Many Rainbow Pilgrims have experienced rejection from religion, just as many of us have stories of acceptance and inclusivity through faith. Discover the unique and deeply personal faith journeys we have been on.
Living with shame
Two Rainbow Pilgrims recall what it was like to grow up being gay in a faith community that considered this to be not only a sin, but an ‘abomination’. Both Pilgrims are seeking asylum in the UK to escape persecution.
Rakel grew up in Uganda. Her parents were not married and she was sent to live with relatives, away from her mother. Rakel now attends a Metropolitan Community Church. Listen to her story.
In my culture being a lesbian, it’s a sheer abomination, they don’t allow it. I come from a religious home where they really worship God. They don’t want to talk about anything lesbian, gay or homosexual because they see you as dirty and disgusting. I thought I was a curse, I was bewitched. I didn’t have a mother to cry to. My step mum didn’t like me. She just treated me like hell. And when she heard about [me being a lesbian], she told me I’m better to be given to dogs to be eaten.
Ray is a gay man who was born and grew up in West Africa in a Catholic family. While at university he began a relationship with a Catholic priest. During this time he wrestled with his guilt and desire to conform. Listen to his story.
And when I read in the bible that homosexuality is an abomination, I felt like I was dirty every day. I labelled myself as the sin that never ends. I went to university, I was trying to understand my sexuality, but I couldn’t. The way the society was, because [my country] is 95% Muslim, and gays are not allowed, completely not allowed. So I was struggling and fighting. I wanted to conform to the society by getting married, by having children, by living a normal life like everybody, just to hide my sexuality.
It was very hard for me to express my anger towards...organised religion.
Adjusting to a new culture can be challenging. Here Eliza describes the contrast between the religious culture she was brought up in in Greece, with the secular, middle-class culture that she has encountered at UK universities.
Some Rainbow Pilgrims have challenged and rejected faith because of their sexuality or gender identity. Here, two Rainbow Pilgrims recall how faith and their identity have come into conflict.
Joe grew up in Singapore and attended Catholic mission schools. That was until he left to study at Manchester University. It was here that he first encountered GaySoc and began challenging his faith. Listen to his story.
I was quite a devout Catholic until my twenties when I came out. The first couple of years was quite a struggle between my faith and my sexuality, I mean, I knew I wasn’t a bad person, and evil person, so why would the church be so down on me? I gradually stopped going to church and praying and stuff. I gradually made the journey from Catholicism to agnostic, and now I’m a fully-fledged atheist.
I am an atheist.
Victoria describes the impact that religion has had on her life and her identity as an atheist. Listen to her story.
Arron grew up in a conservative culture in New Zealand, emigrating to the UK in the 1980s. When he came out to his mum she ‘had a fit’ and worried what Arron’s deeply religious Presbyterian grandparents would think. Here, Arron shares a decorative swan that belonged to them. For Arron, the swan represents how he feels about his grandparents, their faith and his sexuality.
Their faith was really important to them and their faith was something that turned me away from them as well because when I came out as gay, my mum was like ‘don’t tell your grandparents’. So I never told my grandparents I was gay because my mother said their religion wouldn’t allow things like that so I never got to tell them. That was a regret. When they died, my mum, she sent over this thing. I thought it was very camp. It was a swan, it’s a terrible thing. It’s crystal or something. I used to love it as a kid, I thought it was quite camp and sparkly, it was on my grandparents’ dressing table and that’s what my mother sent me from my grandmother. It sits on my dressing table now and it does remind me of my grandparents a lot. It represents the antithesis of my grandparents, because they were quite frugal and sour and I always thought it was quite sparkly and camp. I suppose it represents the fact that they had this little bit of them, the bit I got of them, was that little bit that was sparkly on their very frugal and sour house. And that little bit of sparkly thing now sits in my house.
Some Rainbow Pilgrims have reconciled a conflicting faith and personal identity, sometimes by changing their faith. For others, the two have never come into conflict. Listen to their stories.
Born in Indonesia, Anom’s Chinese heritage and Catholic faith made him a minority. What’s more, being gay was not tolerated. Anom believes his minority status played a part in his questioning of religious institutions. Here he explains how, after moving to New York he set about reclaiming his faith. Listen to Anom’s story.
I came out to myself and a big part of my coming out was how to reconcile my sexuality and my faith. So I googled, literally, 'gay', 'Catholic', 'New York'. I found two organisations. One is called Dignity, New York, the other one is the crazy one. Thank goodness I picked the right organisation! So that’s where I started a journey of reconciling my faith and my sexuality. But what actually happened is that’s the journey of reclaiming my faith, because that’s where I learned what being a Catholic, what being a Christian is about. When I was small I was taught these clichés, statements that, ‘Oh Catholicism is about your inner spirituality’, about the building and about the institution. It didn’t mean anything to me at that time, but after being with Dignity I can understand the difference between having your own faith to start with and being able to separate it from the institution, it could be different from the church building. At Dignity I also met my current husband. He’s a theologian within the Christian tradition. He’s super Catholic, but a kickass Catholic who is questioning the institution and annoying the institution all the time.
Stephen was born in Kenya and became aware that he was gay as a teenager, something that he knew was not tolerated by his church there. Since discovering the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) he has reclaimed his faith.
When I was young I was going to church because there was no excuse to my parents, or my wife, why I couldn’t go to church. But on my own, I’m not there. Only going there, praying, and go home. Because I’m hiding something. Now I’ve been taught by MCC that being gay, you can be a Christian and be gay. They respect my sexuality and my faith. They mix it. Because it doesn’t mean, because I’m gay I don’t belong to God. I belong to God.
Jacob grew up in a Lutheran household in Alaska. From an early age, his queerness forced him to forge his own personal relationship with his faith, one based on reason. Now Jacob attends Quaker meetings in London and studies philosophy. Listen to his reflections on faith.
I had to figure out religion. Real quick. You know, where do I stand if, by the quality of who I am, I cannot be possibly welcomed into eternal life? The gay thing for me was what first let me rupture with faith. First let me stand on my own haunches and say ‘no’. It was what let me become, it’s a silly thing to say but to become a man. If I were a woman, to be a woman. If I was trans, to be trans. I have the name Jacob, of all things. This is the man who wrestled with an angel, in the great traditions. Basically said to God ‘I’m not taking that deal’. Quakers allowed me to emancipate the notion ‘I’m responsible’. So that faith tradition is a good one. I’m glad I found it, and it took coming to this country to really become part of it.
It has not hindered anything of my faith.
Scotch grew up in a Jewish community in South Africa. Here he shares what it was like to grow up in a culture where men and women were often separated and how he feels his trans identity has helped him to become closer to God.
Shiraaz grew up in South Africa and emigrated to the UK 15 years ago. For him, his Jewish identity and gay identity go hand-in-hand. He feels lucky to be part of an inclusive faith community in London, where he feels welcome and wanted.
There’s various different groups, like gay Jews in London, there’s also JGLB, which is the Jewish gay and lesbian group. What’s nice is that if you go to any liberal synagogue, or any reformed synagogue, you’re going to find quite a large JLGBT contingent that will be there anyway. What’s great is my synagogue, there’s normally a Pride service. For World Aids day, my synagogue will have a specific service for it. It’s very inclusive. Progressive Judaism is all about inclusivity.
Rumbic was brought up in a religious family and had always loved going to church. That stopped when she was 15. She has only rediscovered her faith since arriving in the UK. Listen to her story.
I realised when I was about 15, I was in a science lesson. The teacher was talking, and the topic was reproduction and when he mentioned that man should get married to a woman and have sex with a woman, but you can’t have a man with a man, or a woman with a woman. He said people like that are not allowed in this country and those kinds of people cannot be Christians and it’s a sin. And that’s the time – I was scared and constantly in fear. Even in church I was in fear, because bearing in mind I was a sin. It was something I couldn’t ask anybody about. How to deal with it and ask for any advice. I stopped going to church. That was really hard. And I’ve just started going to church [again] since I arrived in this country, since I found out about MCC in Camden. At first, I didn’t like going there either as I thought there was no point in me going to church as a sinner. But the moment I stepped into the church in north London, Camden, I must say that’s the place that changed my whole feeling. I even started smiling because after that Sunday, after going into that church… yeah, I don’t think there’s a Sunday that I haven’t been in that church. Maybe one of two, but I love going there because it made me feel that no matter who I am, God loves me and God loves everybody. And I am thankful being part of that church. Through that church I lead a life of hope, knowing there is more to life.