Last Sunday both Toni and I were nominated and elected to be on the LGBT Westminster pastoral council. In other words to be part of the decision making team etc.
It’s interesting how this group came about.
The Admiral Duncan, a gay bar in Soho was bombed in 1999 killing three people and wounding 70.
There was a response not just of hatred but of prayer and out of this tragedy was born LGBT Westminster, a support group for catholic LGBT people.
After the elections on Sunday night a man asked to talk to me. As part of the election process we had to write a short bio and if I knew that it would have been read aloud I’d have written something different!
The bio mentioned my involvement in the inner healing ministry and upon hearing this, this man wanted to talk to me about conversion therapy.
From him I understood that conversion therapy didn’t just exist in christian camps or centres but also that it existed in psychiatric services.
Without giving away too much he explained to me the abuse that he went through and the long term effects that it has had on his life.
It’s true that in times past homosexuality was illegal and was considered as a mental illness and things like electric shock treatment were used to treat it.
When I come to terms with stories and facts like this it makes my own journey, as painful and all as it has been seem comparatively small.
And perhaps the saddest thing that this man told me repeatedly is that the psychiatrists were catholic.
“They were catholics, they were catholics”.
And yes, to many of us gay people, the word ‘Catholic’ is like the the word “Cat” to a mouse…..danger!
What most people don’t realise unless they are gay themselves is that “coming out” has 2 dimensions to it
1. Accepting it yourself which in my experience is the easier part.
2. Finding acceptance and living in society, in my experience the very hard part.
Even today it is very hard being openly gay and catholic because some people will treat you badly regardless.
Straight people don’t need to worry about so many things when they go out.
I noticed it here in London, there are some areas and places and you can feel the hostility and aggression and you just want to run. You know that you are not safe.
It’s the same for going on holidays or meeting family etc. Not everywhere is safe, not everyone is accepting and many families want their gay children to stay away less they bring shame to them and their friends.
It took my mum years and years to tell anyone that I was gay until she was forced to when a breakdown landed me back in Ireland.
I still remember it! When I was getting better I started going out and she was petrified who I spoke to in the pub and what I said. If only she could have been proud of me as I was I probably wouldn’t have broken down at all but that’s another story and she’s got there now, more or less.
And then of course there is the acceptance in the church….
After my conversion I spent 3 years in France staying with catholic communities and I never once met a single openly gay catholic man.
Nor did I during my 6 months in India or in my first 6 months with the MGL’s (missionaries of God’s love) in Canberra.
I got into constant trouble for talking about it and for sharing my testimony until I had to leave each place time and time again and to my family in Ireland this was further confirmation that I was the problem!
It took me years to accept and believe that I wasn’t the problem but that the church and society was the problem and that God wasn’t calling me to fit into a system of silence and shame but rather to stand out!
Yet the problem with anyone who stands out is this: Who will stand with you?
Although I joke, the answer is that precious few will stand with you even though they agree with you and they know that the system is corrupt.
Fear holds people back. Fear of the consequences, fear of the authorities that be etc.
It was fear that caused the disciples to run from the cross and leave Jesus alone.
And it’s because of this that groups like LGBT Westminster are critically important because we not only need God, we need eachother, we need friends, we need community and we need a place where we feel safe and accepted.
My hope is that LGBT Catholic groups like this will spring up all over the world and give gay Catholics a taste of normality, a taste of acceptance and a place where they can come and take the heavy protective armour off and just be.
And so with all this in mind, let us keep praying and hoping for the future that the church will learn from the error of her ways and reach out in love to welcome her LGBT children home realising that she is the one in need of “gay conversion therapy” and not us gays!
Bless your day,