* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.The Vatican positions trans people as dangerous and threatening and completely denies the existence of intersex people
Jessica Stern is executive director of OutRight Action International
On June 10, the Congregation for Catholic Education of the Vatican issued an extensive guidance document in a thinly veiled attack on women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community, thus continuing the institution’s long history of promoting exclusion based on sex and gender.
Entitled “Male and Female He Created Them”, the document states that gender is a binary, natural phenomenon imparted by God and rejects the more commonly understood concept that gender is a deeply personal experience shaped by social structures, norms and expectations far more than the sum of the body.
In so doing, the Vatican positions trans people as dangerous and threatening. Moreover, while placing strong emphasis on biology and the so-called “natural” way people are born, the document completely denies the existence of intersex people.
The document is allegedly about gender, but it also takes the opportunity to reinforce the Church’s outdated and narrow understanding of family. It references the “traditional family”, which it defines as a union between a man and a woman, thus arguing that there is only one form of legitimate family and specifically excluding LGBT+ people. This echoes language used by countries that position rainbow families as dangerous to children and rejects women who don’t want to or can’t become parents.
Most worryingly, the Congregation for Catholic Education has authority over all universities and schools with a Catholic affiliation. The document is framed as “guidance” rather than as a directive, but the authority of the Congregation for Catholic Education will undoubtedly lead to concrete and harmful action. I fear the chilling effect it will have on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer youth who are already at an alarmingly high risk of bullying, exclusion from education, and even suicide.
For centuries, LGBT+ people have been, and continue to be, subjected to violence and persecution, harmful and ineffective “conversion therapies”, and have had their basic human rights denied in the name of religion. This week’s release by the Vatican is a stark reminder of the role some organized religions have played in perpetuating these harms, and the role the Catholic Church continues to play in fuelling misinformation, sparking hate and violence against LGBT+ individuals.
The timing of the release of this document leaves me with no doubt about its intent. June is Pride month. This year we celebrate 50 years since the Stonewall riots. It is a month during which LGBT+ movements around the world celebrate progress and resilience, when attention is drawn to countering violence, when the spotlight shines on stories of LGBT+ people with a view to raising awareness, increasing understanding, and promoting progress.
The fact that the Catholic Church issued this document now, and not in February, when, according to its last page, it was written, can only be understood to be intentional. This is despicable and frankly perverse. I daresay it echoes some of the darkest history of this religious institution.
This move is symptomatic of the growing anti-gender movement, as well as the destructive efforts the Holy See has been unleashing at the United Nations and in other international fora in recent years, actively attacking women and LGBT+ people and undermining the entire human rights system in the name of so-called traditional values and morality.
Yet, the Holy See (as the Vatican is known at the UN) has permanent observer status, a privileged position that gives it almost government-like authority. This guidance document is a reminder that the Holy See does not deserve this privilege, and the UN should revoke its observer status.
The guidance document has more than a whiff of desperation to it from an institution grasping at straws in the face of all the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community will celebrate this month. Fifty years since Stonewall, Botswana joining the ranks of those who have newly toppled laws criminalizing same-sex relations; and Taiwan recognizing that love has no gender and legalizing equal marriage to name a few.
But as this document shows, there’s no doubt that we have a battle with backlash ahead of us before LGBT+ people everywhere can live free to be who they are, love whom they choose, free from fear of violence, hate and persecution.