With Faith and Belief Fortnight coming up on 15 - 30 November, this is a great time to talk about issues such as faith and sexuality.
I don’t know about you but it’s often been said to me that in life you don’t discuss two things; politics and religion. For the fear of too many arguments or difference of opinion, it’s often said it’s just too much hassle.
But I was raised as a Catholic. I went to Catholic Primary and Secondary schools. In fact I was even an altar boy and played an active role in my local church. Religion for me wasn’t a topic I was worried talking about. But things changed, and they changed when I came to the realisation that I was gay.
From my upbringing I’d been told that politics has no place in religion, and religion has no place in politics. But suddenly politics and my religion had collided. I went to school when Section 28 was still mandatory policy in our education system. A political decision that banned what was deemed to be the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools. In reality; it was an entire generation who went through education being told that being gay was wrong. We didn’t get to understand who we really were. We didn’t get the education that we deserved. Even today some schools still have policies that stop teachers from educating pupils on what being LGBT is.
Worse still, I wasn’t given the space, education nor was I given any opportunity to explore a pivotal part of my identity as a Catholic. My church certainly was no place for that discussion, just like our schools weren’t and unfortunately sometimes still aren’t. We are working to ensure our curriculum is liberated and to get citizenship education that gives LGBT+ students the education they deserve.
But this isn’t just a problem that we face within faith or our education system. In fact during my time as an LGBT activist I have seen people being taunted for having faith in the first place. Being gay or being religious suddenly becomes a false choice.
During the fight for same-sex marriage I often heard the comments like; ‘If LGBT people want to marry, they can, what does the church have to do with it?’ or on campus hearing people say ‘We have to ensure LGBT societies can work alongside our faith societies’. Somehow people don’t think you can be an LGBT person of faith.
But we know that the opposite is true.
So when LGBT+ people and people of faith are already persecuted and marginalised in society respectively; just imagine what that means as an LGBT person of faith.
When Jewish students already face rising anti-Semitism in Britain and when Muslim students see daily threats and abuse with a tide of islamophobia; we all have to work together to keep LGBT people of faith safe. Too often we have not challenged those who say that faith and LGBT+ issues cannot be one and the same.
That is why we are launching a project to ensure that we are all able to have engaging conversations about how we support LGBT students to explore their identities of gender, sexuality and faith. Some incredible work is already taking place on campus and this project will share some of these stories right across the country.
Today we are also rolling out a video that will be able to give you tips on how to get people into a room to begin these critical conversations. This is also not about making people change their minds but instead to ensure that if an LGBT student turns to faith leaders on their campus they can do so knowing that there is help and support available.
I think this is a major step forward to showing that politics and faith can be spoken about and that it is vital that we do. Students today deserve the space, the education and the honesty to be able to discover who they are without fear.