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Being a person of faith in the LGBT+ community

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The Faith & Belief Forum

20 / 02 / 19

By Siobhán Anderson. Siobhán leads the Faith & Belief Forum’s LGBT+Faith programme, which works to ensure LGBT+ people of faith are welcomed, included and understood in their full identities.  This includes training and support for organisations, and interfaith events for LGBT+ people of faith. The photo above is from one of our recent LGBT+Faith workshops.

 

If I asked you to imagine the life of a lesbian, gay, bi or trans (LGBT) person who is part of a faith community, what thoughts come to mind about the challenges they might face?  How do you think their experiences might differ from an LGBT person who is not part of a faith?

 

LGBTQI+ People of Faith

Last month, Brighton & Hove LGBT Switchboard produced a detailed report LGBTQI+ People of Faith: Prejudice & Community Cohesion in Brighton & Hove.  This report is the first major piece of research into the experiences of LGBT+ people of faith in more than a decade, and draws on engagement with 73 LGBT+ people of faith.  It provides evidence about the experiences that can be faced in faith communities / spaces, and LGBT+ communities / spaces.

Like the Faith & Belief Forum’s LGBT+Faith training programme, a starting point of the report is the abandonment what it calls the “mutually antagonistic” generalisation that LGBT+ identities and faith exist on a binary and cannot coexist.  Indeed, despite the stereotype, it is the reality that there are LGBT+ people in all communities and cultures, and that many faith groups are LGBT+ affirming.

Useful data for trying to dismantle this dichotomy is the 2008 Stonewall report Living Together, which found people of faith in modern Britain are no more likely to be prejudiced against gay people than anyone else.  Although I think that more research is needed into institutions’ views, there is no question that there are many, many places of worship and people of faith across the UK who are allies to LGBT+ people.

In this blog I will focus on the findings from the report about LGBT+ people of faith’s experiences in LGBT+ communities / spaces in particular; this is because this the aspect that most closely connects with my work, and which I think people may be surprised to hear about.

 

Overall Challenges

This report found that many participants felt a sense of division between different parts of their identities, and their experiences in different spaces:

“There’s a question of acceptance on both sides – in terms of how a faith community accepts you as a person from the LGBTQI+ community and also how that community accepts you as a person of faith. You tend to live in this hinterland of being regarded with suspicion” – Focus Group Participant

 

Challenges in LGBT+ Community

The report showed that engaging with the LGBT+ sector is challenging for participants, with many being unsure that they will be fully accepted and supported.

  • Many participants felt they could not safely be ‘out’ as a person of faith in their LGBT+ community, and vice verse, leading to a sense of invisibility and isolation.
  • Only 18% said they would consider approaching a local LGBT+ organisation for support if they experienced faith prejudice in the LGBT+ community.
  • 12% said they considered the faith prejudice they had experienced in their LGBT+ community to constitute a hate crime
  • 12% said faith prejudice had kept them from participating in their LGBT+ community either ‘a great deal’ or ‘a lot’.
  • A third of survey respondents (34%) said they would be reluctant to report faith-based hate crime in their LGBT+ community for fear of alienating them

 

Recommendations for the LGBT+ Sector

Another useful aspect of this report is that it makes concrete recommendations for LGBT+ organisations and groups based on what participants asked for:

  1. Peer support groups for LGBT+ people of faith

Participants spoke about the value of peer-support spaces for LGBT+ people of faith for their wellbeing, sense of community, and to explore interfaith.

  1. Model inclusion of LGBT+ people of faith

Participants asked for LGBT+ organisations and groups to address internal attitudes, and public-facing communications, so that they were more affirming of people of faith.  Participants also recommended training for staff and volunteers about the experiences of LGBT+ people of faith.

  1. Work in partnership with inclusive faith organisations

Participants asked for LGBT+ organisations and groups to build strong relationships with affirming faith groups, to partner with them, and to signpost to them when needed.

These three recommendations are a really useful starting point for any LGBT+ organisation or a group beginning to think about this intersection.  In my opinion, inclusion of LGBT+ people of faith requires a multi-sector approach, including from faith communities, the LGBT+ sector, and wider services.

Returning to the ideas you generated at the beginning of this blog: have any of your assumptions about the experiences of LGBT+ people of faith been challenged?  Are you interested in learning more about the diverse experiences of LGBT+ people of faith?

 

If you are an LGBT+ organisation or group, and would like to strengthen your approach to working with LGBT+ people of faith, we would like to invite you to attend our LGBT+Faith training day.  More information and sign-up forms here.

If you are a place of workshop or faith-based community interested in LGBT+ inclusion you would also be welcome at our LGBT+Faith training.  You could also consider working an LGBT+ group from your faith.  Some of our friends include Sarbat, London Queer Muslims, Affirmation, and Keshet UK.

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