Costa Rican church takes step toward welcoming LGBTQ community

By Lynette Wilson
Posted Mar 5, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] In its first step toward welcoming the LGBTQ community, the Episcopal Church of Costa Rica March 4 partnered with other religious and human rights organizations to sponsor a forum on faith, the Bible, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Episcopal Church of Costa Rica joined the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica, the U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign, and two local groups – the Diversity Movement and the Student Federation of the University of Costa Rica – for the event at the University of Costa Rica that included a screening of “Before God, We Are All Family,” a short film produced by HRC, followed by a panel discussion.

Costa Rica Bishop Héctor Monterroso, in an e-mail to ENS regarding the church’s participation in the event, said that openness is part of the identity of the Episcopal Church, and that includes supporting initiatives that respect human rights, efforts toward equality and accompanying people of faith in their struggle.

“In Costa Rica many people are talking about and campaigning in favor of human rights, particularly regarding the LGBT community,” he said. “At the same time, [the] country’s churches also are talking about LGBT rights, some positively and some not so positively.”

Richard Weinberg, who helped to organize the event, is on leave from his job as director of communications at Washington National Cathedral and has spent the last two months as a volunteer missionary serving the Episcopal Church of Costa Rica.

“The help of Richard and his own testimony coincided with an important moment in Costa Rican society and in the Episcopal Church,” said Monterroso, adding that Lent offers an appropriate time for the church to “reflect, listen and learn.”

The church’s participation in the forum marked its first public effort toward the full inclusion of LGBT people.

“The first step is to promote dialogue, learn, listen and declare what we always have said. We want to heal the wounds that many LGBT people have with religion. We should understand that they are God’s creation and God does not err. We must accept them as God created them,” said Monterroso in a press release announcing the event.

The film “Before God, We Are All Family,” details the lives of five Latino religious families who have lived with the pain of the church’s repressive teachings on sexuality and gender identity. Filmed in the United States and Puerto Rico, the film explores the experiences of LGBT people of profound faith who say they have no place in their churches of origin, and their parents and families who at times have felt they’ve had to choose between their religion and their loved ones.

“I believe that this forum, this space for dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the LGBT community, will help us discover how we can work together and how both communities can contribute to the building of the reign of God,” said Monterroso, in the e-mail. “What I would like to see clearly is that the members of the Episcopal Church eliminate all forms of discrimination toward LGBT people and whatever other kind of discrimination.”

As an American serving as a volunteer missionary in Costa Rica, Weinberg has remained conscious of his outsider status, but through cross-cultural exchanges, friendships and social media, he became acquainted with the local activist scene.

And although he didn’t arrive in Costa Rica with an agenda toward advancing LGBT rights, as he and Monterroso became better acquainted the issue surfaced naturally, he said. (Weinberg shared his experience in a first-person piece published by the Huffington Post.)

Washington National Cathedral and the Very Rev. Gary Hall, its dean, have long been involved in the struggle for LGBTQ full inclusion, both in the church and society. Weinberg co-chairs the cathedral’s LGBT ministry group.

“Bishop Héctor knew about my work, but wasn’t sure if I was interested in getting involved,” said Weinberg, adding also that he was curious about the bishop’s and the church’s position, especially since the Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador, a church in a country less developed than Costa Rica, has embraced the LGBT community.

Across Central and Latin America, LGBT people continue to suffer discrimination and violence, often with impunity.  And despite the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity violates international law, legal protections vary widely across the region.

The Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador is the only Episcopal church in the region to have an official LGBT ministry, which it started in 2009. The Episcopal Church is present in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador, and all have formed a covenant with the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

The hope in Costa Rica, said Weinberg, is that those in the local LGBT community who might feel called may step forward and the leaders might emerge.

“We’re planting a seed and hope that something grows,” said Weinberg.

 — Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service