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  • Writer's pictureKate Warren

Standing out in the crowd of imaginary crimes

CONTENT WARNING: This blog explores homosexuality in connection to religion and belief systems. Other subjects that may cause distress include the death penalty and discrimination. Please read with care.

Welcome to the first issue of the new STAY U with Kate blog. You may have been reading my blogs before and are returning to see what this will all be about, or you might be new to my page - either way, I appreciate your time and hope you gain something from the experience. I can guarantee there will be no more fluff or filler blogs, but I can't guarantee the blogs will be regular.


As I briefly mentioned in my Instagram post, my new blogs will discuss controversial, difficult, and personal subject matter. The content or trigger warnings are to be taken seriously. I want to challenge others to expand their ideas and thoughts on particular subjects, but I don't want to upset, insult or cause harm in any way. If that means goodbye for now, please take care and I hope you visit next time.


 

I live in an area of Sydney that is not considered safe for the LGBTQIA+ community.


In preparation for this blog, I did hours of research and wrote pages of facts - statistics on the people living in my local area, their background, their religions, their ages, their educations - and then I looked into the connection between these cultures and discrimination of the LGBTQIA+ community. As I read through, I realised that no one would want to read facts and figures backed up by research from a professor in a university and the Bureau of Statistics - whether they were true or not. You want something relatable, and preferably something that isn't going to put you to sleep (or give you nightmares)! Something that connects to your life and experiences.


The reason behind my approach was due to my personal experiences - the way that I get treated daily by people in my local neighbourhood - the nasty looks I get, the local shop owners serving others before me, and the way I am cut off in traffic. At first, I brushed it off and put it down to being over-sensitive and unfamiliar with the area. When it started to happen day after day, and people weren't even trying to hide their comments or behaviour anymore, it made me want to know why. Why are they treating me this way? The treatment reminded me of an encounter I had in my previous home some time ago - a suburb with a very different cultural majority - but the incident involved the cultural majority I am now living amongst.


My neighbours were a family of 5 - mum, dad, a son in his teens, a young girl of around 10, and their youngest son, who was around 4. The father often acknowledged me when we crossed paths in the communal hallway or caught the same lift, but he wasn't what I would call sociable - just polite. The eldest son would occasionally smile, as did his sister, but never stop or speak. The mother, on the other hand, would actively avoid me - she would go back into her apartment if we opened the door at the same time, she would not share a lift with me, and she would look at the floor if we happened to pass each other. I put it down to being shy, but there were times when her avoidance was so obvious that my friends would notice. So, one day I decided to ask the father a question.


After a brief conversation about a non-functioning light in the hallway, I asked, "This may seem a little strange, but could I ask if I have done something to upset or offend your wife?". I intended to expand on the statement, as I feared it would come across rudely, but there was no need.


He took a breath, like he was trying to find the right words, and then replied, "The truth is, we don't approve of your lifestyle".

"My lifestyle?", I questioned. "He doesn't approve of me being a single mother?" I thought to myself, "what the...".


"Yes, the woman you live with", he added. I stood for a moment and just looked at him.


Confused, I said, "umm... I live with my daughter". He then raised an eyebrow, as if to gesture that he didn't believe me.


That's when it dawned on me - this man and his family believed that my daughter and I were lovers - that he did not "approve" of my "lesbian" lifestyle. A rage started to bubble in my gut - and it wasn't because this man was ignorant enough to believe that my then-18-year-old daughter was my live-in partner, it was that his wife was looking down on me and treating me like rubbish due to her "disapproval" of my perceived lifestyle. Whether I was a lesbian or not was none of her business and certainly not something she needed to approve of. She had seen a woman with short hair, who dressed in non-binary clothing and didn't live with a man. The fact I also worked in the Defence Force and wore my security tag probably didn't do me any favours, but that was beside the point.


"We don't dislike you", he added, "we just don't approve of you". Like that was supposed to make me feel better.


Suddenly, I blurted out, "Ohh great, I'm so glad. And just so you know, I don't dislike you, despite you being assholes", and I stormed away back into my apartment. Needless to say, we never spoke or acknowledged each other again. I did not need the kind of toxic energy that they exuded.


It is no secret that some cultures and religions are against homosexuality (and, by association, the sexual preferences and gender identities of the LGBTQIA+ community).

I don't need facts and figures to back that statement up - we live with discrimination daily and have for many, many years. Online, in our government's laws, and face-to-face, just to name the top 3.

The two religions with the loudest voices are Islam/Muslim and Catholicism.

I am, however, going to share with you some research I have done on that statement because this is where the information relates back to my personal story - my neighbours were practicing Muslims.


Before continuing, I will point out though that I'm not using the stories of the Quran and the Bible as an excuse for the actions of those who discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community - I am simply showing where it may stem from, in a bid to better understand.


Rusi Jaspal, Professor of Psychology & Sexual Health from De Montfort University (UK) pointed out that it is difficult to define a single Islamic position on homosexuality, because Islam is diverse, with about 1.6 billion followers across six continents. Homosexuality is illegal in most Islamic countries including Iran and Saudi Arabia. As Jaspal wrote for (the academic media website) The Conversation: "Most Islamic scholars are in agreement that homosexuality is incompatible with Islamic theology. They tend to draw on the story of Lot in the Koran which recounts the destruction of the tribe of Lot allegedly due to their engagement in homosexual acts as 'evidence' for God's condemnation of homosexuality."(Baird, 2017)


Let me tell you a little tale...


The story the professor referred to is also seen in the Old Testament of the Bible, Genesis 19:1-29, and is quite a horrific tale (like most stories of the Bible). It tells of a man (some refer to him as a Prophet) named Lot, who lived in the city of Sodom with his family (if this name sounds familiar, it is the origin of the word "sodomy", meaning "unnatural sexual relations"). Sodom, and its adjoining cities on the plains of Jordan, were the Las Vegas of long ago - known for their sinful and debaucherous behaviour. Two angels, or let's just say "men of importance", were sent to Sodom by God, on the advice of Abraham (who is a big deal in many religions). Upon arriving, they are offered protection from Abraham's nephew, Lot, who gives them food and shelter as they had planned to stay on the streets for the night (and it wasn't safe to do so). Just before bedtime, it is said that all the men of the city decided to come over to Lot's house and demand to see the two male visitors, as they wanted to have sex with them (not your usual greeting, I'll admit). Lot pleaded with them by offering his virgin daughters (which some believe were women he was protecting in his home, rather than his biological daughters - either way, totally inappropriate), but the men declined. The angels pulled Lot back inside and told him to grab his wife and family and leave town, as they had been sent to destroy it. Sodom and Gomorrah were to be burned down, due to the 'wickedness and sins' of its inhabitants - fire falling from the sky, brimstone, death, etc etc.


When the zealous religious keyboard warriors start commenting on LGBTQIA+-related posts on social media, Sodom and Gomorrah are common themes.


This made me think back to my upbringing. My parents weren't religious people, but they were believers. I went to scripture when I was in school and attended Sunday school for a few years when I was young. My mum is a "lapsed Catholic" (her words) and often used God as a threat of punishment for wrongdoing when I was young. I was once told I would "burn in hell" for listening to Marilyn Manson on Christmas Day. My dad was baptised Church of England (Anglican), but only so he could be married to my mum in a church (literally weeks before they were married). I knew that he believed in God, but he never pushed the agenda. Their belief was not something they ever questioned, and they were often upset by the fact that I questioned their faith. "How do you know God exists?", I would ask. "We just do", they would always answer. To believe in anything, I always need proof - that's just the way I am - and I've never found proof of God.


Those who choose a religious lifestyle are often introduced to it from a young, impressionable age. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is just one example that shows why strong believers would get the notion that homosexuality is "a sin punishable by God". They don't question that 'angels' visited a city, or that fire rained from the sky - they just believe. It is taking things to extremes like many of the stories within religious texts do. The Bible doesn't tell of gentle, cleansing rains that wash away our sins - it's an almighty flood that washes away everyone who doesn't believe or trust in God. In others, people are consumed by plagues and disease. In other words, God doesn't play around. So, for those raised in a strict religious household, life is often very black and white - boys marry girls, make babies, and live happily ever after under the watchful eye of the Lord. The end.


Again, this does not excuse their behaviour one iota, but ignorance breeds fear, and despite the LGBTQIA+ community posing no threat to them, they somehow turn things around and blame us for anything that fits. They fear that is there are too many of "us", God or Allah will punish and they will be caught in the crossfire. My neighbours may have seen me as a "bad influence" on their children or exposure to "unnatural lifestyles" - a perceived threat.


Although religion and beliefs are a strong influence on the hate and discrimination we face, the laws put in place long ago are the rod that has strengthened it for way too long. Little by little, these laws are being abolished but the sad truth is:


  • There are many jurisdictions (a territory or area where a law can be exercised) - 64, in fact - that still criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity.

  • Sadder still is that 6 of those impose the death penalty - Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen - and another 6 where the death penalty is a legal possibility - Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE and Uganda. And this is 2024, just in case you'd forgotten. (Human Dignity Trust, 2023)


HISTORY LESSON: Where it all started... Many of the laws that the above facts are based on are rooted in religious beliefs, especially those of Commonwealth countries as many of their laws originate in British law. These texts refer to homosexuality as "an offence against God", and "an abominable crime". Men were being executed in the United Kingdom under the 'Buggery Act' of 1533 (introduced by King Henry VIII, who was a real piece of work) and then the 'Offences Against the Person Act' of 1828 - an act which replaced the death penalty in 1861 for "buggery" with life imprisonment or hard labour "for any term not less than ten years". The last two men to be executed for same-sex acts in England, James Pratt and John Smith, were executed by hanging on 27 November 1835. The Start of Change... The first wave of decriminalisation occurred during the French Revolution in the late 18th century, when just 11% of the world’s population lived in countries where homosexual acts were not a criminal offence. 'The French Penal Code' of 1791, drafted in the liberal spirit of the Enlightenment, abolished a “crowd of imaginary crimes”, including sodomy (as well as bestiality, blasphemy, heresy, pederasty, sacrilege, and witchcraft), and the 'French Penal Code' of 1810, which was applied in Napoleonic Europe, inspired the first wave of decriminalisation in Western Europe (and, indirectly, in the French, Spanish, Dutch and Belgian colonies), Latin America and the Ottoman Empire. However, in the 19th century fewer than 25% of humans lived in a country where homosexual relations were not illegal, which sadly included Australia. (Mignot, 2024) Yes, "imaginary crimes", with homosexuality put in the same group as witchcraft.


The fight for LGBTQIA+ rights is one of the biggest battles of human rights today. Little by little, the black-and-white world is shifting to shades of grey (or rainbow), but there is still so much to do. We still get treated like a threat, or second-class citizens, on a daily basis in our own neighbourhoods.


It was only last month when the High Court of Dominica (in the Caribbean) found that laws criminalising consensual, same-sex sexual activity are unconstitutional and void.  This decision was the culmination of an almost five-year legal case, originally filed in 2019 by a gay man who was challenging provisions of the Sexual Offences Act on the basis that they violated his constitutional rights.  The judgment struck down discriminatory laws originally inherited from the British during colonial times, which were retained following independence. (Human Rights Watch, 2024)


The bottom line is - any law that dictates:

  • the gender identity of the person you wish to have sexual relations with

  • what two consenting adults can engage in

  • who you want to be, or feel you are in your soul

is against basic human rights, is outdated, and leads to hate, prejudice and discrimination. No-one should be disapproved of for imaginary crimes.


The question that always rings in my head is - do we really need their acceptance to be ourselves?

Do we want to take the words of those who have been fed stories of a time long ago, which have changed and adapted to meet the fears of its followers, to heart? I say - NO - but we also don't deserve their discrimination. Is there a possibility for the LGBTQIA+ community to live in harmony with the religious community? I say - YES - but not for every religion. Things are changing every day, so anything is possible. I've seen it with my own eyes, so I won't lose hope - and neither should you.


 

References:


Baird, J. (2017, August 31). Same-sex marriage: Why have Muslims been so quiet in the debate? ABC News. Retrieved May 22, 2024, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-31/same-sex-marriage-why-have-muslims-been-so-quiet-in-debate/8860486


Human Dignity Trust. (2023). Map of Countries that Criminalise LGBT People. Human Dignity Trust; Human Dignity Trust. Retrieved May 22, 2024, from https://www.humandignitytrust.org/lgbt-the-law/map-of-criminalisation/


Mignot, J.-F. (2024, April 29). Decriminalization of homosexuality since the 18th century. N-IUSSP. Retrieved May 22, 2024, from https://www.niussp.org/gender-issues/decriminalization-of-homosexuality-since-the-18th-century/


Human Rights Watch. (2023). # OUTLAWED “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” Retrieved May 22, 2024, from https://features.hrw.org/features/features/lgbt_laws/

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