Sunday, November 15, 2009

Friday: Sexuality and Faith

The goal of LGBT struggles is more than equal rights for homosexuals but social transformation, including the renewal of religious institutions and traditions with respect to sexual ethics. The prevailing power inequities in church and society need to be corrected.  Social and cultural norms should be re-imagined so that differences in caste, gender and sexuality are no longer ranked hierarchically in terms of superiority and inferiority. Differences should not be occasions for domination but for recognizing and validating variations within a richly diverse humanity. --Dr. George Zachariah

13 Nov 2009

Magdalene Jeyaratnam is a Clinical Psychologist who runs The Center for Counselling in Chennai.  She is a leading expert in the area of LGBT people in Chennai, because they and their families come to her for support.  She reports that post 377, July-Nov., she has seen a significant rise in requests for appointments.  People are coming out!  AND, conversion aversion therapies on the rise.  Teachers and counsellors of many religious and non religious backgrounds are advertising their ability to convert LGBT people using some shocking techniques.

She also reported on her experience of "Skype Sessions" for families that she is working with who have a family member abroad or who themselves move abroad.  I think that's called outsourcing in the U.S., but what a powerful way to integrate the multiple identities immigrants and their families live.

Pam Merrill got up and reported that her presentation had essentially been given over the last day and a half, so she left us with an important message, not yet stated.  Stand with those who are fighting for their dignity!  It was an important point to make in this context.  We had been presented with the idea again and again that if the LGBT community wanted their rights, they should stand up for them.  This comes in the context of a country in which untouchability was abolished in my parent's life time, gender equality remains hard fought in parts of India, and women and men are physically threatened in that struggle.  The intricacies of "the closet" create a different context for a liberation movement.  Solidarity is critical. 

Then we got to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, presented by a lawyer and HIV activist Dr. Joe Thomas

He began with a great joke about oral sex.  Really!  I'm not sure if I can write it in a way that can't be abused by someone else later, so I'll have to leave it at this.  As a teenager, he thought oral sex meant talking about sex and so when he is invited to participate in events like this one, he remembers that at one point he would have understood that he was being asked for ... .  Have I mentioned what a repressed community Malayalees/Keralites are?  He is from Kerala, like me, and wow, do we have a talent for keeping ourselves uninformed. 

The case that went before the Delhi High Court was "Naz Foundation v Union of India," IPC, section 377, 1860.  The case was in court for nine years, decided this summer.  Joe introduced his presentation as a liberal, equity oriented, secular analysis from a heterosexual researcher, public health activist/ practitioner and educator.  Section 377 criminalized "unnatural" sex between adults in private.  Law of this kind were written at the height of Victorian Empire to further criminalize the poor in England and the sex crazed barbarians elsewhere in the empire.

Since 1860, it has been applied 134 ish times, four people have been convicted under this section. It is not used for sexual abuse.  We do not have good law against sexual abuse in India, yet.  That is being fought out right now in light of horrible abuse cases of European sex offenders opening up orphanages in India. 

The basis for the ruling is "The right to dignity:  the priviledge, the ability, and right to make free will choices about how one lives one life... a person’s value regardless of function to make choices, and the  Right to privacy:  the right to establish and nurture relationships without the invasion of the state."

Do we have either of those in the U.S.?

And also, the Right to Equality, Non Discrimination
"It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality."

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution: The Right to Health!

Okay, then, the zinger, "constitutional morality vs popular morality."  There is a notion of Constitutional Morality in Indian Law.  It is a higher morality, for the common good, that is a higher bar than the necessarily prejudiced community and time limited understandings of Popular Morality.  I think this idea exists because a nation founded on the strength of it's religious and ethnic diversity will necessarily have different expectations of private behavior by community, and there must be some common code of law.   In response to this ruling, the National Council of Churches, India spoke out immediately encouraging all to  “accompany  people of different sexual orientations (PDSO) in their journey.”

We had a great conversation about different notions of privacy.  The most interesting example was among Aboriginal Australians. Dr. Thomas described it this way, "Your neighbor protects your privacy, by not looking where he or she should not.  The person, not the state upholds the value. 

This is an opportunity and the nature of Indian Democratic Tradition, the opportunity is to claim the Right to Health, the challenge is how to take that forward and in the midst of this opening.  Cultural intolerance and religious intolerance is increasing and is becoming institutionalized .

Dr. George Zachariah concluded our sessions with a good old fashioned liberationist approach to LGBT inclusion in the church quoting Brock, Nelson and Ellison.  The quote at the top of this entry is from his paper which I hope will be published somewhere soon.  I think he floored some of the non religious activists with a version of Christianity not often seen in the public discourse in India.  Apparently Christians have the toughest time accepting themselves if they are queer and/or accepting queer family members, according to Dr. Jeyaratnam's experience.

George --A rainbow people of God, in India.

We were told by Dr. Jeyaratnam that Chennai planned a Pride March on the Beach this past July.  They planned for 50.  700 arrived to march.