Craig-Francis Meichan 28th July 2020
Last month, the LGBTQ+ community around the world joined together in lockdown to celebrate Global Pride Day — 24 hours of music, art and speeches to replace the parades and parties cancelled by the Coronavirus pandemic. Many churches and faith organisations joined in the celebrations, offering acceptance, affirmation and support for LGBTQ+ people.
But even in the UK, growing up LGBTQ+ and Christian still isn’t always easy. According to Stonewall, only 39% of LGBTQ+ people of faith believe that their faith community is welcoming of their sexuality. In January, the Church of England caused controversy with guidance advising that “sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings”.
To hear their stories, we spoke to four young LGBTQ+ Christians from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about their experiences with faith and sexuality.
Rosie McKenna, 25, is a bisexual Catholic from Ballymena in Northern Ireland. For her, the history, culture and politics of her community were dominated by conflicting understandings of Christianity.
“I knew from a young age that I wasn’t straight – although I didn’t know what I was until much later,” she reflects. “When I was growing up, LGBTQ+ people didn’t have the same equality or legal recognition as the rest of the UK, and we didn’t achieve it until later. That legitimised kids bullying you in school – when the laws don’t recognise you, then that translates to the general populace.”
“I grew up in the Catholic Church, and went to a Catholic school. The message we learnt there was always about ‘one man, one woman’ – and that your job as a woman is to become a mother or a nun. That was difficult, and made me feel abnormal. For a long time I was really scared of God – I was convinced I was going to hell. That’s really hard to deal with as a kid, being taught that you’re going to hell for something you can’t control. I became an angsty teen, and the first thing I rebelled against was the Church.”
“It wasn’t until I was older that I actually read the Bible, and what I found was a different God from the one I’d been taught. The Jesus that I found was radical and revolutionary, standing with the marginalised.”
“Fear is not the relationship I have with God any more. The God I know is wonderful and compassionate. The God I know made me gay, and loves me the way that I am – created in His image.”
Across the Irish Sea, Rosie shares her name with another LGBTQ+ Christian. Rosie Peters, 24, is from Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. She worships at The Gathering, an LGBT+ church in Cardiff.
“Being gay and Christian in Wales has been a blessing,” she says. “Compared to people growing up in countries where being gay is seen as abnormal, and punishable by death or imprisonment.”
“When I first visited The Gathering, I knew I had found something good. The next week I went along on my own, and I started to really feel like part of the family. I knew I was accepted there, I didn’t have to explain myself. It is like a breath of fresh air each Sunday evening.”
I was invited to an LGBTQ+ church in Cardiff by a lovely couple who knew I would benefit from a community like this. To this day I am thankful that they brought me along
She became a Christian at Bangor University, and formed strong bonds with her Christian Union before getting baptised alongside her godsister in 2017.
“This was a few years after coming out to friends and family back home in Barry. I knew who I was and was proud of it, however becoming a Christian gave me a wider worldview and now that I had God in my life, nothing else mattered.”
“After university, I came back to my home church. I was welcomed back with a lot of fondness and hugs (remember those?). That was great, but I still missed a sense of community and friendship. Then last year, I was invited to an LGBTQ+ church in Cardiff by a lovely couple from my home church who knew I was gay and knew that I would benefit from a community like this. They were right. To this day I am thankful that they brought me along.”
I really believe that celebrating and championing love in all its forms is a joyful, moral thing to do
For Rosie, The Gathering have been like an ‘amazing, crazy family’. In February, she was part of a team hosting Pride Week assemblies in a church school in Cardiff.
“It was an amazing opportunity to show the young people that you don’t need to be ashamed of who you are and things will get better.”
Luke Myer, 25, is from Redcar, Yorkshire. He was active in the campaign for equal marriage, lobbying members of the House of Lords in 2013 and campaigning in Northern Ireland.
“I think I’ve probably experienced some of the best and worst bits of Christian faith. My granddad was from a joint Anglican-Methodist-URC church, my Dad was from a Methodist church, and I grew up in the Baptist church here in Redcar. I guess I had an ecumenical childhood!” he jokes.
“I’ve been on the receiving end of hostility and intolerance, particularly around the equal marriage debate. But overwhelmingly what I’ve experienced is a loving, compassionate community that cares about sticking up for people. My granddad was a reverend, and he always preached that ‘God is love’. I really believe that celebrating and championing love in all its forms is a joyful, moral thing to do.”
“I believe that God created us all, so that means He created me to be this way
Kaden, 20, similarly looks to his dad for support. Kaden is a non-binary member of the Church of Scotland, and in 2018 he helped the Church to produce pastoral care guidance on diverse gender identities.
“It was difficult for [my dad] to understand at first, but he’s seen the improvement in my mental health since I came out. He has watched me increase in confidence, so now I am able to go and enjoy life. We’re just people trying to get on with life and be the happiest we can be.”
“It’s about people seeing you as your true self. They need to see the right things – this is who I want to be, and you need to see that version of me, not the old version which was just something I pretended to be for a large proportion of my life. It’s about honesty.”
“I believe that God created us all, so that means He created me to be this way. It’s like what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says – God won’t test you more than you can handle. He is not going to make a trans person and then condemn them to be a sinner. That’s not the act of a loving God.
“God loves all of us just as we are. It doesn’t matter how you present so long as you’re happy. That’s what He wants; He wants us to be happy people.”
Craig-Francis Meichan 28th July 2020