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  1. Summer 1985 “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Lynne said and wrapped her arms around me in a hug. We were sat together in my parents’ kitchen, while my parents were in the living room, watching television. Lynne and I were members of the Young People’s Fellowship (YPF), which was the young people’s group at our Evangelical Anglian church. We were also friends. I really admired her singing voice, which was one of those voice’s that could claim the attention of a whole room with its purity and clarity. She admired my writing, which was strange and humbling. She was one of the handful of people then who encouraged me to write, which was so eye-opening to me. Lynne was and is beautiful but her beauty is more than skin deep and stays in the memory long after meeting her. She radiates a confident sexuality which is so attractive to others, and yet she is so oblivious to it herself. In the YPF, there were so many young men who were attracted to her, some even claimed to be in love with her, and yet Lynne barely saw this. I, though, was fascinated. These young men projected so much onto her, one even claiming that God had sent her to be his wife, but none of them seemed interested in Lynne as a person, none of them looked further than Lynne’s attractiveness. To me, she was a wonderful friend with an amazing intellect and a warm personality. That summer Lynne was eighteen, preparing to go to university that autumn, I was nineteen and struggling to deal with my sexuality, and failing, believing that the only choice I had was celibacy because I was an Evangelical Christian. I had also started my first job and had fallen into a hopeless, unrequited and very secret love for a male colleague. I can’t remember why she called on me but that’s the least important part of the evening. For some reason Lynne asked to see one of the poems I’d written, one about loneliness. So I showed it to her, in the notepad I used to write my poems in. My poems were very teenage poems. They were high on emotional content and low on style and format. I simply copied the styles of poets I liked, not understanding the form or style and struggling with rhyming couplets. My poems were much more of a way to explore and vent my emotional life, to try and make sense of my emotions and the things I was living through. Lynne read that poem, nodding to herself, and, to my horror, turned over the page and started reading the next poem. After she finished that one, she read the next and the next one. She must have read a dozen of those poems. To my horror, she read poems were I expressed my struggles with my sexuality and my unrequited love (crush?), poems that talked about my love for him. I didn’t use the gender neutral “you” because I never intended anyone to read them. But Lynne was reading them (!!). I couldn’t just snatch the note pad out of her hand, so I just sat there and watched her read them. Though the expression that graced her face wasn’t disgust, it was realisation. After she’d finished reading, she put the notepad down on the kitchen table, said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” and gave me a big hug. Then we talked. I tried to explain to her my therapy that it was the “act” of homosexuality, not the desire, that was the sin, and if I could remain “pure” then God would be “happy” with me. I was still in the thrall of the True Freedom Trust. I must have sounded crazy but Lynne didn’t act negatively, but she did ask me an important question. She asked me what I really wanted. Quietly I answered, I wanted a boyfriend. I didn’t know what form that relationship could take, especially with my believes then, but I wanted a relationship, someone to love. She was the first person I admitted to that I wanted to love someone, to love another man, and she didn’t condemn me for it, she simply accepted it. Her acceptance meant so much to me and was so eye opening. There were people who didn’t hate and condemn me just for being gay, and maybe wanting to love another man wasn’t so wrong. Her acceptance wasn’t a light bulb moment, I didn’t suddenly realise it was okay to be gay, but it stayed in the back of my mind, it held out the hope that I could be accepted. All these years later, I am still in contact with Lynne, though we live at almost opposite ends of the country. She is one of the few people I remained in contact from that time. So many people, back then, who called me their friend, quickly dropped me when they found out that I’m gay, not Lynne. Many, many years later, Lynne sang at my wedding. She sang a marvellous version of O Tell Me the Truth About Love by WH Auden. Her beautiful and clear voice filled the registry office, being the perfect ending to our marriage ceremony. She was one of the four people I dedicated my first book to, she was one of the people who encouragement kept me writing. There are some people, through their simple acts of kindness and love, that leave a deep impact upon our lives, Lynne was one of those people for me. Drew Postscript: In the previous essays in this series I’ve used pseudonyms for the people mentioned. This essay is different because I’ve used Lynne’s real name, with her permission. I want this essay to stand as a tribute to this wonderful person.
  2. (This is part of a continuing series about how I tried to come out as gay in an Evangelical Christian environment. If you haven’t read my other essays in this series, please find them here, they will put this essay into context) Spring 1985 “I don’t believe you’re homosexual,” he said. “I believe you’re bisexual, mostly heterosexual, and this is a phase you are going through.” I just nodded my agreement, what else could I do? We were sat together in the tiny study of his house. He was the curate of the church I attended, in suburban Liverpool. It was an extremely Evangelical church, everything was right or wrong, no grey areas, from a very simplistic reading of the bible, but it was also the place I was desperately trying to belong to. I wanted to be accepted by this congregation, these people, because I believed they were my only chance at finding friendship. But there was a secret stain on my soul, I am gay, and back then Evangelical Christians saw it as a sin so bad it was only punishable by hell (I know many still believe that). I was eighteen then and so deeply closeted. I had locked that closet door and wasn’t letting in a spark of light. No one could know I was gay, if they did I could risk losing all of my friends, and I was lonely enough. The thought of being friendless was terrifying. But my secret was eating away inside of me. There was the fear of being found out but there was also the isolation. There was no one I could talk to and be my real self with, I had to constantly monitor what I said, again and again I had to pretend to be straight, again and again I had to hide so much of myself. I longed to be open with someone about my sexuality. (Deep down I longed for a boyfriend but that was too much to express. But I still believed that if I had gay sex, it would be a sin that would condemn me to hell forever). I was so deeply depressed, but back then I didn’t even recognise that, I found it was just my normal, melancholic personality. Several months before that day I hit a watershed moment. I saw an advert for an organisation called the True Freedom Trust (TFT), in the back of my Christian youth magazine, they claimed to have an alternative to the “homosexual lifestyle” through Christianity. I had been seeing its founder, HM, since then for counselling. He said his belief was just being gay wasn’t a sin but any kind of gay sex was, the only “acceptable” lifestyle was that of celibacy. I jumped at that, when I first heard it, it was my fire escape from hell (Though as time passed, it proved nothing of the sort). HM said that I needed to confide in someone, at my church, about my sexuality. He suggested my church’s curate. I was unsure but was convinced by HM. HM said he had met the curate and he was the right man to support me. I wasn’t sure but HM said this was the right thing to do. The curate was a middle-aged man who had trained for the Anglican ministry after a life of low paid jobs and then a long time in adult education. He had deeply Evangelical beliefs, which he would talk about at any opportunity, especially his views on sex, which were just as Evangelical. He talked about masculine Christianity and for Christian leaders to be strong and real men. I screwed up what little courage I had, this would only be the second person I told about my sexuality, and asked the curate if I could see him. There was something I needed to talk to him about. On a weekday afternoon, I visited him, at his home, sat in his tiny study with him, and I told him I thought I was gay. I actually said I thought I was homosexual and that I’d been having homosexual feelings. That was when he told me he believed I wasn’t, that I was just a confused heterosexual. I was stunned, this wasn’t the reaction I had been expecting, or even fearing, and I had no answer for him but to agree with him. How could I have argued? What could I have said? I didn’t have the strength, back then, to tell him that I don’t have a heterosexual bone in my body, which is what I would do now. I just agreed with him, because that was what I was sure he wanted me to say, and in that I wasn’t wrong. Then he told me he’d had of vision of me, a vision given to him by God. He saw me dressed in a suit and tie, not wearing my glasses, with my hair short, neat and tidy, taking a girl out on a date to the cinema. If I followed this vision then I would truly find happiness and be the man God wanted me to be, he said. I felt a terrible kick of fear. How could this be a vision from God, it was so wrong. Without my glasses I am very short-sighted, which makes most activities difficult, at best. My hair is thick and curly and in any style that is short, it rebels against it, sticking out at odd angles, it is never neat when short. I hate wearing a suit and tie, even then I did. Suit jackets show off my round shoulders, I’m never comfortable with a tie pushed up to my neck, and shirts never stay tucked into my trousers. My mother always complained about how badly suits hung off me, but I am just genetically unsuited to them. But taking a girl on a date, that was the most confusing part of his vision. Was he telling me to stay and follow the TFT’s ex-gay counselling? I was begging God, each night, to turn me straight, but that prayer went unanswered, every time. Did the curate’s vision mean I was failing? His words felt like a command, telling me the way I should be living, but a goal I was falling so far short of. I didn’t argue with the curate, I didn’t tell him what he said was certainly a lie, when he called me heterosexual, but I couldn’t. I had such a negative view of myself, I hated so much of myself, that denying myself and agreeing with him was all I could think of to do. As I left his study, and his home, I again agreed with him, he said I wasn’t gay, only a confused heterosexual. He was so wrong. I felt so betrayed, after seeing him. I had gone to him for help and support but he’d denied me that by denying what I said to him. How could he have turned it into such a lie, something that was so untrue? (Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that man was deeply homophobic. It was his homophobia that drove him to deny my sexuality and to come up with that ridiculous vision of me. But I didn’t know that, back then) After that afternoon, the curate behaved as if I had never told him I was gay, he just ignored it as if I had never said a word to him. He carried on talking to me about me finding a girlfriend and his preaching, at church, got increasingly homophobic. I got the message though, he didn’t want to hear any more about me being gay. The impression was made, did anyone at church want to know I’m gay? No they didn’t. I had to stay firmly closeted because being gay was something to be ashamed of. Not what I needed to hear at that moment. Drew Find the next story in this series here
  3. Spring 1986 The carpet was patterned, a swirling blue-and-purple paisley pattern of looped tear-drop shapes curled around each other, and I stared down intensely at it. I thought if I focused on it then I could ignore what was happening around me, but that didn’t work. It was impossible to block it all out. I could feel the weight of all their hands pressing down on me, the weight of them on my head, the back of my neck and my shoulders. Those hands made me hold my head forwards, to stare down at the carpet under my feet, but that was also expected of me, to keep my head bowed. In a loud voice, Richard called out to God to cast the daemons out of me, the daemons of homosexuality, and therefore I would be healed, and be made normal, and be made straight. It was a Sunday evening and the Young People’s Fellowship had met inside my local Anglican church, shortly after the Evening Song service. It was run by two married couples, the clean-cut Richard and Elizabeth, and their growing number of children, and the round and comical Iain and Sadie, who always had the latest electronic gadget. The format each week would be a discussion on one topic or another, all of them relating to being a Christian. But there wasn’t that much discussion, often we would be told what we needed to believe by the group’s leaders. It was an Evangelical Anglican church so, no matter your questions or worries, someone would always have the right answer for you; someone would tell you what you had to do. That Sunday night I was suddenly the centre of attention, a place I didn’t like being in. I had told a few people there, a few people I thought I could trust, that I was struggling with my sexuality. I knew I was gay, but I didn’t want to be. I had grown up in that environment and knew how homophobic it was. I had breathed in that homophobia deep inside of me and I had believed its lies were true. My sexuality would only lead me to damnation, or so I believed back then. I believed it so much that I had secretly gone to an organisation called the True Freedom Trust, who told me, through prayer and therapy and God’s power, that I would turn straight (now it would be called conversion therapy). I believed what they said, I’d begged God each night to turn me straight and nothing had happened. This secret had all been too much for me to bear; I had to tell someone else, I had to find support. But I didn’t choose well. Those people I told went on to tell other people and suddenly the whole of the Young People’s Fellowship knew. That Sunday evening, they decided to cure me by exorcising the daemons from me, the daemons they said were causing me to be gay. The exorcism seemed to take forever. One person after another prayed out loud over me and I just stared down at the carpet under my feet. I tried to block it all out. I tried to concentrate on something else, anything else, but again and again that sense of betrayal washed over me. This was how these people saw me, as evil, as corrupt, as possessed by the devil, or by one of his daemons, all because I was gay, and not very gay at that. I was still a very naïve virgin then. I had not even kissed another man, not held another man’s hand. I had certainly never had sex with anyone. I’d had a few secret, painful and unrequited crushes on other men, but they had been my deep and shameful secret, I had told no one about them. I had turned to these people for help and this was the way they were treating me. They, the Young People’s Fellowship members, said we were all like family, and this was fostered by the group’s leaders. So many times, so many people had talked of us being like a family and how we could always rely upon one another. We were Christians; we could trust one another, we only wanted the best for one another. But when I needed them the most they turned around and tried to cast daemons out of me. I had wanted them, no, I had needed them to tell me that I was alright, that I was still wanted by them, that it didn’t make any difference, that I could still be one of them even if I was gay. Instead they turned around and said I was evil, possessed by daemons, and in need of exorcism. The betrayal was so great that it physically hurt. When they removed their hands from me, I knew it was all over, that I could finally pull back to the fringes of the group and hide myself away. Except I couldn’t. People kept coming up to me and telling me that I was “cured” now. People told me they knew why I was gay (so many different theories) and they knew how I could be “healed”. Elizabeth told me that God had told her I needed to keep going back to the True Freedom Trust because that would be the only way I was to be “healed”. I just nodded my head in agreement with her. I didn’t tell her that I was a total failure at turning straight; that the harder I begged God to turn me straight it only seemed to make my gay feeling feel stronger and more real. I knew she didn’t want to hear that. I left the Young People’s Fellowship meeting as soon as it ended. I didn’t stay for the coffee and chat; I couldn’t look anyone in the face. I felt so wretched inside. It was easy to slip away unnoticed. It was a cold and dark winter night outside, but that suited my mood, I deserved the cold and dark. When I reached home, I found that my mother was out, visiting a friend, and my father had been watching television. He was bubbling over with excitement about some program he had been watching. He chatted on about it, his words washing over me, but also not requiring me to speak. I didn’t have to tell him what had happened, nor was I able to. I’d been told, so often, that it was my parents’ fault that I was gay, and stupidly I had believed that lie. As I sat there, my father’s words filling the room, I knew I couldn’t go back to the Young People’s Fellowship; it wasn’t a safe place for me anymore. But they had said they were like my family and that church should be my whole life. Without them I didn’t know what I could do. I knew I couldn’t go back there, self-protection had finally kicked in, but I didn’t know where I was to go next or even what I should do. But I had to do something, I just didn’t know what. Drew Find the next story in this series here
  4. December 1986 Dusk had come early that afternoon and by the time of the church’s Evensong Service, all that could be seen outside the windows was black night. The church’s windows only reflected darkness, not even vague shapes or movement within it. In the time before the service began, I sat in my pew and stared at those dark night windows. It was called The Youth Service. Once a month, the church’s Young People’s Fellowship was allowed to take part in the Evensong Service, though not the church’s big Sunday morning Eucharist Service. We, the young people, were allowed to lead the service’s music, even choose some of it, read the lessons and lead the prayers, even perform a short dramatic sketch, but we weren’t allowed to choose the service’s theme and we were certainly not allowed to preach the sermon. At twenty, I was still classed as a “youth” at church and was a member of the Young People’s Fellowship. I was sitting in the pew, waiting for that month’s Youth Service to begin. Two of us were going to perform a short sketch about where the kingdom of God actually was. Back then, my writing was very Christian and focused much more on Christianity’s message than any attempt to create realistic characters and situations and then to explore themes through them. The high point of the Evensong Service was the sermon; the whole liturgy of the service seemed to lead up to it. That Sunday, the church’s curate was preaching. He was a middle-aged family man who took a very literal view of the Bible and that Sunday he had chosen a very topical subject for his sermon. The previous week, James Anderton, the chief constable of Manchester police, the neighbouring city, had said that people with HIV/AIDS were "swirling in a human cesspit of their own making" (1). The curate chose this as his sermon topic that evening. In the sermon James Anderton was called a prophet of God and the curate applauded him for what he said. He said Anderton was standing up for the truth and that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuals. He told the congregation that homosexuals were a sin and now God was enacting his judgement on them. He said that people chose to be homosexual and therefore chose to turn away from God and they deserved AIDS. I sat in my pew, wishing I was a million miles away from there. His words felt as if they were a direct attack on me. He was telling me that I wasn’t wanted there and that I was going straight to hell just for being who I was. It was as if his anger and hatred was directed straight at me. I was being told I wasn’t welcome there even when I was still deeply in the closet. No one there knew I was gay, not even the curate the night he preached that sermon. I barely knew it, I had certainly not acted on my sexuality, I had not kissed another man, not even held another man’s hand back then. James Anderton was a divisive figure, even in 1986. Before his bigoted statements on people with HIV/AIDS, he had been called “God’s Copper” (2), and it was deserved. In 1987, he called for homosexuality to be criminalised again. He said, “The law of the land allows consenting adult homosexuals to engage in sexual practises which I think should be criminal offences. Sodomy between males is an abhorrent offence, condemned by the word of God, and ought to be against the criminal law.” (3) He also encouraged his police officers to patrol the Canal Street area of Manchester, the heart of the city’s gay village even then, to stalk its dark alleys and arrest any men caught in the merest clinch (4). There were also allegations that Manchester police used a colour-coding system to identify anyone homosexual in their files (5). Anderton wasn’t just homophobic, he also had far right-wing views that he happily allowed to influence his role as chief constable. He openly stated the elected Labour politicians, who were running Manchester’s council, were part of a left-wing conspiracy to destroy British democracy (6). In late 1977, Anderton secretly met with a National Front leader to ensure that the far-right group could hold marches in Manchester without the risk of counter protests, when other cities had banned marches by the National Front. He allowed the marches to happen as long as their routes were kept secret beforehand (7). In 1987, he called for the corporal punishment for criminals until they begged for mercy (8) and he also called for the castration of rapists (9). Anderton saw himself as having “a direct line to God” (10) and therefore being a prophet of God (11). He claimed that God was calling him to speak out on moral issues, therefore implying that his views could not be questioned because they came directly from God. (I have met this attitude many times in my life and always found it extremely worrying and even dangerous because it always seems to be used to justify extremist views.) Anderton’s statements and behaviour didn’t go unchallenged. After his bigoted comments about people with HIV/AIDS and his claim to be God’s prophet, in January 1987 Manchester Council called for his resignation (5). The council leader wrote to then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, calling for Anderton’s behaviour and his handling of Manchester’s police force to be formally investigated and him to be reprimanded (12). Other chief constables said Anderton was “bringing ridicule” onto the police service (12). Anderton ignored the call for his resignation, which is not surprising, but recently it has emerged that he was being protected by Margaret Thatcher’s government and Thatcher herself (12). In response to calls to restrain Anderton’s public announcements, her private secretary wrote to Douglas Hurd stating, "The Prime Minister has commented that it would be outrageous if the Chief Constable [Anderton] were required to seek clearance for all his public speaking engagements." (12) Thatcher also stopped any enquiry into Anderton’s behaviour, saying he shouldn’t be stopped from speaking publicly at non-policing events (13). She protected him. In December 1986, I didn’t know of most of this, but I had heard Anderton making his statement on people with HIV/AIDS. His words were incredibly harsh and lacking in any compassion or concern; he actually seemed happy in his condemnation. How could he be speaking God’s will when there was no compassion to his words? Even though it was only 1986, I had taken a lot of time to read and learn about AIDS, though on my own and in secret, and nowhere could I see the facts of AIDS reflected in Anderton’s words. Sitting in that church pew, I felt so beaten down and depressed. This was what the curate felt about me and now he was condemning me to hell, even though he didn’t know it was me he was specifically condemning. I had joined that church as a safe place, a place where I could be myself, a place where I was known as myself, not solely as my parents’ child, a place where I was wanted and could belong. I had been wrong. This wasn’t a safe place; this was a dangerous place of condemnation and hatred. I wasn’t wanted there. I felt sick and afraid. I didn’t know what to do. It was a relief when the sermon was over, the end of the service rapidly approaching, but I couldn’t unhear those words. James Anderton, with all his hatred and bigotry, had been identified as prophet of God, the curate publicly stating that all his words were the truth. The words of that sermon told me so much—I wasn’t welcome there and neither was I safe, but where else could I go? After the service I made some quick excuses and left the church early, I couldn’t risk hearing people say how much they agreed with that sermon. I had to leave that building and hurry out into the dark December night. But hurrying home still didn’t nullify that sermon, didn’t silence its words in my mind. When I reached home, I found my father in a very chatty mood. My mother was out visiting a friend that evening and he wanted someone to talk to, but I just wanted to be silent. He started asking me how the service had been but got quickly tired with my monosyllabic and vague answers. I claimed I wasn’t feeling well and retreated to the solitude and safety of my bedroom. How could I tell my father what had happened? I could barely admit it to myself and to tell him would have involved, in some way, telling him I was gay, and back then that was an impossible task. Even as I heard that sermon, I knew its words were untrue, but the prejudice and hatred behind it was all too real. My greatest regret from that evening was that I didn’t just stand up and walk out of the church as soon as I realised what that sermon was about, silently announcing my opposition to all of its hatred rather than condoning it with my silent presence. But that was far too big of a thing to ask of myself back then, too much to force on my very closeted self. But hindsight is still a wonderful thing… (The photograph illustrating this essay is not a picture of the church where this took place) Drew Find the next story in this series here
  5. Autumn 1985 At nineteen, my main mission in life was to “fit in” with the world around me. If I kept my head down and didn’t draw attention to myself then people would not guess my secret and not hate me for it, as I feared. It was a simple but very flawed plan, though at the time it was all I could see to do. At that time, most of my world revolved around being a member of my church and being a good Christian because that was what was expected of me with my membership there. It was an Evangelical Anglican church, and being Evangelical they preached that the church had to be all of your life, and I happily agreed with that because I so wanted to fit in somewhere. Up until then I had been an outsider in my life; I didn’t like the things other kids were passionate about, I didn’t follow all the different trends that consumed the other kids around me, I was plainly unpopular, but fitting in was the most important thing where I grew up and I failed at it. Church gave me the chance of a place where I could belong, of a place where I could be wanted, and I grabbed at it with both hands. At nineteen, church offered me a full social life and happily I jumped into it, I was wanted. There was the church service on a Sunday morning and the Young People’s Fellowship on a Sunday evening, plus the Bible study group, prayer meetings, worship practice, drama group rehearsals, and other meetings all throughout the week, but the most important of all was the Sunday morning Communion (Eucharist) Service, and everyone was expected to attend that. After this service the congregation would always move into the church hall to have a cup of tea and split off into our different cliques. This social element seemed almost as important as the service itself, or at least we had the chance to discuss the service and then discuss other people’s lives and actions. I so enjoyed this part of the morning, I belonged somewhere and there were people I could talk with. It was an extra forty-five minutes to an hour before I had to return home. The clique I belonged to was the Young People’s Fellowship, the church’s spiritual youth group. For me it was a safe clique to hide away in. We all sat together in church, went to the same church activities together, and when the Young People’s Fellowship met, we’d all agree on the same things, the things we were told we needed to believe and agree on. That Sunday morning, the church service had been noticeably different. Our regular organist, Nicholas, wasn’t there. Instead, an elderly man, with a bald and domed head, had slowly and awkwardly played the church’s organ, all the hymns at the same painfully slow pace. Now, after the service, it was all anyone could talk about. Where was Nicholas and how terrible the hymns were, some people were even calling the organ playing a disgrace, talking about how we hadn’t fully worshipped God’s glory. Suddenly I felt like an outsider again; I didn’t know what was happening, no one had thought to include me, again I had to find out for myself. I did what I had always learnt to do, I stayed quiet and listened to the conversations around me. If I listened carefully I would always learn something. Each Sunday morning, during the Communion Service, Nicholas had sat at the church’s organ, playing the hymns with gusto and energy, while his friend, Robin, sat in the pew next to him. Those two men had fascinated me. Nicholas was ten or more years older than Robin and yet they were still friends, almost constant companions at church. People from different ages didn’t mix at church, it was very much divided along age lines. People from the Young People’s Fellowship didn’t mix with the members of the Mothers Union, who didn’t mix with Full Gospel Businessmen’s Luncheon group; everyone was in awe of the church’s council members, and we all looked up to the clergy. But here were Nicholas and Robin, open with their friendship. Nicholas had always been conservatively dressed at church, he wore neat and dark suits, his grey hair cut into a short and neat style. Robin was far more stylish, obviously aware of his clothes and appearance. His hair was always neatly styled, brushed in a careful way and always parted at the side. He wore a suit too, but his suits were always sharply coloured, rich browns, bright blues and greens, neat charcoal, they were always worn over a matching waistcoat and a coordinated tie tied in a large and prominent knot under his collar. He wore several rings on his fingers back when men didn’t wear rings, even married men didn’t wear a wedding ring. The most prominent one was a gold signet ring he wore on the little finger of his left hand and he would absentmindedly turn it around on his finger when he seemed preoccupied. I was fascinated by these two men, but my fascination was always from afar. I would watch them from my pew in church. I could never speak to them because they were in such a different social circle to me. If I had spoken to them, what would I have said to them? I could never have asked them that question that nagged away at the back of my mind, were they like me? But how could I ask it when I could not even ask it of myself? I wasn’t like that, it was just a mistake, just a phase my life was stuck in, something I could deny and push down as far as I could. The Young People’s Fellowship was run by two married couples, the clean-cut Richard and Elizabeth, and their growing number of children, and the round and comical Iain and Sadie, who always had the latest electronic gadget. That morning, Iain almost bounded up to our group as we stood together in the church hall, exclaiming, “Have you lot heard? Nicholas the organist has had to leave the church because he went and married his husband!” “What?” Elizabeth replied. “Robin, that friend of his, was his homosexual lover and they went through a mock marriage,” Iain gleefully added. “That’s disgusting!” Elizabeth said, her whole face twisting up with distaste. Suddenly the whole group was alive with the subject, talking hurriedly and excitedly about it; this was true gossip that everyone could condemn and they were all condemning it. Homosexuality was disgusting, immoral, a perversion, sin made flesh. No Christian could be a homosexual, they said and they were certain that God condemned it, simply look at AIDS and all the other failings they attributed to being homosexual. And they knew they were right because they were certain they were. Elizabeth and Richard were strong in their condemnation, certain they were right in the way they were always certain their beliefs were always right. I withdrew to the edge of the group, my hands pushed into the pockets of my duffle coat, and just listened to the words bouncing around me. I knew I failed so often as a Christian, I could not live up to the high moral standards required of me. I struggled to believe all the things required of me because of the inner doubts that plagued my mind, telling me I wasn’t good enough and that I failed at every attempt. The biggest doubt that rang in my mind was that I was already going to hell just for being who I was. I am gay, but at nineteen I couldn’t begin to admit it to myself, it was my dark secret that I dreaded anyone else finding out. The only expression of my sexuality I dared to make were quick and very furtive glances at handsome men when I though no one else was watching me. In the next moment I would be flooded with guilt. I was disgusting and going straight to hell, the guilt told me. Hearing what those around me were saying, the force of their condemnation of Nicholas and Robin, again I knew I was right to be afraid. These people around me, they were the people who called me their friend, who told me they were my Christian family, and they were now pouring out the most terrible prejudice and hatred towards homosexuals. Would they turn that onto me if they knew the truth? I couldn’t take the risk so I pulled myself further within myself. Friendships were a risk; I couldn’t let people into my life, but how could I avoid hell? I was lost. That moment was chilling, I saw all my friends and my faith in a new light, this church wasn’t the safe place I’d always hoped it would be. But in the next breath, I wanted these people to like me and I wanted to be part of this group. If they found out I was gay would they treat me the same way? Would they pour out their prejudice on me and force me to leave this church? I couldn’t take that risk. I had to increase my efforts; I had to ensure I fitted in, even though I couldn’t take the biggest step, I couldn’t change my stripes. Eighteen months later, I was outed at church and they did behave exactly as they had done towards Nicholas and Robin. I was left with no choice but to leave. I should have known it would happen, I had watched it play out with their treatment of Nicholas and Robin, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. (All the names here have been changed. I am no longer in contact with anyone mentioned here so I do not know what their beliefs and views are now. People do change) (The photograph illustrating this essay is not a picture of the church where this took place) Drew Find the next story in this series here
  6. They were dotted throughout the London Pride march. On all different types of banners and placards, some very professionally produced and others homemade but often more pithy. All of them demanding the same thing: BAN CONVERSION THERAPY! Every time I saw one, I would smile, partly to show my support and gratitude to the person carrying the banner, and partly to myself. To see the dangerous threat of conversion therapy so openly denounced by the LGBTQ community was so reassuring. It was on the tube ride home, that the thought struck me, why the hell hasn’t it already been banned? Weren’t we promised that it would be? Conversion therapy is described as “an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity”. It has been deeply discredited and shown to be extremely dangerous and damaging to those who have experienced it. Back in July 2018, Theresa May promised to ban it. In July 2020, Boris Johnson said it was "absolutely abhorrent" and "[had] no place in this country". In May 2021, it was announced in the Queen’s Speech that the government planned to ban it, but only after consultation with “key stakeholders”. Then in March 2022, Johnson dropped any plans for a ban. But the next month, April 2022, plans for a ban were back on. In June this year, we were told that all it needed was for Rishi Sunak to sign the bill and the ban would be law, but it is now July and he still hasn’t signed it. What is happening? Why is the government dragging its feet? Is it that difficult to ban conversion therapy? Sasha Misra, associate director of communications at Stonewall, said: “Five years and four prime ministers later and we are still waiting for this ban to come to fruition. In the meantime, lives have continued to be ruined while these damaging attempts to ‘cure’ LGBTQ+ of being themselves remain legal.” But the ban would only be a partial ban and a very weak one, under the government’s proposals. It wouldn’t cover trans people and wouldn’t apply to anyone who “consented” to it. These is such huge loopholes and render the ban useless. The person only has to agree to it and/or say they are confused about their gender and the conversion therapy is legal. Conversion therapy preys on people who are vulnerable, confused about their sexuality and/or their gender, and this ban will do nothing to protect them. I survived conversion therapy, as a late teenager, but it left me very damaged. My twenties were marred by PTSD, depression, suicide attempts and an inability to form relationships. I lost ten years of my life to the harm it caused me. Yet this ban would not have protected me because I contacted the ex-gay organisation and agreed to be “cured” by them, because I was so afraid of my sexuality back then. Therefore, it could be argued I consented to it. But my opinion alone, of the harm it does, should not be what policy is based on. It should be based on the evidence and the evidence against conversion therapy is huge. D Haldeman identified that it causes poor self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal, and sexual dysfunction. Anna Forsythe’s research found that survivors of conversion therapy experienced 50% more mental health problems, twice as much depression, 25% more substance use, 50% higher rate of attempted suicide and 67% more experienced moderate to severe injury from those attempts, than someone who hasn’t been through it. But these are not the only, scientific evidence of the harm it does, and how useless it is. Here is a list of scientific and healthcare professional articles that identify the harm conversion therapy causes. References that conversion therapy is harmful: Beckstead & Morrow (2004) Haldeman (2002) Shidlo & Schroeder (2002) Forsythe, Pick, Tremblay, et al (2022) Human Rights Campaign (2021) American Psychological Association (2009) American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2018) American Medical Association (2019) American Psychiatric Association (2018) Committee On Adolescence (2013) American Counselling Association (2017) United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (2019) Independent Forensic Expert Group (2020) Higbee, Wright & Roemerman (2022) Wolf & Platt (2022) Campbell & Rodgers (2023) References that conversion therapy doesn’t work: Beckstead (2012) Adelson (2012) American Psychological Association (2009) American Psychiatric Association (2000) American Psychological Association (2013) Jacob (2015) Drescher, Schwartz, Casoy et al (2016) Haldeman (1994) Conine, Campau & Petronelli et al (2021) Kinitz, Salway, Dromer E, et al (2021) This is by no way a comprehensive list of the evidence. It is the result of only a brief literature search, of only a few databases, carried out on a Sunday afternoon, on my laptop. A much more in-depth literature search would produce a much more comprehensive and much longer list of evidence. All the above references are from peer reviewed publications or professional bodies. Countries that have banned conversion therapy Brazil in 1999, Samoa in 2007, Fiji in 2010, Argentina in 2010, Ecuador in 2014 Malta in 2016. Uruguay in 2017, Spain in 2017 Taiwan in 2018 Germany in 2020, Queensland State in Australia 2020, followed by Victoria State, Chile, India and Canada in 2021, Since 2013, 20 states, two territories, and multiple local counties or municipalities in the United States. If we have so much evidence and so many other countries before us have banned it, why hasn’t the British government already done so? I am sure someone will make the argument that legislating to ban conversion therapy isn’t easy. My reply would always be, it’s the government’s job to write and implement difficult legislation, and to do it well. They have all the resources to do it. But this government is now deliberately dragging their feet over this. I wonder if this is part of their “war on woke” attitude? This government’s strategy to blame and attack unpopular minorities, such as trans people, immigrants, and anyone else the Daily Mail newspaper doesn’t like, to try and appeal to their right-wing base voters. Whatever the reason, the government’s reluctance/refusal to ban conversion therapy speaks volumes about how little they value LGBTQ people. I do know that if there was a quack therapy that tried to “cure” Evangelical Christians of their believes, but failed to do so and left its victims very damaged, or dead from suicide, then Evangelical Christians would be screaming for it to be banned. Would this government be so slow to ban it? Drew. PS. I do not like the term “conversion therapy”. It gives this dangerous and completely unethical bullying a veneer of respectability, implying that it is somehow medical/clinical. I prefer to call it “ex-gay”, which tells us how impossible it is.
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