Faith and sexuality dialogue unites

28 August 2017

A recent event brought together over 100 Victorian faith and community leaders to support a greater sense of belonging for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse and intersex (LGBTI) Victorians from diverse backgrounds.

Held on Thursday 17 August 2017 at the University of Melbourne, the Victorian Multicultural Commission supported the Victorian Government forum on inclusion and combating complex discrimination for LGBTI Victorians from culturally and religiously diverse backgrounds.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians are twice as likely to experience high to very high levels of psychological distress than their heterosexual peers*, alongside widely known higher self harm and suicide rates. In addition to these experiences, culturally and religiously diverse LGBTI Victorians can face rejection from their families, their cultural communities, their places of worship and the wider LGBTI community, as well as the challenge of finding secure and culturally appropriate services.

Facilitated in the first half of the day by Victorian Multicultural Commission Chairperson Ms Helen Kapalos, the forum explored the perspectives of LGBTI people of faith, mental health impacts – including the impact of conversion therapy, issues of religious tolerance, discrimination in faith contexts and successful approaches to inclusion in faith communities.

In a packed event, the forum heard directly from LGBTI people of faith, Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith leaders, the LGBTI multicultural sector and leading researchers of LGBTI wellbeing.

Australia’s first openly gay imam, Imam Nur Warsame, addressed the forum on providing a safe space to explore faith and sexuality issues at his confidential support group, Marhaba. Approximately 1800 members from the LGBTI Muslim community across Australia and New Zealand have sought support from Marhaba – which means ‘welcome’ in Arabic – since its establishment in 2014.

Attendees and speakers at the forum signed a joint Statement of Support reinforcing a commitment to treat LGBTI Victorians with respect and compassion, and calling on Victoria’s communities, including faith communities, to take a strong stand against discrimination in all its forms.

Ms Kapalos said open dialogue and genuine compassion was the pathway to inclusion.

“Today’s gathering is a symbolic reflection of the kind of community we should always be.

“Our diverse perspectives and experiences mean that we will not always agree on everything, but we can talk and listen to each other from a place of fairness, humility and kindness.

“And while it may remind us of our differences, listening and engaging from a place of compassion highlights our common values and our shared humanity – all of which bind us together,” said Ms Kapalos.

Ms Kapalos joined the Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott, Minister for Equality and Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley, and Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality Ro Allen at the forum.

The forum follows a 2016 roundtable supported by the Commission and convened by the Victorian Government, which brought together faith and community leaders on the inclusion of LGBTI youth in the state’s faith communities.


*Leonard, W., Pitts, M., Mitchell, A., Lyons, A., Smith, A., Patel, S., Couch, M., and Barrett, A. (2012) ‘Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transfer (GLBT) Australians’ Monograph Series Number 86. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University. 

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