The Vatican: A Threat to Africa’s Progress in LGBTQIA+ Rights

Mamaputle Boikanyo

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The announcement from the Vatican is not just a discussion on conservative beliefs and values, but also a complete denial of identities and their rights to do as they please with their bodies.

Still a long way to go for LGBTQIA+ Rights

This week, Botswana’s High Courts decriminalised same-sex relations by rejecting laws that charged ‘offenders’ with up to seven years of imprisonment. While this announcement calls for celebration and is a step in the right direction for laws on gay rights in Africa, some disappointing, but not surprising, news came from the Catholic Church.

The Vatican department released a document which called on society, the church (catholic and non-catholic) schools, parents and others to reject ideas of fluid gender and sexual identities. This document, titled “Male and Female He Created Them” is extremely damaging and sets Africa back in terms of gay rights on the continent.

The Vatican states that new and modern ideas of gender theory and identity “are move away from nature” and are a “nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants”.

While the announcement from Botswana’s High Courts is a proud and progressive moment in history, the continent still has a long way to go when it comes to laws and the social acceptance of homosexuality. It’s no doubt that Christianity has been very influential in the marginalisation of the LGBTQI community on the continent (and the rest of the world).

The influence of the church is undeniable, what is a more surprising fact is that Catholicism enjoys a growing presence in Africa, while it continues to remain stable in Europe. Statistics on Catholicism say that one-sixth of the world’s Catholics will come from Africa by 2025 and that by 2050 half of the world’s Christians will be African. The growing presence of Catholicism in Africa is a threat for many gay people on the continent.

Pope Francis’ visit to Uganda, where LGBQIA+ rights remain unrecognised

“The Pope/Vatican has yet again placed themselves right back in the middle ages. Their statement is enabling to those that discriminate against trans and gender diverse persons. It promotes fear and exclusion, discrimination and hatred. It speaks of misinformation and conscious ignorance, and can be incredibly harmful to all trans and gender diverse persons. Gender and sexual diversity have been documented for most of the last century. Conversations like these are certainly not new,” says Theo Rossouw, a trans man and spiritual activist and member Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church.

The document also emphasised the need for people to conform to gender roles in order to help children develop and mature in healthy environments. Children, according to the document, have the right to “grow up and mature in a correct relationship represented by the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”

According to the American Psychological Association, there is no scientific evidence that supports the idea that same-sex parents affect psychological, social or emotional well-being of a child. “On the contrary, results of research suggest that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.” The only factors that contribute to negative development among families with same-sex parents are homophobia and LGBTQIA+ discriminiation.

Religion should not interfere in people’s choice of gender or sexual orientation.

The announcement from the Vatican is not just a discussion on conservative beliefs and values, but also a complete denial of identities and their rights to do as they please with their bodies. It means taking control of people’s rights to choice, and in many places a denial of access to sexual healthcare. It creates an oppressive culture where the LGBTQI community cannot depend on the law for their own security and well-being.

“It is saddening to see that the crux of the statement is built on empty statements like gender fluidity [being a] “move away from nature” and that diverse sexual identities are based on confusion in persons. Trans and gender diverse people are a marginalised and stigmatised community that have had to liberate themselves from the confines of the binary, a construct that the Vatican seems to need to enforce and promote with great urgency,” Theo concluded.