Faith/sexuality conflict is common amongst LGBT people from faith backgrounds. Being brought up in or being a part of a church culture that says you are sick, unnatural, or worse, an abomination, can have a profound impact on the well-being of LGBT people. Sometimes the impact of the internal faith/sexuality conflict has been tragic.
For many decades it was preached that gay people had to choose between their faith or their orientation. You are either straight and going to heaven or gay and going to hell. As more churches become accepting and affirming obviously these tragic impacts will diminish.
LGBT people of faith and religion experience the usual issues of resolving their sexuality or gender identity, coming out and learning what it means to live authentically in a predominately straight world.
They often however, experience these things with greater intensity and also have additional issues to deal with.
LGBT people of faith and religion specific needs have not always been identified or catered for. In order to work more effectively with these target groups, it’s important for community workers, service providers and church leadership to be aware of the particular issues faced.
What are the impacts of faith/sexuality conflict?
- Intense cognitive dissonance because the perception that the acceptance or rejection of their sexuality has eternal consequences.
- Suicidality. Research shows this group have either thoughts of, or attempts to suicide more often than those from non- faith backgrounds.
- Mental health issues. The dissonance created by the perceived conflict of faith and sexuality causes anxiety, stress and depression.
- Self destructive behaviours. When people have had to leave their churches, they are often left with strong feelings of failure and shame.
- Obsessive behaviours and addictions. Unhealthy behaviours develop when people suppress or deny their sexual orientation.
- Trauma and grief. If the religion is anti-gay, extricating oneself can be traumatic and the loss of family, friends and faith devastating.
- Internalised homophobia. Years of negative conditioning and self-hatred can continue to have consequences. Coming out doesn’t automatically wipe away the damage.
- Loss of purpose and self esteem. For those who have removed themselves. the new gay identity, initially, may not be as profound as the previous Christian identity.
- Inability to connect. When an LGBT person leaves the church their entire social network is lost and the new LGBT world difficult to negotiate.
- Higher risk of HIV & STI infection. People from church backgrounds often have less access to safe-sex education.
- Discrimination. LGBT people of faith experience discrimination not only from their churches but also within the LGBT community.
This presentation below is a snapshot of the seminar/workshop ‘Walking Between Worlds – working effectively with LGBT people from faith backgrounds” which was given by Anthony Venn-Brown at the National LGBTI Health Conference.