A young person (who wishes to remain anonymous) shares what he wishes children and youth workers knew about his experience.
When and how you did you realise you were gay? How did it feel?
I came out super early. I knew I was different when I was 11 or 12 and came out as gay at the end of Year 7 and beginning of Year 8. It was such a relief to know what it was that was playing with my head, but also daunting as I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’d grown up in church, so was worried about my family and church family’s reactions.
For a while I tried so hard to not be gay – to be ‘normal’ – because my views had been warped by the church growing up. I didn’t think it was ‘natural’, so coming out to my parents was a huge relief. Luckily, I have an extremely supportive family, and I am eternally grateful for that. A lot of people I know had the polar opposite experience, and I am so grateful for my relatively painless coming out.
Have you told your church congregation?
I’ve been very careful who I’ve told within the church. I grew up in a Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Church, so a wide range of views was represented in the congregation. I have been very hurt by some people’s opinions within the church, but more hurt by the audacity of them. Strong views against homosexuality were usually vocalised very aggressively, and that really damaged my relationship with the church and with God. I constantly felt like I was being talked about by people who had never actually asked me if it was true!
Since moving out to go to college, I’ve been attending a large Church of England church in the city. I’m not entirely open about my sexuality, but I will never deny it if someone asks. While I feel welcome in the church, the entire uncertainty about people’s views is such a difficult obstacle to navigate. People I thought had more liberal views are outright against the LGBT lifestyle, and people I thought were against it aren’t! People in the church are so difficult to read, especially when they’re in a position of leadership.
What can children’s workers do to lay the groundwork before puberty?
Talk about it! There are enough verses about homosexuality in the Bible for it to warrant a discussion. Talk about them in context and have an open discussion about being ‘different’. Schools are getting better at covering it, but there’s still so much to discuss. Talking about how people aren’t always attracted to the opposite gender is so important to young children and will help them be much more open-minded when they grow up.
What can youth workers do to support LGBT young people?
Personally, I hated preferential treatment. I hated the idea that a youth worker would ‘protect me’ more than others, as I don’t feel like the odd one out. I feel like a normal person who is just attracted to the same gender! If a young person feels comfortable enough to tell you, you’re doing your job right! Have an open, honest conversation with them, but don’t show any bias. Refer to the Bible, but don’t force scripture into the discussion. Young people are looking for reassurance that they’re still loved by God. They’re not looking for damning verses.
I personally read the Bible and decided what I interpreted these verses as, but some might still need that help. Look at the verses and analyse them in context, as that will reassure your young people.
What less obvious things have been helpful or hurtful in your opinion?
I’m quite tough-skinned, so I never really took offence at assumptions or phrases people made or said. I think children and youth workers that are aware of LGBT young people in their group, should be careful not to push an agenda that might make that person feel uncomfortable. Making sure that everyone feels represented is key, but make sure these things are talked about, rather than just brushing over them. What did really annoy me was people’s ability to dodge the questions. For example, if I asked: “Does God support gay marriage?” they’d answer: “God loves everybody equally.” Dodging the question doesn’t help. It needs to be answered.
What else would you say to youth or children’s workers?
If a young person wants to come out to you, they trust you enough to do it. You might be the first person they tell, so don’t just approach it from the church’s perspective. It’s so easy for church workers to fall behind the view of a specific church, forgetting their personal beliefs and opinions. Ultimately, all the young person is after is reassurance and affirmation that God loves them unconditionally. Protection from damaging views within the church is also something that is invaluable and has helped me an enormous amount.