‘Don’t ask’ – US Must Act, Not Just Talk Human Rights, Dean Says

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Eminent theologian and dean of divinity school calls on Obama administration to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell"

“We ask men and women to give their lives in support of the Constitution and yet they are limited in how they may live those lives."

“If the military’s role is to defend democracy, it must live the ideals it seeks to uphold. Asking soldiers to lie about anything, including their sexuality, corrupts the high ideals serving members are asked to swear to,” said the Very Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Boston.

Calling for the Obama administration to act swiftly to back judicial and Pentagon support for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which prohibits gay and lesbian people from openly serving in the armed services, Ragsdale pointed out: “We ask men and women to give their lives in support of the Constitution and yet they are limited in how they may live those lives.

“As Americans we have a constitution that inspires the world; we condemn homophobic acts in Uganda and Malawi where being openly gay carries the risk of arrest or death but our own house is not yet in order.’’

Ragsdale said that some of their seminarians work, once they have graduated, with serving soldiers in war zones, on military bases and those who are re-adjusting to civilian life. “We experience, through them, the highly traumatic impact of war and human suffering; soldiers do not need any extra burdens, like discrimination, placed on them. This week alone, the United States lost six soldiers in an attack in Afghanistan, such a tremendous loss barely makes headlines anymore and yet the loss to their families, friends, unit members, and society of productive, young people with noble ideals is a loss no society can afford.”

On Thursday night, December 2, EDS will host an event to raise awareness about rising homophobia in Uganda. Recently, Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone published the names and photographs of 100 gay Ugandans, including EDS Master of Theology student, Val Kalende and Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, with the headline: “Hang Them.” Kalende said the newspaper is being sued by a Ugandan group called The Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. The EDS event is calling on the public to send postcards to Amnesty International in Kampala to protest the newspaper’s action.

The Ugandan tabloid’s action has caused consternation because it is reminiscent of radio broadcasts in Rwanda, prior to the April, 1999 genocide in which close to a million people were killed in six weeks. In those radio broadcasts Hutu’s were encouraged to act against minority Tutsi’s. The broadcasters of those programmes have since been prosecuted by the International War Crimes Tribunal.

There has been a move, so far unsuccessful, in the Ugandan parliament over the past year to introduce death by hanging for those found to be homosexual. Gay rights are restricted in other African countries too; there was recently a highly-publicised arrest of a Malawian gay couple who married and homophobic statements by government leaders are common in Namibia and Zimbabwe. “We fear, and have reason to know”, says Ragsdale, “ that some US churches are supporting the most repressive elements in these countries. It is, therefore, all the more incumbent on people of faith here to acknowledge and support all those Africans who are working so hard to promote justice for LGBT people in their countries, even as we continue to push our own country to embrace just policies here at home.”

Gay rights are enshrined in the South African constitution, but the South African Press Association reported that the Minister of Arts and Culture in that country recently walked out of an exhibition by gay photographer Zanele Muholi because she said she was repulsed by photographs of women kissing.

The Uganda LGBT campaign is being co-sponsored with EDS by the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. The awareness raising event will be held at Thursday, December 2 at 7:00 pm in Room 2A/ 250 of the Sherrill Library at the Episcopal Divinity School, 99 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA.

*The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, is one of the world’s most progressive divinity schools. The Episcopal Divinity School was formed in 1974 with the merger of Philadelphia Divinity School (founded in 1857) and Episcopal Theological School (founded 1867). It was among the first to accommodate and train black priests in the Episcopal Church and the first to train women for ministry. The Episcopal Divinity School has as its key commitments: “To live out the Gospel values of justice, compassion, and reconciliation; to liberate institutions and people from the grip of all forms of oppression; and to lead the Church and society with courage and compassion in an ever-changing world.”

Episcopal Divinity School

99 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 01238

Contact: Charlene Smith

617.682.1502 or mobile: 617.460.6239




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