Jehovah’s Witnesses views on LGBTQIA+ people

Have you been the victim of hatred?

If not, you have likely observed it in one form or another. The news is filled with reports of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia​—expressions of hatred based on race, sexuality, or nationality. As a result, many governments are passing laws against various hate crimes.

The Watchtower—Public Edition, no. 1 2022

If we isolate ourselves from people whom we view negatively, we may reinforce our prejudices. And if we limit our friends to people who are like us, we may tend to think that our way is the only acceptable way of thinking, feeling, and acting.

Awake!, no. 3 2020

Jehovah’s Witnesses often present themselves as a diverse, welcoming and loving community that is free from prejudice and hate. The above excerpts of two of their most widely distributed publications, aimed to the public, seem to present this idea. However, far from being an inclusive group, Jehovah’s Witnesses are clearly homophobic, transphobic and intersexphobic. Let’s see why.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are homophobic

Jehovah’s Witnesses will claim they are not homophobic. They base this claim in saying that they “hate the sin, not the sinner” and that while the Bible condemns homosexual acts, people can choose not to act on their desires.

There is a difference between rejecting homosexual conduct and rejecting homosexual people. The Bible tells Christians to be respectful of all kinds of people. (1 Peter 2:17). But that does not mean that Christians must accept all kinds of conduct.

Awake!, no. 4 2016 (italics are original)

While the Bible disapproves of homosexual acts, it does not condone hatred of homosexuals or homophobia. Instead, Christians are directed to “respect everyone.”​—1 Peter 2:​17, Good News Translation.

Bible Questions Answered, article 16

However, this stance is still homophobic. Homophobia is defined as much by the aversion or discrimination against LGB+ people as it is defined against their sexual orientation —or “desire”, to use Jehovah’s Witnesses’ terminology. Condemning homosexual desire is still homophobia.

Homophobia: irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or gay people. (bolds added)

Homophobia: an aversion or hostility to, disdain for, or fear of gay sexual orientation or gay people. (bolds added)

There are numerous references that can be used to prove Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homophobic stance. A simple search on the Watchtower Online Library under the term “homosexuality” will bring dozens of examples where homosexuality is condemned in unequivocal terms.

One of them, depicted below, was published in The Watchtower—Study Edition of March 2022. In this magazine, possibly the first depiction of the “Pride Flag” in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ printed literature is presented as part of the “old personality” one has to move away from —as unacceptable for Jehovah’s Witnesses as heavy drinking, smoking, gambling or playing violent videogames. Interestingly, this magazine was published mere weeks before The Watchtower—Public Edition no. 1 2022, quoted at the beginning which was calling out homophobia as a form of hate.

An image depicting a man walking away from a series of items and a garment, representing the “old personality”, used in The Watchtower—Study Edition, March 2022. These items include tobacco, alcoholic drinks, poker chips, a Rainbow Flag and a generic 18+ violent videogame.

The Watchtower—Study Edition, March 2022, depicted the six-colour Rainbow Flag, an icon for LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion, as part of the “fleshly attitudes and practices” of the “old personality”.

Paragraph 5 included a reference to changing one’s identity: “But when we strip off the old personality, fleshly attitudes and practices no longer control us. They no longer identify who we are as a person.”

The Watchtower—Study Edition, March 2022 (bolds added)

Endorsing “conversion therapy”

So-called “conversion therapy” is any structured and systematic attempt to change the sexuality or gender identity of an individual, whether it is through intrusive or non-intrusive means, including psychological, physical or spiritual interventions.

While Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have a formal conversion therapy program, Jehovah’s Witnesses who have homosexual “desires” are expected to change their sexuality. Not acting on it (or, see quote below, not “having physical contact with others”) is not enough if one is still a “homosexual in [the] heart”.

Similarly, sometimes married or single men will tell counselors that they are no longer homosexuals since they have left off actual physical contact with others. But they should examine themselves honestly and fairly. The New Encyclopædia Britannica defines a homosexual as “a person who in fantasy or reality habitually prefers sexual relations with a person of the same sex.” Thus, a male who regularly harbors desires for other males is yet a homosexual in his heart. (Compare Matthew 5:27, 28.) That is what he really wants. He must yet work to elevate his thinking.​—Phil. 4:8, 9.

The Watchtower, 15 August 1974, p. 488-489 (italics original, bolds added)

This stance might seem as outdated as the magazine it was printed on. However Jehovah’s Witnesses condemnation of homosexuality going beyond the homosexual act and requiring fixing one’s personality or identity was more recently highlighted by Governing Body member, M. Stephen Lett in his closing speech for the Saturday afternoon session of 2020 “Always Rejoice”! Convention. In his talk, “Making Disciples Now Prepares Us for New World Disciple-Making”, Stephen Lett included an example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses’ would have to help individuals who will be resurrected as homosexuals in the New World to change their personality —or, in other words, change their sexuality.

There’ll be many others who will come back who will have to abandon their former way of life. I was thinking as an example a homosexual. Now this former homosexual, comes back in the resurrection and he really thought and he was taught and he came to believe that god accepted him with that lifestyle. But now, he’s going to learn about Jehovah’s moral standards. And he’s going to learn that Jehovah will not lower his standard to accommodate us. We have to come up to Jehovah’s standard. Will he change? Will he adjust? It’ll be up to him. But you, brothers and sisters, will help such ones. To enjoy life eternal all must learn to walk in Jehovah’s righteous ways and willingly choose to do so.

Governing Body member M. Stephen Lett in the video “Making Disciples Now Prepares Us for New World Disciple-Making”, min. 20:00 to 20:55 (bolds added)

Jehovah’s Witnesses are transphobic

The word “transgender” does not exist in Jehovah’s Witnesses publicly accessible literature. This does not mean, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have a stance on transgender and nonbinary identities. Jehovah’s Witnesses view on transgender and nonbinary identities are often conflated with their view on homosexuality, or referred to with terms such as “cross-dressing” or “transsexual” which are now out of use or used in very specific contexts.

Possibly, the most clear statement published on the matter by Jehovah’s Witnesses is the following quote from The Watchtower in 1974:

The increase of transsexualism is but one more facet of the spread of practices “contrary to nature” characterizing much of this present period. (Compare Romans 1:26.) The remedy for those with such inclinations is not surgery but a change in outlook, ‘being made new in the force actuating their minds’ with the aid of God’s Word.​—Eph. 4:22-24.

The Watchtower, 15 June 1974, p. 360 (sic)

In the same way as Jehovah’s Witnesses endorse conversion of sexuality, they endorse conversion of gender identity for transgender individuals. Transgender people will be expected to detransition if they want to become Jehovah’s Witnesses, and if their transition included medical transitioning, to do all steps practically possible to undo that transitioning.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are intersexphobic

The word “intersex” refers to individuals who are born with sexual characteristics that are not clearly defined as male or female in a species. This includes genetic markers, hormones and gonads with which an individual is born or develops naturally.

When the word “intersex” is searched for in the Watchtower Online Library, only one reference appears in the old Index of publications for an article on the the 8 March, 1953 issue of Awake!. In the article “Can Surgery Change Sex?” the magazine makes claims such as:

All humans begin life in the womb with double sex. In the fifth week the sex glands appear in the fetus and in another week or two they take on the characteristic of either the male or the female. Due to man’s imperfect, dying condition, because of the transgression of his first parents, we find that the propagation of the human species is not always orderly. The sex chromosomes, which carry the decision, may become confused or mixed up and cause a true hermaphrodite to be born; that is, a person having one male and one female gland instead of two of one kind, and also having the external organs of both sexes. […]

Concerning this situation an authority, Dr. Hinman, states: “Most children with intersexual genitalia [external sex organs] can be converted into acceptable boys or acceptable girls by appropriate surgical measures,” ‘present-day surgical technique allowing construction of external genitalia suitable for the chosen sex.’ -Am. Med. Assn. Journal, June 2, 1951 […]

And certainly the phenomena of intersex should be viewed, not with a morbid curiosity but with the same compassion that we would view a hunchback, as an unfortunate victim of a quirk of imperfect nature.

Awake!, 8 March 1953, p. 21-23 (bolds added)

Arguably the product of outdated understanding which still is prevalent today in most of society, intersex people are presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses as “imperfect” —a byproduct of inherited sin. While they claim to show compassion to intersex people, failing to recognize that genetic and gonadic sex are not strictly binary, endorsing genital reconstruction for children without their consent, and comparing intersex people to hunchbacks as “unfortunate victims of a quirk of imperfect nature” simply builds on prejudice against intersex people.

Deliberately hypocritical

Certainly, as views on LGBTQ+ people continue to change and LGBTQ+ equality improves, the front-line message Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to present has needed to be watered down so that they can attract new joiners. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see publications targeted to a public audience (such as those quoted at the beginning of this article) to refer in general terms to discrimination —even on the grounds of sexual orientation— negatively. Notably, however, the articles mentioned above, use subtle ways of presenting an idea, while defending the opposite.

For example, while The Watchtower—Public Edition, no. 1 2022 mentions “homophobia” negatively inside its first article as part of a list of other forms of hatred such as “racism, homophobia, and xenophobia​—expressions of hatred based on race, sexuality, or nationality,” it doesn’t mention it again in the rest of the magazine. The magazine is entirely dedicated to forms of hate, and contains numerous examples of how this is expressed against people because of their nationality, cultural background or colour of their skin —but fails to provide a single example of homophobia, and how to prevent it. In this way, the magazine can give an impression of defending LGBTQ+ people and their human rights, while in reality is hiding Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homophobic stance.

The other quote at the beginning is taken from Awake!, no. 3 2020 which doesn’t mention “homosexuality” or “homophobia”, but does talk in general terms about “prejudice” and how prejudice does not necessarily need to be displayed against people for who they are, but also for how they act. It encourages readers to expand their circle of friends to avoid thinking “that our way is the only acceptable way of thinking, feeling, and acting.” Since action is the focus of the stock answer of Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to their view of homosexuality, this could potentially be used to defend support for LGBTQ+ people. To avoid that, the same magazine also subtly added the following side box, creating a logical paradox in their argument:

A word of caution!

Some people choose lifestyles with habits that are harmful to themselves and to others. Hence, we should be selective when expanding our circle of friends. It is not prejudicial to avoid friendship with unscrupulous individuals who behave in a depraved or offensive manner. While you should not seek to harm people who violate your moral standards or seek to deprive them of their rights, it is wise to exclude them from your circle of friends.​—Proverbs 13:20.

Awake!, no. 3 2020 (bolds added)

In other words, it’s important to not be prejudiced when choosing friends, so long as they can reinforce our prejudice.

This hypocritical “doublespeak” of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in particular related to homosexuality, even made it to their video production. As recently as the 2018 “Be Courageous”! convention, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ intolerance was graphically depicted —and encouraged— in a video entitled “Future Events That Will Require Courage”. In the video, a fictional Witness named “Sally” was presented to a worldwide audience as an example of courage by standing up in front of a crowd to first, try to deflect the stance on homosexuality of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but, when pressed, for standing up and clearly spelling out the homophobia.

“What’s the problem?”

I respect that they have a right to choose their lifestyle, but as a Bible reader I—”

“Excuse me! I’m a Bible reader too! I go to church and our church is one of the biggest supporters of this marathon! So, what are you trying to say?” […]

“Well, I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we believe the Bible teaches sex is for a man and a woman who are married.”

“Intolerant people.”

Video “Future Events That Will Require Courage”, min. 2:41 to 4:55 (bolds added)

Interestingly, the cover image of the opening article of The Watchtower—Public Edition, no. 1 2022, quoted at the beginning of this post, depicted a man crying on the floor as three other figures look down on him with aggressive, hateful looks, clearly influenced by what they have seen through their mobile phones, TV broadcastings or printed press. Ironically, these three mediums are also the same that Jehovah’s Witnesses use to spread their homophobic, transphobic and intersexphobic ideas —through their JW site and mobile app, through JW videos and JW Broadcasting, and through books and magazines.

The cover image of the opening article in The Watchtower—Public Edition, no. 1 2022 entitled “We Can Conquer Hatred” depicting three people looking down negatively or aggressively on a crying man who is sitting on the floor. The three individuals are connected to some form of propagandistic media: one with a smartphone, another with a TV on and a third one with a newspaper.