As I sit down in October to write this, I’m embarrassed to admit that I never knew that women could be gay. Growing up on the island of Guernsey, which had seen a revival in the 1780s thanks to the Wesley brothers and so was very staunchly conservative in its Christianity, I was “shielded” by the Thatcher government’s Section 28 policy from understanding that some of us are just “wired” differently. I knew that some men could be gay, but the media tended to portrayed them as very effeminate, comical characters who were frequently the butt of sitcoms and jokes, and therefore something to be ridiculed and rejected.
In retrospect, I often wonder what might have happened if I had received a broader more scientific education regarding sexuality while growing up. Would I have saved myself all the pain and aggro of going through so many years of self-hate and rejection, which sadly landed me in hospital twice fighting for my life? You see I had a terrible secret, which I felt I could not possibly share with anyone lest it put me on the “unsafe and unsound” naughty step at church from which I would never be allowed to return. My secret? That whilst I yearned to love and be loved, whilst I longed for the precious gift of intimacy with a significant other with whom I could build a home and a family, the people I kept falling in love with much to my horror were women. I spent years agonising silently as to why God could create me with such a deep desire for love and yet for the source of that love to be from a place that was perceived to be so evil and wrong.
It was a circle I could never square. I would lie awake night after night, begging God to change me, to heal me, to take away this yearning from me. Indeed, I willingly subjected myself to years of conversion practices, making myself as vulnerable as I could with complete strangers who believed they could help me, often paying thousands of pounds in the process. They were, in the most part, kind and loving — although I was always left feeling such a total failure as the prayers just didn’t work. Was it that I didn’t have enough faith? Was it that I was not being honest or open enough? God only knew, but yet the inner turmoil continued, and the pressure built until it got too much. My body started to crack under the strain until I finally ended up in hospital suffering in severe physical pain.
My second breakdown took me to a very dark place indeed — where I knew I had literally a life and death choice to make. I could not continue with this level of inner conflict and pain. My church leaders were sadly at a loss to know what to do with me, telling the last time I saw them that it was now a matter between “me and God”. This was the final straw, which literally broke me. A week later I was in hospital. I knew that the only way forward was to try and turn and embrace whoever and whatever I was — but filled me with fear and even more questions. If I allowed myself to date a woman, would that bring me the comfort and joy that I so desperately yearned for — and how would God react to this act of disobedience? I truly thought I was walking away from God, which filled me with horror, but I reasoned that God would know I had tried everything to change the situation and that if He truly loved me unconditionally then He wouldn’t let me go.
Much to my amazement I found God walking right beside me, just as He had always done. Chance encounters on airplanes, scripture verses coming to mind when most needed and the most wonderful encounter with an evangelical bishop who had been such a good friend to me when I had been on the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council — the Church’s “Cabinet” — on which I had had the privilege of serving for six years. It was this bishop who, in the rather austere surroundings of the House of Lords, reassured me that I was indeed a precious child of God and, after asking if I had a pen and paper, shared with me the prayer of King Henry VI:
“O Lord Jesus Christ, who has created and redeemed me, and hast brought me unto that which now I am [this phrase was very heavily underlined], Thou knowest what Thou wouldest do with me, do with me according to Thy will, for Thy tender mercy’s sake, Amen.”
It was he who also urged me to write to all my senior evangelical friends — of whom I had many, given that as a senior evangelical I found myself going around the world speaking and preaching — to tell them my unique testimony, explaining why I had made my decision to come out.
I won’t lie — coming out was not easy. The good news is that I was by now deeply in love. To have such joy and happiness in my life, but to be met with such judgement and rejection by my closest friends was heartbreaking. I was experiencing a whirlwind of emotions — my life had suddenly turned technicolour, my eyes shone with a new-found hope and love, and yet the loss of those closest to me was deeply upsetting. I often say it was their deafening silence that hurt most — one can respond to criticism, but silence is far more challenging to deal with. It felt as if I no longer existed, which made me wonder how I would have coped if I had been younger when I came out?
It was a thought that would haunt me as the years progressed. How on earth do young LGBT+ people cope with these sorts of pressures? I began to sense that this was not the end of the journey for me — that God still had another calling for me to fulfil. I knew I needed time to heal, indeed I needed time away from church completely for a while given that even a chorus could trigger me.
I sensed that I would “know” when the right time to re-engage would be and finally in 2014 I began to feel things turning. It is a long story, indeed one that I have documented in my book Just Love; however, I realised that I was in quite a privileged position of knowing people on “both sides” of the conversation within the Church. In 2017 I led a debate within the Church of England’s General Synod about the harms of “conversion therapy”, which ended with the Synod agreeing to call on the government to ban it. Later that year I led some major research into the harms of “conversion therapy”, the results of which I then shared across the world — even with Pope Francis. I was invited onto the Government’s LGBT Advisory Panel, and soon found myself at the forefront of discussions involving religion, sexuality and gender identity. My foundation was given a grant by the UK Foreign Office to launch the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives, where I sought to bring together senior affirming faith leaders from around the world who wished to speak out and protect LGBT+ people.
God still appears to be opening doors, even unexpected ones. It seems my challenge is to find the courage and strength to keep walking through them, knowing He is with me every step of the way.
Editor’s note: At 2019’s ACSQ Synod a motion was passed “That this Synod…acknowledges the pain and damage conversion therapy and sexual and gender orientation change efforts have caused in people’s lives…will not advocate the practice of conversion therapy or propagate conversion/reparative ideology.”