Tag Archives: homophobia

Irish Education Minister: ‘Education plays a key role in tackling homophobia and transphobia’

The Irish Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn TD today opened a European Union conference on homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, and emphasised the importance education plays in reducing such prejudice.

Ruairi Quinn opened the conference which aimed to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools
Mr Quinn opened the conference, which was organised by the European region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), and Irish organisations GLEN, and BeLonG To.
It is the first ever EU-level conference on homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools.
The aim of the conference was to bring together national policy makers, teachers, school leaders and NGOs, in order to debate, and tackle the issue of bullying, reports GCN.
The Minister for Education said: “Education plays a key role in supporting LGBT young people and also tackling the underlying prejudices which can lead to homophobic and transphobic bullying”.
Michael Barron, Director of BeLonG To Youth Services said: “There is a growing understanding of the seriousness of the issues for young LGBT people, both in Ireland and across Europe. The Department of Education has recently published a national Action Plan on Bullying that fully integrates measures to tackle prejudice, including homophobia and transphobia which are the root causes of much bullying.
“The lessons being learned in Ireland can contribute to further developments across Europe, much as we can learn from innovative and successful practices in other countries.”
Kerry County Council passed a motion in support of equal marriage on Monday, becoming the latest local authority in Ireland to vote in favour of marriage equality.
The motion was tabled by Labour Councillor, Gillian Wharton-Slattery, after she was approached by members of the gay community, asking why the motion had not been passed yet.
A study published last week suggested that many gay and bisexual teenagers who are bullied at a younger age – are picked on less by the time they reach 19 – but they still remain disproportionately affected by the problem.
Anna Grodzka, Europe’s first transgender MP spoke out about poverty and social exclusion in the LGBT community last Sunday at the National Lesbian and Gay Federation Conference in Dublin.

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Lest We Forget: Remember the Ashes of Our Martyrs

Ash Wednesday is a solemn time in the liturgical year, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively.

So it was entirely appropriate and welcome some years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul II spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to certain communities,   and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome:  I do not wish to belittle it in any way.  However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.

For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period.  During the 11th century,  Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,

classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour

In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – exceptfor his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.

All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts. Although this  penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

Templars

Historical research to date has been patchy, and in many places the records have not survived. Even so, the evidence from the modest research we do have is horrifying.  In the largest scale, and best known, single incident, over 400 hundred Knights Templar were burned in the early 14th century. This is usually discussed in terms of trials for “heresy”, but in fact the charges were of both heresy and sodomy.  (These terms were often associated and confused at the time, but much of the evidence in the templar trials made it clear that specifically sexual offences were meant).

To modern researchers, it is clear that the trials were deeply flawed, with the procedures seriously stacked against the accused.  In marking the 700th anniversary of the trials in 2007, the Vatican explicitly cleared those killed of the charges of heresy – but said never a word about the charges of sodomy.

Elsewhere, the trials and punishments were of individuals, or of small groups – but with equally flawed judicial procedures. (Typically, the prosecutor was also judge; torture was widely used to extract confessions;  and church and state benefited by sharing the property of those convicted).  These were sometimes under the auspices of the Inquisition, sometimes of the state – but always inspired by church preaching against the “sodomites”.

The severity of the pursuit and punishments varied from place to place.  Venice was one of the harshest, with several hundred executions from 1422, until the persecution finally ended. In Spain, it was calculated that in total there were more burnings for homosexuality than for heresy. Executions also applied in the New World – in both North America (where some of the colonists were accused and convicted) and South (where it was the indigenous locals who suffered for the Spanish prejudices) .  Altogether, it is likely that executions in Southern Europe, either by or with the collaboration of the Church, amounted to several thousand men.

Protestant Europe

After the Reformation, the practice of burning homosexuals spread to Northern Europe and some of the new Protestant territories, where the practice was sometimes use as a pretext to attack Catholic clergy: in Belgium, several Franciscans were burnt for sodomy, as was a Jesuit in Antwerp (in 1601).

The persecution finally began to ease from the late 17th century, when some “softening” became evident by the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, some executions continued throughout the eighteenth century, to as late as 1816 in  England. The statutory provision for the death penalty was not removed in England until 1861.

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries.  It can, however, be held responsible for it part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith.  It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

Sources:

Allen R Schindler Jr,. Naval Gay Martyr

Radioman Petty Officer Third Class in the United States Navy. On October 27, 1992, he was killed in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by shipmate Terry M. Helvey, who acted with the aid of an accomplice, Charles Vins, in what Esquire called a “brutal murder”. Schindler was gay, and had previously complained to naval authorities of harassment, including death threats in comments such as “There’s a faggot on this ship and he should die”. Conscious of the dangers to his personal safety, he had begun separation process to leave the Navy, but his superiors insisted he remain on his ship until the process was finished.  The good military man that he was, he obeyed orders, and remained in the Navy, waiting to be discharged. Instead, he was murdered for being gay – a modern gay martyr, killed for not hiding his sexuality.
Prior to the attack, President Bill Clinton had promised to sign an executive order to permit gay service members to serve openly in the military – but did not keep his promise. Perhaps it was encouragement from this suggestion of a change in the military climate that encouraged him to complaint to his chain of command, but if so his action backfired badly. Instead of protection from dismissal, his commanding officer simply threatened him with a dishonourable discharge – and within days, news of the complaint, and with it confirmation that he was indeed gay, was public knowledge all over the ship.

On the day of the attack, Helvey and Vins had purchased (between just two people) two large bottles of whiskey, a bottle of schnapps, a bottle of vodka, orange juice and a six-pack of beer and went drinking in a park, where they saw Schindler, and followed him into a public restroom. In a completely unprovoked attack, Helvey assaulted Schindler with fists and feet, leaving him so badly mutilated that medical evidence described the body as similar in its wounds to those that might be sustained by being stomped on by a horse, or from a high speed car crash, or even in a low speed aircraft accident. The body was so badly mutilated, that Schindler’s family were unable to recognize him, except by tattoo marks on his arms.

During the trial Helvey denied that he killed Schindler because he was gay, stating, “I did not attack him because he was homosexual” but evidence presented by Navy investigator, Kennon F. Privette, from the interrogation of Helvey the day after the murder showed otherwise. “He said he hated homosexuals. He was disgusted by them,” Privette said. On killing Schindler, Privette quoted Helvey as saying: “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.”



After his death, the naval authorities that had failed to protect him, continued to behave shamefully, initially denying that they had received any complaints of harassment. They refused to speak publicly about the case or to release the Japanese murder report, and were “less than forthcoming” even to Schindler’s mother.

Truth however, will out. Helvey and Vins eventually faced a trial in open court. Helvey received a life sentence for murder, and Vins served a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy in plea bargain to lesser offences, including failure to report a serious crime and to testify truthfully against Terry Helvey. The captain who kept the incident quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida.

The case was one of the impulses to the passing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which for all its manifest faults, was initially an attempt to provide some form of protection to gays and lesbians in the military (provided they “didn’t tell”.

(Also see Kittredge Cherry’s reflection at Jesus in Love, and a wonderful painting of The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer)

Sources:

Allen J Schnidler, Wikipedia,
Allen Schindler, in memoriam, at Auschwitz.dk
Allen R. Schindler, Jr.,Petty Officer Third Class, United States Navyat Matt and Andrej Koymasky’s Memorial Hall

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