From February to May 2016, I was involved in a qualitative research collaboration with APCOM. Our aim was to investigate the impact of mainstream Christian institutions on the accessibility of MSM, TG and PLHIV to health services in the Asia Pacific. Both elite and grassroots interviews, in person and online, were carried out in Singapore, the Philippines, India, Hong Kong and Tonga. The findings, which were published in a Discussion Paper entitled Christianity, Sexual Diversity and Access to Health Services, revealed both condemnatory and supportive attitudes from institutional, communal and popular Christianity in relation to gender variance and sexual diversity. This situation created uneven accessibility to health services for MSM, TG and PLHIV. Many interviewees focused on the gospel message of love and inclusivity to affirm and support the prevention and treatment of HIV among marginalised communities. They called on churches in the Asia Pacific to adopt a more loving, compassionate and inclusive approach towards issues of gender, sexuality and sexual health, including greater networking with governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society movements.
The Discussion Paper recommended the principles of love seeking understanding and listening from the heart as basic frameworks for churches in negotiating issues of gender variance, sexual diversity and HIV. It also suggested practical steps that churches could take such non-discriminatory education on gender and sexuality, open dialogue and co-journeying with MSM, TG and PLHIV as well as a deep listening to their issues, anti-discriminatory statements, collaborating with educational institutions to end bullying, enlisting the help of biblical and theological experts to learn of affirming and supportive Christian interpretations, allowing more MSM, TG and PLHIV to take up ministerial and leadership positions, and working together with them in issues of human rights, social justice, and HIV awareness, care and treatment.
This joint research project has produced other publications aside from the Discussion Paper. I published ‘From Polluted to Prophetic Bodies: Theo-Pastoral Lessons from the Lived Experiences of Gay, HIV-Positive Christian Men in Singapore’ in Practical Theology (Routledge) in 2017. This article draws on the faith experiences of Singaporean PLHIV whom I interviewed. In 2018, I presented a paper entitled ‘Looking Queerly Through the Heart: Towards a Southeast Asian Praxis of Doing Church with LGBTIQ/PLHIV’ at Monash University Malaysia’s International Conference on Gender and Sexuality in Asia. It will be included in an edited volume alongside other papers from the Conference. Kristine C. Meneses, Donald E. Messer and I co-wrote ‘An Ecclesiological Praxis of Inclusivity toward Sexual Diversity and HIV: Learning from Singapore and the Philippines’, which appeared in The International Journal of Public Theology (Brill) in 2019. Our focus was on identifying the principles of an inclusive church based on elite interviews with three church leaders in Singapore and the Philippines. I recently submitted ‘Transforming Church in the Asia Pacific: Narratives of a Hospitable Ecclesiology by Philippine and Tongan Transgender Women’ to QUEST: Studies on Religion & Culture in Asia, the open access journal of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Joseph N. Goh is a Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia. He holds a PhD in gender, sexuality and theology, and his research interests include queer and LGBTI studies, human rights and sexual health issues, diverse theological and religious studies, and qualitative research. Goh is the author of numerous publications, including Becoming a Malaysian Trans Man: Gender, Society, Body and Faith (2020) and Living Out Sexuality and Faith: Body Admissions of Malaysian Gay and Bisexual Men (2018).