for the gay community to sometimes shrug off religion – it seems to have little to offer young LGBT people. Yet, religion plays a large part of life in Northern Ireland. Regardless of your side of the religious divide, or your family background, religion permeates life here, and has done for many generations. However, while we have grown up around these religious influences, as a young lesbian, I feel the church offers little in the way of support to young gay Christians like myself.
Religious fundamentalists who bash Pride events make it rather uncomfortable for us all, but for those in a church background, they make it even more difficult. On Sunday August 6th, I feel confident that I will not be the only guilty feeling churchgoer. Fundamentalists are a constant reminder that my fellow Christians do not and perhaps can not understand my identity – put simply, they make me feel I am in the wrong.
The concept of ‘gay Christians’ is a controversial one. A mish mash of organisations queue up to offer their translations of bible verses, each seeming to discredit the other. In all the noise it is difficult for a young Christian to decipher what the bible really does say. Is God love if he cannot love me because of who I am and what he made me?
Against this confusing backdrop churches here offer little practical guidance. Reminiscent of military establishments, the policy appears to be ‘Don’t say, don’t tell’. At the age of 18 I have come through Sunday School and youth groups in the Anglican church and have found no one willing to discuss homosexuality in any shape or form. This policy creates an unsettling and confusing environment, and I feel church workers in the youth sector do not encourage young gay people to speak to them about their sexuality. Like many schools here, because there is such repression of the subject of sexuality, homophobia goes unchecked. I know that I simply could not broach the subject with any of the many people I have come across in my church.
Indeed, even if the subject was broached, the view offered by most Northern Irish churches is one of ignorance. The many stereotypical replies include ‘It’s only a phase’, ‘Burn in hell, Sodomite’ and ‘Gay? I’m glad you’re feeling happy.’ They simply do not understand the many issues surrounding coming out – letting themselves be led by faith before sense.
The expectation of the Church seems to be that the young people in their care could not possibly be homosexual. Many of you present will know this view is absurd – gays come from all walks of life and all religions across the world. This view also causes the young person, like me, who was struggling with their sexuality another problem – how could you be gay, when gay is a sin?
Church is often seen as a family activity. Three generations or more of a family often sit in the same pew. It is therefore no wonder that in such a closed community, young people feel unable to express themselves. The culture of church gossips also makes it difficult to be open about being gay in the church setting.
If I wanted to discuss my sexual orientation with someone from my church, there is no one I feel I could speak to in confidence. There is no one there to support my choice or offer me advice – there is always the fear of rejection and the frustration of repression.
When young people face crises of faith – ironically, churches make themselves the last port of call for young gay Christians. It is only with discussion and acceptance that their ignorance can be removed, and more young people like me feel comfortable in the fold.
Photo from flickr.com/photos/a11sus
Article to be read anonymously at the GLYNI
Pride event 2006.