LGBTQ PEOPLE OF FAITH

Giving them visibility and a place at the table

Background:

In 2004, I had my first book launch. It was upstairs at the Midnight Shift Nightclub with about 350 people attending. The majority of those people had never been to a gay venue previously. It was a very exciting evening……all those people……but something was missing.

Invitations had been sent by my publisher, but there were no LGBTQ community leaders, no gay press to cover the event, and no mention of the autobiography in the weeks that followed. Had I incorrectly assumed the significance of what was happening? That a former high-profile Pentecostal preacher had come out as gay and told his story. Also, it was also the first Australian conversion “therapy” survivor  story to be told. A current day equivalent would be one of Brian Houston’s Hillsong pastors coming out publicly or one of Brian’s children. These would definitely be media events of significance.

The problem:

I found out later that the lack of interest, even avoidance, was a strong anti-religion feeling that existed in the community. I was unaware, not only of its existence, but also of its prevalence. Since that time, I’ve learned that the anti-religion attitude is historic. At the first pride march in New York, and also the first Mardi Gras in Sydney, LGBTQ of faith, had to fight for a place in the parades. The resistance to their presence was strong and hostile. Imagine that? Rejected by your religious community and then to experience hostile resistance from those you considered your new family – your tribe. I came to realise that I was going to have to battle against these reactions for some time, and still do today from time to time.

Of course, the anti-religion feeling is completely justified. Every time the LGBTQ community has worked towards ending discrimination and creating equality, where has the opposition come from? It came from conservative Christians and politically aligned churches. It is completely understandable why people would not want to have anything to do with religion, and that they would see it as the enemy.

The narrative that the church is anti-gay is well established in the media. In most cases, bad news stories about religion are highlighted, whether that be conversion “therapy”, or the religious discrimination bill, as a couple of examples. We’ve also had to use those stories of harm and tragedy to create awareness and lobby for protection. In order to do this, there is a price to be paid very few would know of. Whilst there is a lot of truth in what has been mentioned, the prevailing narrative is not the full story.

In essence, the LGBTQ community and religious conservatives have been preaching the same message: You can’t be gay and a Christian/Muslim/Jew/etc. These two things are mutually exclusive.

Outcomes of the anti-gay/enemy narrative

  1. Firstly, what impact does this have on LGBTQ people whose faith is important to them? It can be like constantly living in a war zone and ducking bullets from both sides. Do they feel safe coming out about their faith in the LGBTQ community, or does their faith become another unhealthy closet of fear and a false sense of shame?
  2. It also affects families where religion is very important. They are being fed a narrative that the LGBTQ community is against everything they stand for. I’ve often wondered how much this contributed to the 38% of Australians who voted NO on the marriage equality postal survey.
  3. What about the young person in a religious home who is coming to terms with being LGBTQ? Is this contributing to the belief that one day they will have to choose one or the other?

THE SOLUTION: Creating visibility and a place at the table for LGBTQ people of faith

No one can change the narrative except us. We can begin to change the narrative by promoting good stories about LGBTQ people of faith. We can increase the visibility of LGBTQ people of faith and ensuring that, along with other groups in our community, they are seen as valued members and have a place at the table.

THE BENEFITS OF VISIBILITY OF LGBTQ PEOPLE OF FAITH: it begins with affirmative action

  1. Young LGBTQ people in religious homes will know that when they feel it’s time to come out or live authentically, that there will be a place for them within our community and if things are not working out well, a safe refuge.
  2. LGBTQ people who are struggling with faith/sexuality/gender identity conflict will know they are not alone and there is a place for them.
  3. LGBTQ people of faith will thrive in their lives and relationships in an affirmative/non-adversarial space.
  4. Over time, the adversarial approach will be deconstructed, allowing us to focus energies on more constructive and positive endeavours.

Comments and feedback welcome.

Sincerely

Anthony Venn-Brown OAM (he/him)

Founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI)

Please add your thoughts and comments below. Thanks