Kyiv Pride 2018

The Orthodox Church of Georgia, one of the world’s most ancient Orthodox Christian communities, has adopted a unique way to give the middle finger to the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia each year in May: it observes “Family Purity Day” on the same date by staging a religious procession through Tbilisi and persuading several hundreds of couples to get married in mass weddings around the capital.

Despite Patriarch Ilia’s disclaimer that the event is not “against someone,” and that the “Church is distancing itself from any kinds of violence,” it seems clear that he instituted the observance as the Georgian Church’s annual anti-LGBTQ protest. In showing no pastoral concern whatever for the united cry of queer people around the globe to halt the physical and discursive violence that culminates far too often in their beatings, rapes, imprisonment, expulsion from jobs and homes, deprivation of medical services and police protections, deaths, and suicides, the Patriarch and his Church consent to this violence by their silent refusal to confront it. Silence equals consent.

Given Ilia’s agenda, it was no coincidence that, in 2016, Georgia became the first predominantly Orthodox country to host the World Congress of Families—identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch Staff as an anti-LGBT hate group. As reported by the SPLC, the notorious American Orthodox priest Josiah Trenham traveled to Tbilisi and “delivered one of the more virulently anti-LGBT speeches, linking homosexuality to predatory and promiscuous behavior.”   


Father Josiah Trenham of Riverside CA

The SPLC’s summary of Trenham’s oration concludes:

Trenham’s apocalyptic rhetoric got a round of applause when he stated that the prophet Muhammad called for the execution of anyone practicing sodomy. “Stand firm in your faith,” he exhorted attendees. “Tell the LGBT tolerance tyrants, this lavender mafia, these homofascists, these rainbow radicals, that they are not welcome to promote their anti-religious and anti-civilizational propaganda in your nations.”

So much for the Georgian Church’s “distance” from anti-LGBTQ violence. These kinds of dog whistles that queer people are better off dead echo loud and clear around the world as a signal of implicit permission to sociopaths in every society to maim, rape, and murder them, or bully them to the point of suicide.

The Ukrainian Church will soon have an opportunity to perform better than her sister church in Georgia.

Kyiv Pride takes place June 14-22 this year, and culminates in the Equality March on Sunday, June 23. Will the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) ignore it, send out the troops of clergy and laity to obstruct it…or seek ways to learn about the lives, hopes, fears, and aspirations of Ukraine’s LGBTQ citizens—more of whom are Orthodox than we might imagine?

Because of my articles at both the Kyiv Post and Orthodoxy in Dialogue, a few LGBTQ Ukrainians (and Russians)—some devout Orthodox Christians, others not—have reached out to me privately for encouragement and support. A young Ukrainian man who is studying theology would like to marry a man, but is resigned to monasticism as his only real option. Another has just traveled with his partner to Denmark to have a civil same-sex marriage ceremony. I have received similar correspondence from others.

It seems safe to assume that these few contacts represent but the tip of a much larger iceberg in Ukraine.

In my recent Orthodoxy, sexuality, and gender in Ukraine, I set forth two overlapping spheres in which Metropolitan Epiphanius of the OCU can provide bold leadership on LGBTQ issues. The first pertains to the Church’s collaborative role in creating a more just society where all Ukrainians have their rightful and equal place, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The second has to do with exploring these same questions from a theological perspective.

The month of Kyiv Pride presents a perfect occasion for Epiphanius to begin building bridges to the LGBTQ members of both his Church and Ukrainian society. If I had his ear, I would urge him to extend a public invitation to LGBTQ individuals and agencies to meet personally with him and some of the more enlightened clergy and laity of Ukraine’s Open Orthodoxy Network.

We can envision a format where the representatives of the Church sit and listen while the guests take turns describing—as I said above—their lives, their hopes, their fears, and their aspirations, and also their need for the Church’s advocacy in the public domain. Those guests who belong to the Church must be assured that they will not be subjected to any kind of ecclesiastical discipline for their courage in coming out of the closet.

The formal listening session can be followed by a brotherly discussion among hosts and guests, and finally refreshments and mingling to give participants a chance to become acquainted as brother and sister human beings equally beloved of God.

What a supremely simple but astonishingly grand gesture of love this would be! 

This article appeared earlier today at the Kyiv Post.
See the extensive Ukraine and Sexuality and Gender sections in our Archives by Author.

Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian of Ukrainian and Lemko descent on his mother’s side, a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, the founding editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and a contributor of religious commentary at the Kyiv Post. He holds a BA in Sexuality Studies from York University and an MA in Theology from Regis College, both in Toronto, and is an alumnus of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. Earlier in life he completed the course work for the MDiv at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary near New York City.

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