Like so many LGBT people of faith, my relationship with religion hasn’t always been an easy one.
From childhood, I always tried to live life by the morals and values of Christianity that were instilled in me from an early age at home, church and in school.
It wasn’t until I started to understand my sexuality that I began to feel that network was fractured. I was supported at home but, like too many others, couldn’t say the same about church and school.
In 2012, I decided to write to the then head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, challenging him on the shamefully anti-LGBT comments he had been making in the media. I asked him directly if I was welcome in a church as a Catholic and a gay man.
In his response, Cardinal O’Brien said that I was welcome but went on to discuss “very vocal people who are homosexual” and the discrimination that he and the Church faced for upholding Christian values.
It didn’t feel like much of a warm embrace. It’s difficult to conjure up sympathy for a centuries-old institution steeped in power and influence like the Catholic Church over isolated young people struggling every day to be accepted just for being themselves.
That is why it is such a relief to hear about the refreshingly inclusive attitude of Fr Morton and St Bride’s Church in Cambuslang. This week, they posted a public announcement on Facebook re-emphasising that gay people are welcome in St Bride’s parish. Having discussed the issue with Fr Morton, I know he sincerely believes that gay people should feel accepted and welcome without prejudice and it cannot be overstated what an important and welcome step this is, especially for LGBT people of faith and their families in the local community.
With churches across the country beginning to embrace same-sex marriage and the first same-sex ceremony involving a Muslim man taking place in the UK, it finally feels like real progress is being made for LGBT people who want religion to be part of their lives.
It is another step towards LGBTI equality but, there is always more work to be done, particularly at school. The shadow of section 28, scrapped by the last Labour Government, still looms over our education system. Research carried out by the Time for Inclusive Education campaign has shown that 90% of LGBTI people experience homophobia, biphobia and transphobia at school, 27% have attempted suicide as a result of bullying and 80% of teachers do not feel adequately trained in how to tackle this bullying.
Thanks to the hard work of the TIE campaign, the Scottish Government has now agreed to set up a working group on homophobic bullying in schools but if we are to get it right for every child, we need that working group to lead to action for the young people we are currently failing and a crucial part of that will involve all schools, including faith schools, getting behind that action.