Laws and governments are not the only forces impacting the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people around the world. Society, culture, and religion can also strongly impact the well-being of LGBTI people. Religion is often given as a justification for discrimination and mistreatment of LGBTI people. Those who persecute LGBTI people also accuse them of violating long-held cultural traditions. Social change is often more difficult to achieve than legal change.
There are religious leaders in many faiths who consider LGBTI identity sinful and exclude and stigmatize LGBTI people from their faith communities. Many of these leaders encourage psychologically—and sometimes physically—harmful “reparative therapy” practices, support relatives who reject their LGBTI family members, and even call for torture and execution of LGBTI people.
Politicians, religious leaders, and cultural leaders outside of the West often accuse LGBTI people of selling out to Western moral corruption and betraying their own culture. But this is a false accusation. There is history of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities around the world. Leaders who condemn and scapegoat LGBTI people today ignore these facts in order to drum up support for their own interests.
Nevertheless, societies are changing. From Paraguay to Poland and South Africa to Singapore, Pride and similar Pink Dot festivals have drawn crowds from a dozen people to masses over one million. Religious communities, too, are changing—read about Ani Zonneveld and Muslims for Progressive Values for an example—and many religious leaders consider it their sacred duty to fight for the social acceptance and equal treatment of LGBTI people. Ireland, a country with a strongly Catholic national identity, achieved marriage equality through a popular vote in July 2015.
These changes do not happen overnight: they require work and coordinated efforts. Fortunately, there are invaluable organizations creating positive social and cultural change, working for religious acceptance, and improving the lives of LGBTI people across the globe. You can be a part of that change. Learn how you can help here.