Since 2004, when my autobiography ‘A Life of Unlearning’ was released, I have been privileged to be the first contact point for 1,000’s of GLBT people from faith and religious backgrounds; especially those experiencing faith/sexuality conflict. It’s a like my inbox has become a microscope into a hidden world as many isolated and alienated people have found someone they relate to; often for the first time. Common themes have emerged from the many emails I’ve received, listening to individual stories and from the stories posted on the Freedom 2 b[e] forum.
GLBT people of faith and religion are an emerging group whose specific needs have not always been identified or catered for. As this group begins to connect with the GLBT community and services, community workers and service providers need awareness training to work more effectively with the target group. Funding is required to set up programs that will meet their needs.
To date I’ve not been able to find reliable data except anecdotal. Some research highlights individual aspects but doesn’t cover all these areas listed below adequately. Therefore I’m creating awareness in the academic world and the GLBT community of the need for research about this specific issue and demographic and also seeking any reliable data you may know of.
GLBT people from faith and religious backgrounds experience the usual issues of resolution, coming out, finding their place in the community and learning what it means to be gay or lesbian in a predominately straight world. They often however, experience these things with greater intensity and have additional issues to deal with.
• Even after coming out, internalised homophobia from years of negative conditioning and self-hatred can continue to have an impact.
• Most have invested years attempting to conform to heterosexuality through personal secret attempts, opposite sex relationships and formal (‘ex-gay’) programs which has left them damaged and traumatised.
• Having a belief system that says your eternal destiny hinges in your acceptance/rejection of your same- sex-orientation or gender identity, creates a cognitive dissonance that is difficult to resolve without information and connection with others who have walked the same journey.
• For most people from faith backgrounds, accepting that you are gay or lesbian means you have to leave the church and your entire social network is lost. It was a strong network, often like family and your life was filled with church activities and service. Finding a new life of meaning, your place in the LGBT community (with a very different set of values) and like minded-people is often difficult.
• Although beliefs systems are different, people from strong Christian, Islamic or Jewish backgrounds face similar issues.
Considering all these factors, my belief is that, GLBT people from faith and religious backgrounds are often the highest risk group of:
1. Potential and real suicidality. The larger proportion of the emails mentions either thoughts of, or attempts to suicide.
2. Mental health issues. The dissonance cause by the perceived conflict of faith and sexuality causes stress and depression.
3. Self destructive behaviours. When people are rejected from, or leave their religious backgrounds, they are left with strong feelings of failure and shame. Poor self-image leads to unhealthy behaviours. Some believe they will go to hell for accepting their homosexuality and this belief plays out in high risk activities – a slow form of suicide.
4. Obsessive behaviours and addictions. It’s not uncommon for someone who has suppressed or denied their sexual orientation to develop unhealthy behaviours which get out of control.
5. HIV & STI infection. Most people from church backgrounds don’t have access to safe-sex education and therefore, if sexually active, are at higher risk.
6. Discrimination. GLBT people of faith can often experience discrimination not only from their religious community but also at times from within their own GLBT community.
Advice, information, feedback is most welcome.
Coach, LGBT Consultant, Speaker and Author of ‘A Life of Unlearning – A Journey to Find the Truth’