Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Intersex community have accused some religious leaders of hypocrisy and would like to see more acceptance in churches.
“If you come out in church to say that I’m a member of the LGBTI community, you are demonised, you are told that you need prayers. You are told that you have a demon which needs to be exorcised yet those same leaders are committing so many sins hiding behind their faith,” said a member of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe who identified himself as David.
He was speaking during a recent online media café on Religion and Sexuality Digital Conversations launch.
“In most cases you are shamed publicly yet those men of God vakudya vana muchurch (male Christian leaders are sexually abusing the children in their congregations).
“Let’s say you were serving in church, you are stripped of that responsibility and everyone is told about your acts and no one takes a moment to try and understand us,” revealed David.
David said the hypocrisy of the church leaders is shown in their evil avarice which sees no when members of the LGBTI community are wealthy and contribute contribute significantly to church coffers.
“You will see that most of these religious leaders are only interested in money but if you don’t have money, it’s a different story altogether,” said David.
Another GALZ member who identified himself as Sylvester said there has been some progress in engendering acceptance of the LGBTI community.
“When someone says they are a member of the LGBTI community, you hear them say let’s pray from him, what are they praying for?” he said.
Sylvester said that in most cases in the Christian faith; Bible verses are used selectively, mostly to criticise issues to do with homosexuality yet that’s not the only issue that is talked about.
“Verses that talk of homosexuality like we can look in Leviticus; are taken literally but other verses are not given as much attention.
“There is selective application of the Bible which I believe is not right, we need to have honest conversations about this issue,” said Sylvester.
Reverend Maxwell Kapachawo founder and national coordinator of Zimbabwe Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS (Zinerela) who is also one of the first religious leaders to openly disclose his HIV status called on his colleagues “not to demonise what they don’t know.”
He said religious leaders should first understand LGBTI issues before they start judging people.
“In religion we are not called to judge so you (members of the LGBTI) need to help us understand you, even how we prepare our sermons. It is not too late (to understand about LGBTI issues), it can be achieved.
“We need to sit down side by side, without any name calling but as one people without judging because this is a topical issue, it is a hot issue.
“We are still flesh and blood, we are still human beings, no man is perfect so there should not be any stigma, let’s drop the judgmental attitude,” he said.
Reverend Kapachawo said knowledge can empower people to think different as has happened with perceptions on HIV.
He said in the early days the moment one was declared HIV positive, it was automatically assumed that they had been promiscuous.
Canon Professor Gideon Byamugisha from Uganda who was also part of the meeting called on religious leaders to practise love as was required by their faith.
He said only God had the power to point fingers and only he can judge.
Onward Gibson an AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) fellow who presented the Digital Conversations video said the aim is to increase access to HIV prevention services for key populations including the LGBTI community, sex workers, drug users and adolescent girls and young women who are most marginalised.
He said another objective was to probe what religious people think should be done in terms of ending HIV among key populations especially the LGBTI community.
Statistics on LGBTI people in Zimbabwe are not readily available as some of them do not openly identify with their sexuality fearing social persecution. It is therefore difficult to accurately analyse how the key populations are affected by issues like HIV and how they fit into national response programmes. As there is sexual intersection with the majority heterosexual population, it is in everyone's interest to ensure that everyone gets the same care and attention.
“One of the issues identified is stigma and discrimination so we did a video because we wanted to make sure those religious leaders that were speaking on behalf or speaking for or being allies of the LGBTI community especially, show their commitment in terms of what they want to be done.
“And one of the issues they spoke about is that this community should not be discriminated when they seek for HIV services.
“As you know the LGBTI community even when you talk about STIs they also suffer from anal infections and so on.
“And some of the religious leaders also spoke strongly about decriminalisation, they said members of the LGBTI community should be able to enjoy their freedoms because when they do their things in hiding, there is more detriment in terms of their health, even the health of those that they live with,” he said.
He said the time had come for honest conversations even in churches so that so that people are not forced to be who they are not.
The Digital Conversations video which was first posted as a teaser on some social media platforms attracted mixed feelings. Some people feel Zimbabwe is not yet ready for such conversations while some feel time is right.
“Some people felt that they (LGBTI community) are forcing things, while some said they are doing it for money.
“Some said we are in the 20th century, it’s not only in Zim and the members of the community are portraying who they really are,” said Onward.