people. In Egypt, movements for gay rights were stifled after the Arab Spring by the rise of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the police began to target activists.
Many of the anti-gay laws have been in place since the 19th century when Africa was carved up into colonies by European powers.
Conservative religious constituencies, both Christian and Muslim, have also influenced some governments: While evangelical Christianity is influential in Uganda, conservative Islam has helped shape attitudes toward gay people in Sudan and Somalia, where homosexuality is punishable by death.
In Zimbabwe, homosexuality is constitutionally banned, owing much to the natives’ religious nature and generally conservative belief system.
Former President Robert Mugabe once said gays were “worse than pigs and dogs”.
The new President Emmerson Mnangagwa told CNN in an interview in 2017 that, “in our constitution, it is banned and it is my duty to obey my constitution” as he refused to state what his opinion was on the matter.
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