In an interview with The Scottish Catholic Observer, a leading gay rights advocate in the United Kingdom spoke movingly about her faith, while at the same time she appealed again for more common ground between LGBT and religious communities.
Ruth Hunt, head of the LGBT rights organization Stonewall, and a Catholic lesbian woman, gave the interview to coincide with LGBT month in Scotland, which this year celebrates the theme “faith, religion and philosophy.” In the interview, Hunt spoke about being raised Catholic, and she said of the faith which she still practices:
” ‘I was brought up Catholic, I believe in one Holy Roman Catholic Church. . .I believe it is where Christ is most accurately reflected. I feel at home there, I maintain a good relationship with the Church, I am pleased to be part of it. . .
” ‘I never felt the need break away. . .In the past, when I didn’t go I found I missed it, it provides community and creates a space that is very profound and spiritual for me.’ “
Hunt later said she “never felt excluded from the Church I attended. . .never felt I wasn’t welcome.” Like many Catholics, though, Hunt has questioned the church, yet remaining Catholic was a “very important thing” in her teenage years and was reaffirmed during her college studies of medieval English.
Hunt acknowledged that some sharp divisions and deep hurt exist between LGBT and religious communities, which can create further difficulties for LGBT people of faith. She explained:
” ‘I do meet people who have had different, difficult experiences though who’ve been damaged by being told to deny their sexuality, who felt rejected by God. . .That’s saddens me, and at Stonewall we often talk about the need for “kind eyes,” when we listen to people.'”
But too often these divisions are “something artificially constructed,” particularly the “over inflated” conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights that some propose. Hunt noted:
” ‘There are many LGBT people of faith and many LGBT people have lots of friends and family in faith communities. To think in terms of binaries and opposites is not helpful. . .It does concern me the way some opposition is expressed. I don’t think it is Christian to be harmfully offensive. I think there’s always room to disagree with compassion.’ “
Working towards more inclusion in religious communities and more common ground between LGBT and religious communities remain an important task, according to Hunt, because “legal rights only go so far.” She offered advice on how LGBT advocates could proceed as they seek greater justice and equality:
“Hearing the truth of people’s testament is very important. . . A lot can be achieved if you start on basis of love but it’s difficult when people are utterly determined not to hear each other. . .
“We need to reach deeper into communities, to help people be accepted as they live, work, socialise and pray. . .
“The rights of LGBT people don’t get in the way of people of faith who practice that faith.”
This interview is not Hunt’s first time speaking about the need to overcome divisions between LGBT and religious communities. When she was appointed Stonewall’s director in 2014, Hunt recognized that despite legal advances, there was still much work to do to bring about religious and cultural acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. Last year, Hunt reaffirmed to The Tablet that changing attitudes rather than legislation was her priority. She welcomed Archbishop Vincent Nichol’s support of monthly LGBT outreach Masses near London as an effort to overcome the deep chasm that may exist between faithful Catholics and their church institutions.
Her wisdom is again insightful in this interview with the Observer, and LGBT advocates, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, would do well to read it. Hunt, who recommends listening to the truth of people’s lives, witnesses powerfully by living her own truth as a lesbian Catholic woman refusing to compromise on either her faith or her sexual orientation.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry