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  1. December 1984 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
  2. Winter 1985 So much of my life, until then, had revolved around Evangelical Christianity and suddenly it was all gone, leaving an empty void of time and friendships. All of my social life had gone, over ninety percent of the people who called me friend had disowned me, I was on my own and I was nineteen years old. What was I to do? I wasn’t thrown out of that church’s congregation, no one spoke the words and told me to leave, but they expressly made it clear I wasn’t welcome because I was homosexual. I had been outed to the church’s youth fellowship. They reacted by first trying to cast daemons out of me, one Sunday night, before disowning me. Suddenly, all the people who had called me their friend, turned their backs on me and would have nothing to do with me. It was terrifying. Being subjected to an exorcism, just because I was gay, by people who had said they cared about me, left me feeling confused and betrayed. I had turned to these people for help, I was so confused and afraid of my sexuality, and they had reacted as if I was possessed by the Devil himself. The disowning by the majority of my friends hurt the most. They rejected me solely because I’m gay. I was hit over the head by their message, I wasn’t welcome in that church anymore. Reluctantly I left. Reluctantly because I had believed that being a member of that church was the right thing for me, where God wanted me to be, and leaving that church meant I had got that all wrong. But for my own health and sanity, I had to leave. The people of that church had told me that Evangelical Christians, like them, were the only people who would care for me and accept me. Non-Christians, they said, would just use me and then cast me aside. I believed them because I had thought they were my friends and that they cared for me. I was wrong. To my surprise, and then relief, I found people who weren’t Evangelical Christians not only welcomed me but also accepted me. Though it took so much strength to push myself forward to find a new life. Having all of my old life taken away from me was so hard and very isolating. Suddenly my whole social life and most of my circle of friends were gone, I had to start to rebuild all that and all over again. I was also so depressed by what had happened to me, had it all been my fault, why had I been so harshly rejected? I was beginning to accept my sexuality, finally admitting I couldn’t force it away, and then I was severely rejected for doing so. That took so much out of me. But I didn’t know how to rebuild my life again. I was only nineteen and no one gave me a guide book how to do so, there was no internet then. I found my first entry into a new life in a newsagent, near to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. On the top shelf, above the rows of magazines and newspapers, were the usual collection of porn magazines, and at the end of them were two gay lifestyle magazines, Gay Times and Gay Life. It was the 1980s and any gay lifestyle magazines were considered “adult reading”. Nervously I bought both those magazines, as I paid for them, the man behind the counter told me that Gay Life was a good read. He was right. Gay Life was a Manchester based magazine but it also contained listings and details of Liverpool’s small gay scene, where I lived. In its Community Listings section there was a listing for the LGCM (Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement) Liverpool group. Nervously I contacted its convenor, Billy, and started to attend their meetings. I was still a Christian and this seemed the logical place to finally start coming out. I had tried the Evangelical Christian approach, the ex-gay gospel and to deny a large part of who I was, and that had failed completely. Maybe it was time to try and accept my sexuality? Did I have any other alternative? The guys at the LGCM group were warm and welcoming, not a single “predatory homosexual”, as per the Evangelical Christian stereotype I had been previously been repeatedly told. These were men who befriended me, without trying to force their opinions and beliefs onto me. There was no condition to their friendship. It was a wonderful breath of fresh air. I also started to attend a writers’ workshop in Liverpool, The Old Swan Writers. I wanted to be a writer, therefore I needed to get serious about being one, but I knew so little about it. The other writers there taught me so much, showed me were my writing worked and were it didn’t. It was through them that I learnt how and where to submit my writing, and I had my first pieces of writing published while I was a member there. I was also the youngest member by a long stretch. The other were middle-aged or older, but none of them seemed to have any problems with me or my writing, which was beginning to explore gay themes. Next I started to attend Liverpool’s gay youth group, on the recommendation of one of the members of the LGCM group. At this group I met Tommy & Ashley, a pair of bright and lively friends, who quickly took me under their wing. They took me out clubbing in the few gay clubs there were in Liverpool. They introduced me to gay club life, taking away the mystery and apprehension too. And they were friends so there was no pressure, and that was what I needed then. The chance, every week or so, to dance and enjoy myself without any pressure. Lastly, I joined the Merseyside AIDS Support Group (MASG). This was 1985/86 and the AIDS panic was running high. Daily I saw the prejudice, ignorance and sheer homophobia around AIDS and it sickened me. This was my way of trying to fight that, so I joined MASG’s training course for their helpline. That training taught me so much, not just about HIV and AIDS, but it helped me look at myself. I also met some amazing people through it. Two nurses, a teacher, a HIV worker, gay men and women, a bisexual man, and straights. Different people but for all of them, being gay wasn’t a problem. I also met a man who I quietly looked up to, John Sam Jones. He’d been an Anglican minister, lived and worked in San Francisco, and was now back in Liverpool, working in HIV prevention. All through this he’d remained a Christian, and that was something I was trying to do but finding it such an uphill struggle. I make this narrative sound so easy, I took step one, which led to step two and then steps three and four. But it wasn’t that easy. I was silently carrying the baggage from the True Freedom Trust (TFT) and that Evangelical church. Most of the LGBT people I met in Liverpool, especially those I met through the LGCM group, knew of TFT and despised them. Rightly, they saw TFT as a dangerous and deeply homophobic organisation that only harmed LGBT people. Wrongly, I thought they would be angry at me too, for being involved with them. So I kept silent about that part of my past. I wish I hadn’t because I now know those people won’t have rejected me, they would have supported me. But the experience of being rejected by that Evangelical church was still sharp in my memory and I didn’t want to risk it happening again. I also found making friends difficult and scary. The people at that Evangelical church had told me that they were my friends, better friends than any non-Christians would be, and yet they so quickly withdrew their friendship when they found out I was gay. Would that happen again? Again and again I met people, after leaving that church, who openly accepted me, but that fear wouldn’t go away. It nagged away at the back of my mind. During this time in Liverpool, I never had a boyfriend, I never even tried to find one, I stayed single and celibate. This wasn’t out of any religious belief but it was out of fear. Fear that I couldn’t get close to anyone, fear that my parents would find out I’m gay, I was living with them at the time and I didn’t know if I could hide a relationship from them, and resting at the back of my mind, was the fear that those Evangelical Christians were right and I would go to hell for being gay. It was completely irrational but I couldn’t shake it. I had the realisation, slow at first but soon gathering speed, that the people at that Evangelical church had been lying to me. At first I noticed small lies but as time passed, I noticed bigger and nastier lies. The people at that Evangelical church told me I would never find “truer” friends than them, but those people rapidly withdrew their friendships when they found out I was gay. Their friendships were ultimately so shallow. Outside of that church, I found real friendships, people who didn’t reject me just because of my sexuality. Being a member of MASG, I learnt so much that also opened my eyes. AIDS wasn’t the “judgement of God”, as I’d been repeatedly told at that Evangelical church. The evidence didn’t support all the homophobic lies I’d been told about it. It wasn’t caught via casual physical contact, though people at that Evangelical church had behaved as if it was, even though no one with AIDS had dared to cross its doorstep. Then I met Nicholas & Robin, again. Nicholas had been the organist at that Evangelical church, until it was discovered Robin was his partner. Nicholas & Robin were rapidly and coldly thrown out of the church. I’d watched what had happened silently from the side-lines, terrified that that would be my fate. I was told Nicholas was not a Christian, he was only a member of the church for its social life, so it was right to throw him out of there, for being gay, because he wasn’t really a Christian. Then I met Nicholas & Robin, again. They were both Christians and very involved with a different church. I had been lied to, and to justify a very homophobic act. It left a very sour taste in my mouth. That Evangelical church had told me that the “homosexual lifestyle” was a lonely, cold and sterile life, and I’d only find true friendships and happiness as an Evangelical Christian. But as one, my life was cold, empty and lonely. I was so unhappy, having to hide my sexuality and struggle silently trying to accept it. Only leaving that Evangelical church, saw me start to turn my life around, trying to turn away from a cold and empty existence. My story doesn’t have a Hollywood ending, I didn’t walk away from that Evangelical church and straight into a much better life. It was a struggle and hard work to rebuild my life, especially as I was still haunted by what that Evangelical church said and did to me, causing me to be far from open with other people. I also had to come to terms with all the lies that that church told me, and how I foolishly believed them. It was a hard struggle, finding a new and honest life outside that church, but I am so glad I did. The alternative would have been unliveable. Drew Postscript: I have used the names these groups used back then in 1985/6. Groups called themselves “gay”, rather than Lesbian & Gay or LGBTQ+. In 1995, Merseyside AIDS Support Group (MASG) and Mersey Body Positive (MBP) merged to form Sahir House In 2017, LGCM changed its name to One Body One Faith, with a change in its focus.
  3. (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
  4. 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
  5. Winter 1984 It was a cold and grey winter’s day. The grey sky seemed to hang heavy over everything, stripping away what little colour was left in that winter landscape. I had travelled across Merseyside, on my own, that morning to make this appointment. I’d needed to change trains in the centre of Liverpool, changing from one metro train onto another one in one of the few underground stations in the city. That second train took me under the River Mersey and out into the suburban area of the Wirral. Once I had arrived at the station, I left the train and waited outside. I’d been nervous throughout that journey. I had arranged this appointment, I couldn’t not keep it, not to turn up was not acceptable, but I was so nervous about keeping it. Now, waiting out on the pavement, my nerves had ramped up to another level. Was this going to help me? And what if I was attracted to him? How could I manage that? I was eighteen and that summer I had left college but without the qualifications for my then planned career (which, with hindsight, I wouldn’t have been happy in). I was unemployed with so much time on my hands (it was the 1980s and with the high unemployment rates in Liverpool I didn’t stand much of a chance of finding a job). I was facing up to so many different things about myself but facing that slow realisation on my own. I’d learnt that people didn’t want to hear my problems, the ones I wasn’t too ashamed to share. I had seen the advert, months ago, tucked away in the back of a Christian youth magazine in which all the articles were written by adults. I had kept that magazine, securely hidden amongst a pile of other old magazines. The text of that advert was simple: “HOMOSEXUALITY. There is a positive alternative to the homosexual lifestyle through Christ.” The wording leapt out at me, there was a Christian answer to my problem, to the thing I would never dare to ask anyone about. Since puberty, I’d had the growing realisation that I was homosexual (back then I couldn’t bring myself to say I was gay, that was going too far). I was in so much denial about my sexuality and at every chance I tried to push it down and deny that it was even there, it was all so tiring. Since an early teenager I had been a member of an Evangelical Christian church, our local Anglican church. I worked so hard at being a good Christian, and good Christians were certainly not homosexual, or so I believed. I knew being homosexual meant I was condemned to hell, it was there at church, that belief, that certainty, and I had breathed it into my very soul and believed it all. I was a virgin then, I hadn’t even kissed another boy, I had certainly not held another boy’s hand, but I knew that just my desire to do so condemned me to hell. I wanted saving from that, I couldn’t just be sent to hell for something I had no control over, could I? Then I saw that advert, from an organisation called True Freedom Trust (TFT), who called themselves a “Teaching/Counselling Ministry” and gave a post office box address in The Wirral, not far from where I lived. It had taken me weeks, and screwing up all the courage I had, to write to TFT, sending them a stamped-and-addressed envelope. When it returned, I read the handful of leaflets it contained cover to cover and all over again before carefully hiding them away, I didn’t want my mother finding them. They came with a letter offering me the chance to meet someone from TFT for counselling. Again it took me weeks to screw-up my courage, but eventually I wrote back to them and asked to meet for counselling. That was how I ended up standing there on the pavement, outside that Wirral train station, waiting. I was waiting for HM, from TFT. I was meeting him for counselling. A car pulled up at the curbside there, it was HM. He was a thin, middle-aged man with a five-o’clock shadow so thick on his chin that he looked like he already needed to shave. But the thing that struck me so hard about him was how careworn and miserable he was, no joy came from him. Even when he shook my hand, he seemed so unhappy, the handshake so slight and quick. I had feared that I could be attracted to him, but his joyless personality was so unattractive. We drove to the TFT’s office, housed in a local Anglican church. There HM told me the TFT theology. They did not believe that being homosexual, on its own, was a sin, but any sexual expression of it was. The sin was in the act. All I had to do to avoid hell was to remain celibate, never have sex with another man. Hearing this was such a relief, this was my fire escape out of hell and I could so easily do it. I was young, a virgin, and had never had a relationship, would I ever miss something I’d never had? I was so grateful to HM; I was saved from hell and it came at a low price. We then talked about the leaflets HM had sent me. Three of them were testimonies, short biographies, from men who had “turned away” from the homosexual lifestyle and become heterosexual, all three men finished their stories by saying they were getting married to a woman. When I mentioned these, HM’s face lit up and we talked about them. He saw me as perfect candidate for this change; I was young, innocent and had never wanted to be homosexual. I listened to what he said and drank it all in. The fire escape could lead to paradise, or so it seemed. I left the TFT’s office believing everything I had been told. It was such a physical relief; I wasn’t going to hell, I just had to follow a few rules and I could change and be free. I had been so terrified of my sexuality, seeing it as something I had no power over but which was destroying me from within. Now there was a way of escaping that damnation. At first it was all so easy, I’d not had a relationship so being celibate did not seem a great sacrifice, especially as it would save my soul. I was still deeply closeted but I was living in an environment that was not safe to come out into. The Evangelical church I was a member of was homophobic; that homophobia was covert rather than overt, but I could still read it plainly. I saw HM on a sort of regular basis. At first, we met in the TFT office and we would talk about TFT theology; in reality, I would say something and he would tell me what I needed to do. Like so much of Evangelical Christianity, he always had an answer for me; he always knew what I had to do. It was never him asking me questions and helping me to find out what I wanted to do, he just told me what I had to do. Then HM offered me “healing of the memories” as a way to “heal” me and turn me heterosexual. I readily agreed. I was now desperate for “change” and “healing” in my life. I still hated my sexuality; I still wanted it out of my life, so this offer seemed like another fire escape, a way out of my own personal hell. “Healing of the memories” consisted of me lying on a sofa and HM, after he’d prayed over me for God to open my mind and my memories, would sit at the head of sofa, on a wooden chair, and “guide” me through reliving painful/traumatic memories. The first memory he had me relive was my birth. I lay back on the sofa, HM prayed over me for God to open up my memories, I closed my eyes and nothing came into my mind. I remembered nothing about my birth and I panicked. I wasn’t being faithful to God, there was something wrong with me, God wasn’t opening up my memories, I had angered God, and HM would be upset and angry at me. So my wonderful imagination kicked in and I made up a narrative of my own birth there and then. I imagined that I was a forceps delivery and that I didn’t want to be born, I didn’t want to pulled out of the warm and safe place I had been living in; I was scared and afraid of this bright and cold world I was being pulled into. All very dramatic and all very indicative of my mental health back then. (Years later, I would find out that I was a caesarean birth. What I said back then was just fiction, no miracle of me suddenly finding a lost memory) I met HM regularly for “Healing of the memories”, about once a month, for the next six months. Always he would have me “relive” a memory where my father had let me down or my mother had taken control of something, telling me what I had to do. Always HM told me that this would “repair” my relationship with my parents and “heal” me. (With the benefit of time and hindsight, I am now deeply suspicious of HM’s motives with which memories he guided me to relive. Always they would be ones where my father let me down, where my father was weak, and where my mother was taking control and telling me what to do, my mother being dominant. There is an old and discredited theory called Learned Behaviour. It states that a man is gay because his father is weak and/or absent and his mother is strong and dominant [Back in 1984, Learned Behaviour just plainly ignored lesbians, bisexual people and trans people, but it is a very pathetic and untrue theory.] I am now almost certain HM was pushing me towards that theory. The irony is that I had two very strong-willed and dominant parents, neither one was weak) At the time, I didn’t have any of this insight and HM’s “counselling” only reinforced to me that my parents were to “blame” for my sexuality, to blame for the misery I was living in. It drove a wedge between me and my parents, damaging an already difficult relationship. Now I am ashamed of the way I behaved towards them, but back then I was deeply closeted and being told to blame my parents for it, and I did so because I knew nothing else. But none of this “counselling” was working. There was no change in my sexuality, if anything it was becoming more dominant in my mind. I would see handsome men everywhere and be attracted to them. I had started having crushes on some men I knew. This all left me feeling deeply ashamed and guilty. Wasn’t my sexuality supposed to be changing? Wasn’t I supposed to be leaving behind the temptation of my homosexuality? But I wasn’t. I would lie awake at night and beg God to turn me straight, but there was no change. What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t God listening to me? Was I to be condemned to this cold and lonely living for the rest of my life? Why had God stopped loving me? Or had God never loved me in the first place? I now know I was suffering from depression, but at the time it seemed that I was living in my own personal hell. That fire escape had not worked, but I was still struggling to walk up it, it was the only option I thought I had and it was destroying me. My mother sent me to my GP because of the insomnia and extremely low energy levels I had. My GP said I was depressed, something I couldn’t/wouldn’t hear. Bible-believing Christians didn’t get depressed because that was against God’s will, or so I believed. He prescribed me tranquillisers. I only took them because my mother expected me to. One morning, I woke up and got dressed and then sat down on the edge of my bed. I was alone in the house, both my parents were at work, and suddenly it was all too much for me. I took my morning tranquilliser and then I took another one. Coldly, I carried on taking them; I would overdose on them and finally stop all this pain. My rather tight gag-reflex stepped in, though, and I choked on the third pill. It caught in my throat and I coughed and coughed and then retched and then I spat the pill back up again. I wept because I had been so stupid and weak, or so I felt. I had been feeling suicidal for months before that but it had never gone beyond just thoughts. Each time I would dwell on the idea of suicide, the idea of ending all of this pain and misery, and then another thought would jump into my mind. If I killed myself that was a sin and I’d go straight to hell for it, and I was terrified of hell. That fear kept the act of suicide to a mere thought and desire, and not too well of a constructed plan, but that morning I acted on that desire. It terrified me what I could actually do, how much I could physically harm myself, and I told no one. They would think I was crazy, I was mad, I was worse, and how could they understand? They would say it was because I was homosexual. I certainly couldn’t tell HM, he talked so much about change and leaving the “homosexual lifestyle”. But I was also finding it harder and harder to hide my symptoms of depression. Being celibate was such a lonely existence. I was keeping everyone at arm’s length because I feared that intimacy would lead to sin, and I feared they would find out the truth, but I hated being so lonely too. I saw HM for a little over eighteen months, but it was during the last six months that everything seemed to spiral out of control. Firstly, the organist of my church was expelled for being gay. It was discovered that his close friend was actually his male lover and they were told not to attend our church anymore. When this happened, I told HM about it, I was so shocked and afraid. These people, the people who called themselves my “Christian family”, had Nicholas and his partner thrown out of our church without an apparent second thought. HM told me that Nicholas wasn’t a Christian, he was just someone who enjoyed the social life of being a member of a church, he liked the friends he made at church, so it was an act of Christian discipline to expel him and therefore it was right. (A couple of years later, I learnt that this simply wasn’t true, HM hadn’t been honest with me) Next the curate, at my church, preached a sermon supporting James Anderton’s homophobia and told me that anyone who was homosexual was condemned to hell for their “choice” to be homosexual. He made no distinction between the orientation and sexual activity, he condemned it all. I didn’t tell HM about this because I felt so betrayed; here was a minister of the church I attended, a man I looked up to, condemning me from the pulpit, and he didn’t even known it was me he was condemning. Then I was outed at church and quickly after that I had daemons cast out of me, for being gay, at the church’s youth fellowship. The betrayal of those actions cut deep within me. It didn’t stop there though. So many people in the youth fellowship told me they knew why I was gay; they all seemed to have a theory about my sexuality. I was told I was gay because I had a strong-willed mother, because I had a strong-willed father, because I was “confused” about my masculinity, because I was a woman “trapped” in a man’s body, because I was possessed by daemons, because the devil was sitting on my shoulder and whispering “lies” in my ear saying that I was gay, because I hadn’t met the “right” woman … and so many more theories, and none of them based on anything I had said. None of them reflected any element of me, but all of them showed how little those people knew me. At first all these different theories were almost comical, but soon they started to hurt. No one was offering me acceptance, instead I was seen as a “problem” that needed solving. But quickly people began to pull away from me, drop me and end our friendships because they knew I was gay. Almost overnight, it felt like I lost almost all my friends and was pushed to the very fringes of church life. That hurt so deeply. Now I was physically lonely as well as emotionally lonely. I turned to the only person I thought would help me. I went to see HM and told him about everything that was happening to me—the daemons being cast out of me, the list of theories as to why I was gay, and about losing almost all my friends. I expected HM to support me, to offer help and advice about what I should do next, to show he cared. I was wrong. HM started by saying that homosexuality can be caused by demonic possession. He then went on to tell me there was a lot of “truth” in all those theories people had about why I was gay. As I listened to him, it was as if scales fell away from my eyes and I saw HM for what he was. He wasn’t there to support me; he was justifying my church’s homophobia. He was doing that for the wider Evangelical Church too. He wasn’t there to challenge the Church’s homophobia; he was there to support the status quo by presenting the “acceptable” face of homosexuality to the Evangelical Church. He was a sad, sexless, gay man who was punishing himself with celibacy as the price to be allowed within the Evangelical Church, but never to be allowed to be a full member. He was so pathetic, it was horrible and repulsive to realise. And I had followed him. I made positive noises and said positive things in reply to what he said, but I didn’t believe a word of it. I just wanted to get out of that office as quickly as I could. I never went back to HM and TFT after that day; I knew they didn’t care about me. They cared about being the “acceptable” homosexuals for the Evangelical Church and they wanted to force me into that mould. They hadn’t cared about helping and supporting me, and I had desperately needed that. I wish I could say the hurt and damage stopped the day I walked away from them, but it didn’t because so often the damage doesn’t stop when the abuse does. POSTSCRIPT: At present, the British government has a proposal to ban conversion therapy, though there is still no date for when the bill will come before parliament. There are two exceptions in the proposal. It will not cover anyone over eighteen who consents to have conversion therapy and will not cover gender identify, so trans people at any age can be subjected to it. If this bill had been law in 1984 it wouldn’t have protected me because I was eighteen when I first went to TFT, and I went to them; therefore, I consented to it. Drew Find the next story in this series here
  6. It was spring 1996 and I was on my break at work. The staff room was an old storeroom at the far end of the ward. A collection of old chairs had been arranged in a haphazard circle around an equally old coffee table. It wasn’t highly decorated, or even been decorated in years, and was barely comfortable, but it was a staff room actually located on the ward. Back then that felt like such a luxury. I was on my own there, so often I had to take my breaks alone so we could maintain enough nurses on the ward, but it had become routine for me. I was having a drink and catching up with reading that week’s copy of the Nursing Standard magazine. I was reading an article about sexual relationships between nurses and patients. Not something I had or would ever experience first-hand, but I knew of a few ex-colleagues who had had relationships with ex-patients and that always made me uncomfortable. In a text box, in the article, was a list of activities that could be classed as sexual molestation, if performed without consent. As I read down the list, I had a cold and horrible realization; I had been the victim of this, I had been sexually molested. Before then, I told myself that being sexually molested involved some kind of actual sexual activity, someone forcing you into a sexual act. This list contained activities such as fondling, kissing and groping of the genitals. Nowhere did it say that it had to be a full-blown sexual act. For too long, I had told myself that what happened to me hadn’t been any kind of sexual abuse, it was just one of those things that had happened. It was ten years before, the Summer of 1985; I was aged nineteen and I had gone to a Christian Arts Festival, a Christian version of a very down-market Glastonbury Festival. I had gone there with a group of young people, my age, from the church I was a member of. Unfortunately, the group didn’t run very coherently. Everyone agreed that we should all do the festival together but no one could decide what we should go to see and do together. There were already “discussions” over what events and artists we should see, and no one was interested in the theatre tents. But I was. I was just discovering theatre and the power of it, the joy of writing scripts. I wanted to see everything the two theatre tents there had to offer. By early on the first afternoon, I had given everyone the slip and gone off to see the plays and talks and to attend the workshops that I wanted to see on my own. I threw myself into a long weekend of plays and talks; most of them I saw on my own but that didn’t matter, I was used to being on my own. (Looking back on those plays and talks now, I find many of them naïve and simplistic, not many of them stand out for their attempt to discuss their subjects with any depth.) There was one play performed there that year called Skin Deep and I was determined to see it on my own. It billed itself as a look at twentieth century sexuality but its synopsis told me it was a look at being gay and Christian. I was so deeply in the closet then that I could not dare tell anyone else that I was going to see that play because the admission would have opened me up to far too many questions, so I imagined. So I went on my own. Looking back on it Skip Deep was very simplistic and a bit homophobic. It was about three young friends, a closeted gay man, his female friend and his male friend. The gay man comes out to his female friend and confesses he’s in love with his male friend. The rest of the play was the gay man agonising about being in love with his straight best friend, with different and stylised sections looking at attitudes to sexuality. The play ended with the gay man confessing his love to his male friend, only for the male friend to beat him up for doing so. The gay man then took an overdose and died. After his death, his female friend started a relationship with his male friend. Now I would have been repulsed by the play’s simplistic and rather homophobic plot. Back then I was swept away by seeing my own sexuality, and my fears about it, portrayed on stage. The gay character had killed himself, at the end, and I feared that that would be my fate too. I had been involved with the True Freedom Trust for over a year then and was trying to live by their philosophy, but it was a cold, hard and difficult life. I was also struggling to live up to their philosophy because the church I was attending then, back in Liverpool, offered me no place where I could safely come out to anyone. Now I was watching on stage my greatest fear, that being gay was a lonely and cold life and could cause my death. At the end of the play there was announcement that if anyone was affected by the play then the counselling tent was available. I went straight there. Of course it had affected me. In the tent I was introduced to a counsellor, a man, MC, who was “experienced” in what I needed to talk about. He soon told me that he too worked for True Freedom Trust but was based in the south of England. I told him about how I was feeling after watching the play and how disturbed and afraid I was that I would turn into the central character. MC responded by giving me a hug (now I would find that very questionable, but back then I was too naïve to question it). I was so desperate for the affection that I gave myself over to that hug. But MC didn’t stop there. He kissed me on top of my head and on my forehead. He caressed me and even rubbed his own erection, through his trousers, against my leg. I was too naïve to stop him, to even understand what he was doing, I didn’t even know this was sexual. But it all left me feeling so confused. I was supposed to be turning heterosexual, turning away from being homosexual, and yet I was getting very sexually aroused from MC’s actions. Why was this? MC encouraged me to keep going to see HM, at the Wirral offices of the True Freedom Trust, and of course I agreed with him. Then I didn’t feel able to question him, I didn’t know what else I could do. I left that counselling tent feeling very confused. My body had responded so sexually to MC’s fondling, such a strong and uncontrollable response. Why had that happened? Why wasn’t I changing? It all fed into my feelings of being a failure, that God had abandoned me, that God had actually turned his back on me, and I didn’t know why. Guilt quickly followed on from that confusion, I had done something wrong, somehow I had caused this situation and it was my fault for physically responding to it. I told no one about what had happened to me, I pushed that memory as far down as I could. Again, I felt it was my fault that it had happened, that I had placed myself willingly into the situation where I could be used. Then, that spring day in 1996, I was confronted by what had happened to me and it was sexual abuse, I had been molested, a publication that I deeply respected told me so. It hit me in the face. But I had to go back to work moments later, again there wasn’t the chance to talk about how I felt, even if I had been ready for it, but it played on my mind. A realisation that would not go away. It would take me longer to realise and accept that it wasn’t my fault. I had been a vulnerable teenager and MC took advantage of that; he should never have even hugged me. Now, looking back on what happened to me, and not attempting to justify MC’s actions, his behaviour was a deep indictment of how impossible it was to live up to the requirements of the True Freedom Trust. MC was a deeply frustrated man and the only way he could find any release for it was to grope men who came to him for counselling. This is completely unacceptable behaviour. As a nurse, I have looked after people who have been deeply upset. I have held their hands, placed my hand on their forearm or shoulder, but never anything more. To use someone who comes to you for help in the way MC used me is never acceptable. The True Freedom Trust’s teaching, that the only acceptable life for a gay man is that of cold celibacy, is wrong and dangerous. It condemns people to a cold and loveless life and to sexual frustrations that can cause people to act out in dangerous and even abusive ways. It took me so long to realise that. I don’t know what happened to MC. Years after my encounter with him, I was one of three men who exposed his actions in a television documentary, and this resulted in him being kicked out of the True Freedom Trust, but after that I do not know anything else of him. I hope he found freedom and stopped molesting other men under the guise of counselling them. Drew Find the next story in this series here
  7. 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
  8. NickolasJames8

    Election

    Well, I cast my first vote in an election yesterday, and I'm happy to say that almost all of the people I voted for won here in Virginia. The moderate Bob McDonnell trashed the extremist Creigh Deeds, the left of center candidate for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli easily defeated the radical Steve Shannon and a bunch of local republicans won here as well. The only candidate that I voted for who didn't win was Jody Wagner, but I don't really think this was a good year for her to run. She was a great candidate, but she got stuck on a losing ticket with a group of left wing racists here in Virginia and the people went another way. Unfortunately, the democrats in Maine have voted against gay marriage. But on the plus side, New Jersey has a new, though morbidly obese, republican governor elect. Hopefully he'll trim more fat from the budget than he has from his diet. Hopefully, the republican fools don't get too overconfident about what happened yesterday and start to think that they can cruise to victory next year in the mid-term elections. And hopefully for the democrats, they'll realize that Tim Kaine is an inept party leader and that when they snubbed Howard Dean, they screwed themselves over. Because the truth is, before Dean was chairing the DNC, they had nothing. Under Dean, they regained complete control of the house, the senate and the white house. Not to mention the fact that they won an overwhelming majority of the governorships in the nation. They should probably give him a call and beg him to come back.
  9. Twenty years ago today, on December 1, 1998, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved the addition of sexual orientation to the county’s human rights ordinance. The battle many had fought over the past year culminated in victory. A temporary achievement since the hateful Christian Coalition worked to place the decision on the ballot the following year. They lost. For over a year, I helped increase awareness, raise money, conduct outreach, lobby politicians, debate homophobes, and granted countless interviews to the media. I was called vile names by those professing their Christianity often enough my dislike for the religion became permanent. To this day, any mention of Christian values makes me frown. On that fateful morning, my boyfriend and I awoke in darkness and were in front of the Commission chambers by sunrise. With hateful chants as background, I spoke to National Public Radio, The New York Times, the Voice of America, Armed Forces Radio, and who knows how many more outlets in both English and Spanish. My fifteen minutes of fame thanks to the marketing people thinking I spoke well and came across as a level-headed individual. Ha! Seeing my name on the front page of the Times and listening to the NPR report the following morning was a thrill. I still have the newspaper and a cassette of the radio show. However, the most wonderful part of the experience was working with the men and women who made the day’s events possible. Maybe it was not on par with the promise made by the signers of the Declaration of Independence to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor,” but to me it was close. The time and financial commitment made by many propelled us to victory. Liebe Gadinsky stands out amongst all. The mother of two and her husband became friends, and although we rarely communicate these days, I will treasure the time I spent with them for as long as I live. Liebe and Seth were proof that the fight for our humanity was not limited to GLBT community members, but encompassed caring individuals who felt discrimination was unjust. Many of you dislike and dismiss political involvement, I read the comments often enough when I posted a story revolving around a presidential campaign. As an aside, my involvement back then influenced much of what I wrote in that book. I would like you all to remember that without drag queens fighting in front of the Stonewall Inn in 1969 or volunteers canvassing throughout Miami in 1998, most of us would be hiding in the back of a closet too scared to live. Go out, give money, volunteer, make phone calls, write letters; do whatever it takes to elect individuals who will not treat us as second-class citizens. It was the experience of a lifetime and I am grateful I was part of such a momentous event. My participation also allowed me to keep a promise I made when the Anita Bryant-backed forces led to the overturn of a similar ordinance in 1977. I swore that if the issue arose again, I would not remain quiet. I am glad I did not. I’ll close with Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has” https://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/02/us/2-decades-on-miami-endorses-gay-rights.html
  10. I recently started, slowly, 'coming out' as gender fluid. Some of my close friends and husband, some random people at work and acquaintances i felt would be accepting/ understanding.\ Started updating my wardrobe and finding ways to battle the dysphoria when I'm in a situation I'm unable/uncomfortable presenting honestly on "boy days" (such as at work or situations where I have to be "kiddo's Mom". Today was a "boy day". Hubby, kiddo and I went shopping. I had on a great neutral outfit and was feeling awesome. And handsome Got some great neutral and "boy day" clothes. Had dinner and scowled when the waitress very obviously put the candies down in front of me and the bill in front of him . And chuckled when the hubby passed it right over (because I always pay) . Then, walking home a pick-up truck full of teenage boys drove by and yelled out the window at us. I'm not 100% sure what they yelled, they were driving pretty fast. But I'm pretty sure it was something along the lines of "F*ck*ng Fairies" or "F*ck*ng F*gg*ts" . And the inner conflict began..... Part of my was all "who gives a sh*t what they think! F*ck 'em" Part of me was all "what kind of low lives think it's okay to yell things like that out the window at people? For christ sake give it up!" Part of me wished I had moved quick enough to flash my (usually very obvious) t*ts their way to teach them about judging someone based on appearance. But another part of me was just a little excited that walking down the street with my hubby and son a group of strangers was so convinced I was a guy they felt confident to assume we were a homosexual couple. Those guys are till ass holes though.
  11. 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.
  12. Homophobia is a word used frequently in our media, but what is meant by it? The dictionary definition is fear of someone homosexual, but Julie Fish (senior lecturer and research fellow in social work at De Montfort University, Leicester) doesn’t think it goes far enough to define the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This is the argument behind her book. In her opening chapter, Fish argues for the use of the term Heterosexism for prejudice/discrimination against LGB people. Her argument is homophobia is seen as a personal fault, the prejudice of just one person, it doesn’t have the social/political element of sexism or racism and therefore can be marginalised as the fault of the individual and not society. Changing to the use of Heterosexism also encompasses this social/political element. This might not be a new argument, originating in America, but Fish firmly roots it in British culture and health and social care, making this book very relevant for British readers. Other chapters analyse LGB health care needs (not just sexual health), how stereotypes feed into discrimination (not just negative ones), the barriers to LGB research (why often there is so little published), why information on LGB demographics is often poor, examples of Heterosexism from research, and the last chapter is a review of the current government’s legalisation that affects LGB people and the way forward for social equality. Though coming from a social care background, Fish’s book has plenty to offer for nurses and healthcare professionals, especially challenging us in how we marginalise LGB people often without thinking. Though an academic, Fish’s tone here is straightforward and readable, not the dry and uninteresting tone that often creeps into academics’ writing. The main drawback is its price, which for such a concise book is high—which sadly shows how little faith the publishers have in it. My advice, if you can’t afford it then pester your Trust’s library until they get a copy. Certainly a must-read for all in healthcare. (This review was originally written as a commission by the Nursing Standard magazine) Find it here on Amazon
  13. "Chelsea captain [and former England captain] John Terry has been banned for four matches and fined £220,000 for racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand." http://www.bbc.co.uk...otball/19723020 Good. This follows other moves to stamp out homophobia in football and other sports http://www.gaystarne...nti-gay-charter
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