Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Holy Boat: Interfaith Pride - Bart Mijland

This is the second piece in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

Anyone who’s ever been to the Dutch city of Amsterdam knows the incredible views that the canals have to offer. They are a photographer’s dream. They tell stories of a colonial past, tolerance and a water managing people. Perhaps lesser known to the general audience is the fact that the canals play an important role in the annual Gay Pride week in Amsterdam. Every August dozens of colorful boats float through the waterways of the city center. On them you find hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people from all over the country, and beyond.

Although this Canal Parade is often depicted by the media as merely a festive occasion where muscular guys dance around on boats in revealing clothes, it isn’t just fun and play. The pride parade goes beyond these stereotypical images. In the past, for example, the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) initiated the
Wanted for Love boat to send out a clear message: no one in this world should face criminal charges for same sex love.1 Other examples are the Turkish and Moroccan boats to promote LGTBQ emancipation in those communities, and the Pink in Blue boat to advance acceptance within the Dutch police force.

This year, for the first time ever, I will participate in the parade. Who would’ve thought? Except for the one time I attended Gay Pride Tel Aviv as a journalist, I have never even been to a pride event. Not even in my own capital. That is about to change though, thanks to a unique and groundbreaking initiative: the
World Religion Boat, or Holy Boat. The initiators invited me to represent humanism and I happily accepted their invitation, as I feel inspired by their vision: “We want to create a world religion boat where all major religions are represented by their respective gay or gay friendly leaders and by members of each community in joyful celebration. Where the leaders will symbolically show their solidarity for gay rights and human rights by participating in the parade on this boat.”2

Obviously, humanism isn’t a religion (even though some humanists are religious or spiritual). Thus, when I approached Reverend Barbara Rogoski with the idea of including a humanist on the boat, it took some careful consideration and dialogue. We agreed that as LGBTQs we find inspiration in our respective traditions for seeking peaceful coexistence with faithful others. I applaud Reverend Rogoski and her team for their inclusive, interfaith approach. For me, a humanist, setting foot on the
Holy Boat might be less courageous than for some of my religious counterparts. In general, LGBTQs are accepted within my community, even though we might face certain degrees of exclusion and rejection. But the act of standing up for LGBTQ equality will not be seen as a bold political move.

The true significance - for me - lies in the bridge I want to build between people of different faiths. It is no secret that some humanists have great difficulty in accepting religion as a positive force for emancipation. Even though I share some of their concerns, I feel a greater need to reach out to those who are working to take their religious community - and society in general - in the right direction. To give them moral support, but also to show fellow humanists that we have a lot in common with those we tend to criticize, frown upon or even reject too easily. It is possible to work together, not only on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, but also on issues of social justice and climate change, for example. But, just like every other leader and activist on the Holy Boat, I will not fully represent each and every individual member of my faith group. The group is too heterogeneous for that to ever happen.

What brand of humanism will I be representing? Obviously, it is the kind that takes religious/ world view diversity as a given, and seeks a pluralist approach to it. It draws inspiration from faithful LGBTQs like Chris D. Stedman (Yale Humanists) and Irshad Manji (Moral Courage) who seek interfaith cooperation. It is also a brand that seeks to be inclusive in other ways. If our goal is to humanize the world, to make it a better place for all humans, we have to assess very carefully what that means. My brand of humanism aims to deconstruct racist, homophobic and sexist structures and tendencies in a (self-)critical way. It is yearning to break down privileges for only the healthiest and ablest people among us. It sees the intersectional approach (Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw) as essential in the process of humanization of our societies, organizations and minds. It seeks a world where all people can freely enjoy basic human capabilities (Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum). Finally, my humanism moves away from being human-centered, and towards a planetary ethic (Whitney A. Bauman). In short, my kind of humanism shares the motto of the Holy Boat: Coexist in Freedom.

One Gregorian month after Eid al-Fitr, leaders and activists from various faiths will step on a Holy Boat to celebrate religious diversity and support LGBTQ rights. For me it is a privilege to be a part of that. I hope you will join us in spirit, or as one of the hundreds of thousands spectators!

Bart Mijland
is a humanistic scholar, pluralistic thinker and works as a knowledge broker on matters of diversity and sustainable development. He is a contributor to Dutch interfaith / cultural platform Nieuwwij.nl. In addition, he advises the Youth Council of COC, a leading LGBTQI organization in the Netherlands.

You can find more on the World Religion Boat and how you can support it via: http://www.worldreligionboat.com/

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