Homophobia and Free Speech

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Last month I read about members of a religious group handing out printed material in Dublin that promoted a view of some sexualities as being a sin, and people with those sexualities as being sinners.  This is a not unusual stance for some religious groups to take and one I am familiar with hearing about here in Ireland and seeing reported on from elsewhere.  For example  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-lgbt-bishop-idUSKCN1US1EN shows the Catholic Church in Poland suggesting that a gay rights movement in Poland is as dangerous to Polish freedom as the former communist era, in that the ‘plague’ of gay rights activism wants to control Polish ‘souls, hearts and minds.’  I thought that gave quite an insight into the motivation behind the antipathy from some official voices of the Catholic church towards sexualities or gender identities that are not 100% hetero and straight, as it is the religious leaders who seem to want control of the minds and hearts of the population and they vigorously combat anything they perceive as competition.

I understand peoples’ religious beliefs can be very important for them, helping to create meaning in their lives as my spiritual beliefs are important to me.  I also do not want people who hold strong religious beliefs to be put off from coming to my therapy practice.  I contend that we do not all have to believe the same things and that we all seek to create meaning in our lives.  Structuring their lives around religious practice is one way people can create meaning.  In my opinion it is how we live that is important, not what religion we belong to.  I have also generally held the view that people are entitled to hold private thoughts.  If I believe that people of different skin colour, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality and so on are lesser or unpleasant to be around then I have the right to hold that view privately.  I would have also believed that religion members and leaders had the right to talk about their beliefs and world views during their religious services as it was in their private space where they gathered as a religious community, part of their identity.  Making statements in public spaces, or making statements intended for widespread publication, seems to me a different matter.  Actions in public spaces impact on everyone who shares that space, and different rules of respect, restraint, consideration for others apply than in the privacy of your home or your own head.  The people who believe that any sexuality other than 100% heterosexual is a sin, have the right to hold that view.  However in my opinion they do not have the right to disseminate this prejudice and insult in a public space to anyone who is passing. 

As I commented in a LinkedIn post, what if they were disseminating a belief that people who were different from what they hold to be the ideal along any other facet of identity – skin colour, ethnicity, social class, physical ability, intellectual ability and so on – were sinners and the manifestation of that difference was a sign of their sins.  Saying that someone is a sinner because of their sexuality, is saying their sexuality is wrong and needs to be rectified.  We have freedom of speech, however I do not think that morally anyone has a right to spread that prejudice around in public spaces.  Anyone receiving that message as they went about their day could be lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual or any other manifestation of sexuality.  Anyone receiving that message as they went about their day could have a family member, a friend, an esteemed colleague, who is now being insulted and categorized as lesser.

I believe in free speech and am grateful for my good fortune to live in this democratic society.  However, I also believe that religious groups who spend their time and energy disseminating prejudice against members of our shared society, have a responsibility to consider the consequences of their own behavior.  Our society is not free from violence that is based on gender differences or from violence that is sexual.  Just being themselves is not free of risk for people who are anything other than heterosexual and straight.  Spreading judgement and prejudice in our public spaces, gives some moral support for prejudice and discrimination in our wider society.  To be exercised enough about how other consenting adults are sexual with each other, to be moved to stand in a public place handing out leaflets labelling these people who presumably are not having sex with you, as ‘sinners’ points to an unhealthy interest in other people’s sex lives, or points to a willingness to support prejudice, discrimination, exclusion, violence.  Those who are religious leaders also need to own responsibility for the darker implications of their stance. 


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