Since January 2017, I have visited a number of schools, as a part of Stonewall’s role model programme.
I attended one particularly inclusive and welcoming school. The students were sitting their GCSEs later this year. They came from a range of social and faith backgrounds. The teacher who had organised the visit is gay. The atmosphere was open and accepting. He said that there was a lot of interest in my visit, as the students had read that I was gay and Christian. In their religious education lessons, they had been discussing sexuality. It was great to see a school taking such a proactive approach to issues around sexuality.
A number of students had come out as LGBT at the school. These students came from Christian, both Anglican and Catholic, as well as from Muslim backgrounds. At the end of my talk, I received a flood of questions, mainly around faith. They were well informed about the controversy that LGBT relationships have caused within faith communities and knew about the sexuality debate planned in the synod, the Church of England’s equivalent of a Parliament, which took place in mid-February. There are enlightened pockets of best practice, but Stonewall’s research shows that LGBT bullying continues to be widespread in schools.
One of my heroes is Tim Sigsworth, who heads the Albert Kennedy Trust. The Albert Kennedy Trust help young LGBT homeless people. A quarter of young homeless people in the UK are LGBT. The Albert Kennedy Trust encounter a lot of young Christians, the situation at home having become so unbearable that they end up on the streets. When young LGBT people, from faith backgrounds, come out, they are sometimes made to choose between their faith and their sexuality.
In 2014, Lizzie Lowe, an LGBT adolescent, was left feeling so unhappy because of the rejection she feared from her faith community, that she committed suicide. Her parents insist that they would have been accepting of her sexuality. Broadly, there is evidence of widespread psychological abuse of young LGBT people taking place within our faith communities. Conversion therapy, where LGBT identity is treated as an affliction, to be remedied through counselling and prayer, is not condemned by everyone within the Church of England. It often takes place on Church of England property. Conversion therapy is particularly inappropriate within the Church of England, as the Church of England is the established church. Conversion therapy should be banned in the UK.
During synod I hosted a breakfast with the Albert Kennedy Trust and the evangelical Christian Jayne Ozanne. The breakfast was aimed at selected synod members from London, Manchester and Newcastle, the areas where the Albert Kennedy Trust have their Purple Door houses. The Purple Door houses offer temporary accommodation to young LGBT homeless people.
The synod members were surprised by the high proportion of young LGBT homeless people and empathetic. Tim told them about the young LGBT homeless people the Albert Kennedy Trust helps. He recounted the moving stories of several young LGBT Christians, who had ended up homeless because their families and faith communities had not accepted their sexuality. Tim told us about young people, who had not only been threatened with conversion therapy, but who had been told that they would be sent abroad to be “excorcised.” In such circumstances, a young person has little option but to leave home.
It is clear that amongst some faith leaders within the Church of England, there is a real desire to listen to the LGBT community, certainly when it comes to youth homelessness. This was apparent from the breakfast. My own experience is that there are many churches within the Church of England which are inclusive of LGBT people. I attend St John’s in Waterloo and St Anne’s in Soho, both of which have openly gay priests and are welcoming of LGBT people.
OneBodyOneFaith, the LGBT Christian organisation, is compiling a list of LGBT-friendly Christian places of worship. This is important, as it will provide LGBT people with a resource whereby they can identify inclusive Christian communities, near to them. When I speak in schools to young people, I emphasise that there are inclusive places of worship. It’s about finding the faith community that works best for you.
Faith communities and schools are both areas where we must fight prejudice against LGBT people. My experience is that schools are ahead of faith communities, although both are lagging behind society in general. We need to continue to push for full inclusion of LGBT people within our faith communities and schools, including within our faith schools. It is only by confronting this head on that we will be able to end the relationship between discrimination in our faith communities and youth homelessness.
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