Sunday, April 20, 2014

Suffering, death, resurrection. Easter, it's a gay journey

Last Saturday night I lit a candle in the upstairs bar of the Stonewall Hotel as members of the LGBT community, straight friends and allies gathered for the #Vigil4Hope.  A symbolic act? A ritual? 

#Vigil4Hope was held to remember LGBT people who had taken their own lives because the torment of trying to reconcile their faith and sexuality became too much.

Lighting a candle for one of our LGBT community who has suicided actually changes nothing. It's too late. They are gone. Whilst the focus is on the person no longer with us, the symbolic act is more for the vigil holders' benefit and it also creates awareness.

Symbolism, however can be nothing more than empty, ritualistic tradition. For example, some religious people will attend a service this weekend. One of only two they attend all year; the other being Christmas. The priest will reprimand the swollen congregation for not attending the other fifty Sundays. Far from being a meaningful act, their attendance at church was possibly motivated by nothing more than fear, guilt, tradition or sense of obligation.

Other Christians will be find the celebrations over the Easter weekend profoundly meaningful. Good Friday a day of deep reflection believing that God came in the form of human flesh to save a lost humanity. Easter Sunday they rejoice that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day.

Having been brought up a traditional Anglican and later a popular preacher in Australia's mega-churches for many years, I am very familiar with the meaning and symbolism of Easter.

Easter essentially symbolises three things. Suffering, death and resurrection. The suffering of Christ once arrested and tried, the death by crucifixion and then rising from the grave on the third day. Many LGBT people are intimating familiar with these three experiences. They echo the journey many of us have taken.

If you were able to sit through Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", you know the iconic images of a limp, loin clothed Jesus hanging soulfully on a cross are far from the reality of a Roman crucifixion.  He suffered and beaten so much he was unrecognizable before he was hung on the cross.

Coming to the realisation we are gay, lesbian or transgender happens, if not in our early years, around puberty. This can be a frightening revelation, as we may never have heard any affirming messages; probably only derogatory statements. Immediately the person begins to think of themselves as 'abnormal', dysfunctional, broken or bad. And so...the internal suffering begins. But they can also suffer in their homes, churches or workplaces through rejection or discrimination.

"Not these days" you say. My friend you live in a bubble.

All is still not well for many LGBT people not only in Uganda, Russia and other parts of the world but only kilometres from where you are now. The impact of the discovery about ourselves depends on where you live, the family or culture you're raised in and if religion is involved. The reality is that there are gay and lesbian youth, in Sydney's suburbs, whose parents have seriously threatened their teenagers with the words "you better not turn out gay or I'll kill you". They live in fear. Many of us lived with this internal torment for years - even decades. I have worked with people still coming out in their 50's and even 60's. Tragically, more of their life has been spent suffering in a closet tormented by demons of shame and fear, than out.

Easter also symbolises death. So many of us lived double lives. We created a persona and image in order to be loved, accepted and fit in to an overwhelmingly predominately straight world.  We did everything to kill and eradicate the gay self. In order to experience true self-acceptance and live authentically the false image we have created to protect ourselves must die. Parents and friends may grieve when the true-self comes out and pretend-self dies. The person they thought we were no longer exists. 

Which brings us to the resurrection. There is nothing more liberating than to have come out the other side of gay shame into gay pride. To know you are not broken and needing fixing, sick and in need of healing. That self-loathing has been transformed into more than just self-acceptance - but self-love. We emerge leaving behind the cloth we were shrouded in.

The LGBT journey is a privileged, sacred path. Our orientation or gender identity has forced us on a journey that only four to six percent  get to experience. What we once may have considered a curse we now embrace and celebrate. Those of us who make it through the maze find peace, resolution, pride and a life of rich experiences.

So this Easter, while you are having your four day weekend, take a moment to remember our LGBT brothers and sisters here and other parts of the world who still suffer, some face death and celebrate your own resurrection into being true to yourself.

© Anthony Venn-Brown 
Twitter: @gayambassador 

Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and  was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Remember * Encourage * Celebrate - A Vigil this Saturday #Vigil4Hope

Living Waters Australia (LWA), one of Australia's foremost and longest running ex-gay/conversion therapy programs, closes this Saturday with a Thanksgiving Service. At the same time a vigil (#‎Vigil4Hope) is being held at Taylor Square, Sydney, to not only remember those who have taken their own lives because of ex-gay/conversion programs but also highlight the toll faith/sexuality conflict can have on gay and lesbian people.
The closure of LWA is significant and worth acknowledging in a public way which is what prompted the vigil. #‎Vigil4Hope 

Ex-gay/conversion groups like LWA have claimed to have helped people struggling with"unwanted same sex attraction" and they know of no one who has been harmed but we know this is not necessarily true.

Participants in these 'change is possible' programs are often emotionally and psychologically damaged. They left the program with a sense of failure. It can take years to work through the trauma, grief and the impacts of years of shame and self-loathing.

The actual toll of those who have taken their own life, because of faith/sexuality conflict, can never be determined for several reasons. One being there is no box to tick that says cause of death; faith/sexuality conflict. The secrecy and shame attached to homosexuality in evangelical circles are others. If you consider that for many of these people, the acceptance or rejection of their sexual orientation has enormous consequences, including their eternal destiny, you can begin to understand the intensity of their struggle.

The thirty minute gathering on Saturday night will focus on three things.

  1. Remember: Firstly a time to remember those we have lost. Lead by Anthony Venn-Brown former Assemblies of God minister, co-founder of Freedom2b and now the founder and CEO of Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International. 
  2. Encourage: Also to encourage others who are still struggling in this area and give them hope. Lead by Pastor Mike Hercock marriage equality advocate and founder of the 100Revs, a group of ministers who signed an apology to the LGBT community for the way the church had treated them and marched in 2008 Mardi Gras parade. He has been involved in a wide range of inner-city ministries involving the LGBT community. 
  3. Celebrate: And finally to celebrate the lives of those who have done the journey from gay shame to gay pride. Particularly ex-gay survivors. Lead by Rev Margaret Mayman, minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church. Margaret Mayman, was a prominent voice during the marriage equality debate and married Clare, her partner of 17 years, when same sex marriage was legalised in New Zealand. Rev Mayman feels for people who then often get a message that they have to choose between faith and sexuality. "It's easier to give up your faith, because your sexuality is utterly core to who you are. I've met lots of people and heard lots of stories, and I think the important thing is that people get support and they're not alone."
    You can RSVP on the Facebook event page and also use that to invite friends.

    Date: Saturday 12 April 2014
    Time: 7:00pm to 7:30pm
    Place: First Floor Stonewall Hotel 175 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
    What to bring: Candle, torch, rainbow paraphernalia
    What to wear: Something yellow if you can to represent hope for a better future
    Who can come: All welcome including straight allies and supporters.

    We recognise that many people would love to participate in this vigil however due to various locations, are unable to attend in person. We would like to invite others to participate where they are. Please use the ‪#‎Vigil4Hope‬ in your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook updates and pictures during the time that we are meeting at Taylor Square. If you feel comfortable perhaps even share why this vigil is important or has relevance to you. 

    Together we can spread the word, the love, the encouragement and acceptance to so many across the world.

    Anthony Venn-Brown is a founder of Freedom 2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He recently founded and is the CEO of  Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International. He is an educator, consultant and commentator on LGBT/faith issues and been committed to deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth in Australia. Anthony’s journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man is detailed in his autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning'. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award.

    Wednesday, April 02, 2014

    Should I use the term 'same sex attraction' or 'orientation'

    Dear Anthony,

    I have a question for you. I'm involved with an support organisation and we are producing some materials. One of the possible terms we are considering using is 'same-sex attracted'. 

    In my reading on gay Christian sites, I noticed that participants didn't like that term at all. 

    A gay Christian friend said to absolutely not use it as it is used in the ex-gay groups and is therefore a very negative trigger.

    Is that the case in Australia too?
    I was just sent this link from government funded community organisation,  which has 'same-sex attracted' mentioned more than once. So it seems that secular organizations in Australia don't have the same problem with it.

    Could you please let me know from your experience how Australian gay Christians would react to this term?
    Thanks for your time


    Hi .......

    It's been an interesting journey with terminology actually.

    The ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy movement stopped using "homosexual" around the early 90's and adopted the term "same sex attracted". The word "homosexual" had too much shame attached to it for the poor gay souls struggling in churches. And of course they would never use the word gay as that would be affirming of an identity. I will never forget when I was at the final conference of Exodus in the US last year to hear someone say quite confidently in one of the workshops "Gay is a cultural identity to be rejected. Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. Same sex attraction is a feeling". Of course the term is frequently used with "unwanted" in front of the same sex attraction. You will hear young Christian people say things like "I have same sex attractions" (sounds like an illness doesn't it..Which of course to them it still is) or "I struggle with same sex attractions".

    I'm not sure if you have read my piece about the changes in terminology but you can read that here.

    Around the mid to late 90's I began to see the term same sex attracted (SSA) also being use in Australian academic papers and LGBT organisations. I alerted those I could about the implications and connotations this would have in Christian/evangelical/ex-gay/reparative/conversion circles. It has continued to be used. It appears that the youth particularly feel comfortable with the term as it describes more their experience than wanting to take on a gay or lesbian identity at this stage.

    Because I know of the history term, I purposely have chosen to never use it. I always use 'same sex orientation' or 'same gender orientation' as I believe this is closer to the truth. That is not just a feeling or an attraction but an orientation which is at the core of our being. Our sexual orientation involves brain wiring, thought processing, hormones and release of chemicals in the body with the final outcome demonstrated in our behaviour. Our true sexual orientation is reflected by:
    1. The gender we are attracted to sexually
    2. The gender we fantasize about
    3. The gender we desire intimacy and affection with
    4. The gender we are likely to fall in love with
    5. The gender we want to partner with
    6. How we identify ourselves

    I hope this helps.

    Anthony Venn-Brown
    Founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI)
    Website | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Blog | Linkedin
    Too much unnecessary suffering is caused to individuals,families and organisations because of ignorance and misinformation about sexual orientation and gender diversity. ABBI's mission is to create understanding and acceptance for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual. transgender, intersex) people, empower community members and build bridges with religious organisations and leaders. This will be achieved by providing education, consultancy, resources and utilising social and media networks.

    Our mission can only be achieved by individuals supporting the organisation financially through one off or regular donations. Your donation helps us make a difference.  More details here

    Thursday, March 27, 2014

    World Vision US and the saddest 48 hours in modern Christian history

    I'm still shaking my head at what's happened in the last 48 hours with the World Vision US debacle.

    On Monday, Christianity Today reported that, World Vision US, one of America's largest Christian charities, made a groundbreaking announcement that they will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at the organisation.

    World Vision's board was not unanimous, Richard Stearns, the US director acknowledged, but was "overwhelmingly in favour" of the change.  "Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues," he said. "It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage."

    Cyberspace went wild. This was a huge step forward for equality, that gay Christians, who can now make a commitment of love and fidelity recognised in their state, would no longer be excluded from working for an organisation that serves the poor in developing countries. One would think that making the world a better place for the poor and needy, trumped a person's beliefs about homosexuality.

    Apparently not.

    Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders and denominations railed against World Vision US for moving away from 'biblical teaching'. The Christian Post ran the headline, The Apostasy of World Vision Embracing Gay Marriage. Some denominations, like the Assemblies of God suggested their constituents withdraw their financial support. The result was immediate as 1,000's cancelled their monthly donations to feed the 1.2 million starving children sponsored by World Vision U.S.

    Within 48 hours, World Vision US had reversed its decision.

    In a letter to World Vision US supporters, Richard Stearns announced the back-flip saying. "Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy".  "We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness." "We are broken-hearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority".

    Right wing Christian websites clapped their hand with glee and release articles such as "World Vision Repents, Asks Forgiveness for Sin of ‘Blessing’ Sodomy-Based ‘Marriage’"

    Watch this space. It will be volatile.

    World Vision US has failed to realise a number of other factors.

    Firstly, World Vision US supporters are not all faith people. Many are just good people who believe supporting the poor in developing countries is an honourable thing. But all of these people will have an out, proud gay or lesbian brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, parent or grandparent, grandchild, friend or work colleague. They will not be happy with the reversal and withdraw support.

    Secondly, some of World Vision US's supporters are Christians who attend churches which have moved on from outdated concepts about sexual orientation and now welcome LGBT into their churches. Some ordain them. They would have rejoiced at the first decision and be appalled by the second.

    And thirdly they have once again alienated the youth who already are leaving churches and rejecting traditional Christianity as being anti-gay. (Read Gays Linked to Lack of Revival). Does World Vision US, really expect these young people will be their next generation of supporters and workers?

    One thing that always amazes me in these situations is that people of the book (conservative, evangelical Christians) fail to see the huge gulf that exists between following Jesus example and the attitudes and behaviours of the Pharisees, once again being played out in the 21st century. Had they lived in Jesus' times, it's not hard to see which side they would have stood when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. The religious leaders of the day kept strict laws about what one could and couldn't do on the Sabbath and Jesus broke these. But he was operating by a higher law. THE LAW OF LOVE, which asks the question "What would love do?"

    Just in case it's not really clear.  They would not be standing on the side of compassion and rejoicing that people had been healed of their illnesses. (Mark 3:1-6 & Luke 13:10-17). They would be so incensed that Jesus had crossed over their religious boundaries they also would have planned to kill Him. Much like some evangelical Christians trying to kill the work of World Vision US by withdrawing their support and in the end allowing children in developing countries to die. Why would they do such a cruel thing? Because World Vision US crossed a boundary, saying legally married same sex couples in our organizations should receive the same entitlements that heterosexual couples receive.

    Essentially, what World Vision US has done to gay and lesbian couples, and their families and friends is say "Hope you enjoyed your 48 hours of equality. Now go back to the back of the bus where you belong"

    This has been the saddest 48 hours of modern Christian history. Richard Stearns has asked his supporters to forgive him. Possibly he should be asking God for the same thing. And apologise to the LGBT community for the deep hurt inflicted on them.

    Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International provides education, training and consultancy services to churches, denominations and Christian organisations who seek greater understanding of LGBT issues and working with the community. Obviously, at this stage, World Vision US is not one of our clients.

    PLEASE NOTE: The above article refers to World Vision US. 
    • You can read World Vision Australia's EEO statement and responses the US decision here.  
    • World Vision New Zealand has also issued a press release on the matter.
    • World Vision UK has also issued a press release. 
    • World Vision Canada response  

    © Anthony Venn-Brown 
    Twitter: @gayambassador 

    Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and  was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Living Waters Australia to Close

    Living Waters Australia (LWA), one of the foremost and longest running ex-gay/conversion therapy programs in this country will cease operations next month. Ron Brookman, the Australian director, gave several reasons for his decision in a newsletter to followers last week.  Many in the gay community are applauding this move as this means only a handful of these harmful organizations remain.


    Andy Comiskey, a 'former' homosexual and founder Desert Stream Ministries, developed the Living Waters program in the early 1980's in West Hollywood to heal the 'sexually broken' (gay men and women).  Since that time, his books and methods became dogma for ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy practitioners and organisations around the world. When the leading ex-gay organisation, Exodus International, closed down in June 2013, Comiskey turned on Exodus President Alan Chambers. A small remnant of ministries committed to the 'change is possible' message created 'Restored Hope Network' and Comiskey became a founding board member and chairperson.

    Randy Thomas, former vice president of Exodus International, stated in his apology to the LGBTI community that one of his greatest regrets was his promotion of Andy Comiskey and his participation in the Living Waters programs.

    Living Waters in Australia

    LWA has operated for nearly thirty years. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, the ministry worked out of Christian Life Centre in Waterloo, which would later become the city campus of Hillsong Church. When Pastor Brian Houston took the church over from his father, Frank Houston, in the late 90's the ministry was closed down by Brian because of its ineffectiveness. It was at this time LWA moved to Ramsgate. Under Brookman's leadership, LWA had a degree of growth running groups around Australia and holding conferences.  But that has changed drastically over the last decade.

    In 2010, Brookman confessed '‘There has been a real shift in society lately. We have detected this through responses to Living Waters offerings, we cancelled a conference recently because only a handful of registered. This year we have fewer Living Waters groups and fewer people in those groups. Our leadership training week at Collaroy appears to be hugely undersubscribed’

    Ron Brookman has preached the 'change is possible' message even at a parliamentary level.  In 2005, when Prime Minister John Howard was planning altering the marriage act to ensure that marriage would always be defined as 'between and man and a woman' only, Brookman shared his testimony as a 'former homosexual' to the large gathering of Christian leaders in Canberra; ignoring the fact that he still has same-sex 'thoughts' as he calls them.

    In September 2007, Brookman gave testimony of his change of "homosexual orientation and practice to heterosexuality", to the Australian marriage Forum, at Parliament House Canberra.

    In 2012, before the Senate Same-Sex Marriage Inquiry Rev.Brookman told the committee 'For over 30 years I was homosexual' and that he had experienced a 'transformation of my sexuality to heterosexuality'. Brookman also told the inquiry 'In the last six months I have celebrated the weddings of two ex-gay men who have married beautiful wives and two couples who have given birth to babies who would never have been born had they not transitioned from homosexuality'. These statements have not only been misleading they are also highly irresponsible (read THE SADDEST THINGS ABOUT THIS SITUATION at the conclusion of this article on Situational Heterosexuality)

    In 2012, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International's research revealed that two thirds of ex-gay/reparative/conversion ministries had ceased to exist in Australia in the last decade. LWA was one of the few that remained. Rev Brookman has also appeared on TV shows, documentaries and interviewed by the print media, preaching his message that gay men and women are broken human beings and God can change them to straight. His own marriage consistently proclaimed as the evidence. History tells us that the overwhelming majority of these attempts to become straight through a heterosexual marriage fail and there are not 100,000's of ex-gays as has often been claimed by people like the Rev Fred Nile.

    Why it's finally coming to an end – reality check

    In the LWA newsletter last week Rev Ron Brookman announced his resignation as Director of LWA, effective from 31st March, there will be a Thanksgiving Service on Saturday 12th April where he outline in greater detail the reasons for LWA's demise and that LWA Australia will be completely wound up by 30th June 2014.

    The reasons LWA is coming to an end according the retiring director.

    • Deficiencies in his own leadership
    • Change in the Church and Christian culture over the last decade 
    • LWA has shrunk to only 3 groups operating in the Sydney area 
    • There is nobody who has been identified, trained, or who is willing to take up leadership of the ministry. 
    • Nor does there appear to be openings to develop the ministry at this time.

    Where does that leave us now?

    This means that only a handful of ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations are left in Australia, one of which is Liberty Christian Ministries, which are a part of the crumbling Exodus Global Alliance.

    When Exodus International closed down last year Rev Brookman and others declared, in a poorly researched piece in the mainstream press, that the 'Gay cure' therapy will continue in Australia. As I pointed out at that time THESE WERE VERY EMPTY WORDS.

    The remaining organisations days are well and truly numbered. The gay Christian movement grows exponentially, the number or LGBTI welcoming, accepting and affirming churches grows. The vast majority of Australians have an out, proud gay or lesbian brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, parent or grandparent, friend or work colleague. And to hear churches or religious organisations label them as sick, dysfunctional and broken is abhorrent, offensive and ignorant.

    A Vigil

    When LWA is holding its holding its Thanksgiving Service on Saturday 12 April, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International will be holding a 30 minute vigil in Taylor Square, Sydney, to remember those we have lost through ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations and because of faith/sexuality conflict and to celebrate those who have survived.

    Date: Saturday 12 April 2014
    Time: 7:00pm to 7:30pm
    Place: Northern side of Taylor Square (next to the Oxford Hotel)
    What to bring: Candle, torch, rainbow paraphernalia
    What to wear: Something yellow if you can to represent hope for a better future
    Who can come: All welcome including straight allies and supporters.

    Facebook event here. Please share 

    For further details, please click on this email link

    © Anthony Venn-Brown 
    Twitter: @gayambassador 

    Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and  was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.

    Friday, February 28, 2014

    The challenge of talking about same sex issues in Christian churches, schools and colleges

    This presentation was initially given at A Different Conversation Conference 
    27 February - 1 March 2014
    L to R Anthony Venn-Brown, Rev Rod Bower, Rev Matt Glover


    It is a challenge. A huge challenge. Of all the things that I have done I think working in the space of shifting the churches understanding of sexual and gender diversity has been and is the most challenging.

    There is no more controversial or volatile space than the homosexuality/Christianity debate. Generally speaking it is a space of conflict with two diametrically opposed views expressed at times with hatred, anger and vilification. It's challenging to find middle ground. But there is middle ground if people are willing to take it. It's called GRACE and UNCONDITIONAL LOVE – two profoundly biblical concepts but so frequently ignored.

    Andrew Marin, in his book "Love is an Orientation" put it well when he described the challenge of existing in this space of bridge building; likening it to standing in the middle of the field during a storm. We become lightening rods.

    But we are seeing a shift in the church. It's slow though. Annoyingly slow. It's like trying to shift the direction of a large ocean tanker.

    History tells us this has always been the way it's been.

    The Anti-Slavery Movement in the United States commenced in 1833 when the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded. In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution  was ratified, banning slavery. That took 32 years.

    The Women's Rights Movement in the United States began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention. In 1920 the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally eliminating sex discrimination and gave women the right to vote. That took 72 years. But it gets worse. Nearly twenty years later Maryland ratified the amendment in 1941. After another ten years, in 1952, Virginia ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, followed by Alabama in 1953. After another 16 years Florida and South Carolina passed the necessary votes to ratify in 1969, followed two years later by Georgia[, Louisiana in 1971 but Mississippi did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment until 1984, sixty four years after the law was enacted nationally.

    African Americans began their struggle for equal rights in 1909 with the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Civil Rights were granted in 1964 and Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. That was a struggle of 56 years.

    Whenever there has been a shift in societies consciousness about equality, not only has the church usually been the church the last to embrace it, but have also actively resisted and opposed change. If you spent the time to read through the parliamentary speeches and debates of the time you would find bible verses often quoted – for and against. Sound familiar.

    So what history tells us is that Christians are often slow learners and the church has learning disabilities. When I began this work in 2004 I had a 30 year strategy. I hope I'm around to see my end goal.

    Of course the belief that homosexuality is a sin, same sex orientation and transgender people are unnatural and that people can change is not necessarily a Christian concept. It was societies belief for many decades. Society began to grow in its understanding of these beginning with the research of Evelyn Hooker in 1957. I was 6 then. I turn 63 in few weeks and today I can live in a society and family that accepts me thanks to the increased knowledge that shifted societies understanding of sexual orientation. It's a very different story in my Pentecostal world however.

    At some Pentecostal churches I would not even be allowed attend. Some wouldn't let me play an instrument or be on the platform to sing or even serve coffee in the foyer. An insignificant number of them would allow me to lead a home group or serve in a small leadership capacity. But I'd have to live in a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" closeted culture. In other words they are expecting me to live with a sense of shame as if I had something to hide, be inauthentic and to lie. And not one of them would allow me to be ordained or make a public commitment of love, exclusivity for life, to the man I love.

    Yes this is an incredibly challenging space to talk about same sex issues.

    The three main areas of challenge

    1. The challenges that bridge-builders face

                 Dealing with anger

    Every time I hear another story of a church who has separated a lesbian couple of 8 years, with kids because they believe their relationship is immoral - I get angry.

    Every time I hear that a youth pastor has told a young 16 year kid that God doesn't want them to be gay and He can change them, knowing this will lead to depression and at some point he will think about taking his own life and may actually do that,.– I get angry.

    Every time I hear of a pastor who has told a man struggling with their same sex orientation that this woman is a gift from God and that by marrying them it will demonstrate God's 'miracle knowing that around mid life he will come to the reality that nothing has changed leaving him devastated, the wife feeling betrayed and the children confused – I get angry.

    So what do I do with that anger. Suppress it. Because if I really let out how I feel then I wouldn't be able to engage in a dialogue. People don’t like to talk with angry people. I don’t. Do you? The challenge is to continue to be loving, respectful and gracious even when you are not afforded the same qualities or values.

    The need for patience

    As I've mentioned change happens over time. Churches and church leaders transform at a pace. It's different for each person. No one moves from being anti-gay to becoming gay affirming overnight. The challenge is to allow them time to journey. I am often helped by reminding myself that it took me 28 years to resolve my faith and sexuality so I can't expect overnight results and must be committed to be in this game for the long haul.

                 Coping with personal attacks

    You'd be surprised where these come from actually. I am sure you think it is just the Christian conservatives – of course I get this regularly but I would expect them to say cruel, unkind things and lies. They are speaking out of their ignorance and bigotry. Would we expect anything else? But there are other sources of attack as well.

    Hurt and damaged people from Christian backgrounds project their own pain on to me for a whole variety of things I have done in attempting to build bridges with churches and church leaders. Coping with this and not allow it to get you down is a challenge.

    Some people in the LGBT community are staunch atheists and hate anything to do with religion. It doesn't take a lot of intelligence to realise why this is. The Christian church has opposed every piece of legislation that created equality and a better life for LGBT people. So some attack me for even engaging with churches and religious leaders and say things like "you can go to hell with all your Christian friends as far as I am concerned" .....and that's one of the nicer ones..

    "The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from our enemies".

    1. The challenges for the straight allies

    Many of you learnt that even saying sorry to the LGBT community for  the way the church had treated them came at a price. In 1998 the 100 REVS first signed the apology to our community  Some people signed but had to withdraw because of threats from their denominational leaders. Names appeared and disappeared. Even though there were a 100 names only about 30 marched because they were told if they did then would lose their jobs. Some have lost jobs, income, housing, preaching engagements etc because they dared to stand on the side of the marginalised.

    If you are a straight ally you will be condemned, attacked, vilified and labelled deceived. Depending on how far you are out there you will pay a price. This will be your challenge. One step ahead and you are a leader. Two steps ahead and you are an innovator. Three steps ahead and you a martyr.

    I have seen the implications of straight allies standing with the LGBT community so often I have a piece that I now cut and paste to send to them. It reads.

    Thanks so much for standing with us. It means a lot.

    I’m sorry to hear that you been attacked for stating what you currently believe and for your actions.

    When we look at the life of Jesus in the gospels we see a man who was also attacked. He was the great rule breaker and was constantly attacked by the conservatives and religious leaders of the day for mixing with wrong people and going to the wrong places. Does that sound familiar?

    Jesus saw human beings not labels. His life and parables constantly remind us who are neighbours and how we can practically live out the command ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

    Phariseeism is alive and well in the church of the 21st century and some continue to judge, condemn and separate themselves from people they consider somehow outside of God’s grace. I still find it surprising that Christians who claim to be people of the Word can’t see the similarities happening today.

    I’m not sure this will be of enormous comfort but worth mentioning anyway.

    When any straight person from the Christian church actually stands on the side of the LGBT community they often experience hostility, vilification, judgment and personal attack. By standing with us though you get to experience something that is an everyday experience for many gay and lesbian people. 85% of gay men and lesbians experienced harassment or violence during their lifetime, with one in four gay men and lesbians being physically attacked.  Not for anything they have done but simply for being who they are. In the eyes of the attacker they are abnormal outsiders who do not deserve to be treated like everyone else, that is, with dignity and respect. This is not a special right the LGBT community are asking for, it is a basic human right.

    Thank you for being like Jesus and being willing to show unconditional love it has not gone unnoticed by God and those who strive to be like the Master.

    And once we have a new consciousness or understanding we are empowered. It’s impossible to retreat to a place of ignorance. Too much is at stake. TRUTH. And it was Jesus who said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
    1. The challenges for church leaders

    To understand the challenges ministers and church leaders face we need to understand the context.

    You are the pastor of a relatively healthy church in the suburbs a few 100 in the congregation or you are the pastor of a mega church with 20,000.  You have built this congregation up with your blood sweat and tears. If you get involved in this 'issue' how will your congregation respond. Of course what most pastors don't realise is that members of their congregation are further along this journey than they are as they have gay and lesbian work colleagues or family and friends. You know there are ultra conservatives in your congregation. How much power/influence do they have? I have seen what has happened to churches, denominations and Christian leaders who have ventured into this space.  

    One of the big challenges is that pastors and church leaders are completely unaware of the harm they are causing to LGBT people. Many of them have pastors hearts and if they really knew the suffering that has been caused they would be motivated to do something about it. Like me, they would weep as they sat down and listened to peoples stories of the tremendous suffering caused by the churches ignorance and resistance to change.

    The needs of pastors and church leaders

    1.  One of the big things church leaders need is a space of confidentiality and safety. They are fearful on a number of levels, one being that their church might split over the issues. I have met secretly with many church leaders because they trust me..If it gets out that they are speaking with me then it can cause all sorts of ramifications which unnecessarily highjack our conversation. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night for a reason.
    2.  Giving space for the journey – it will take time of the move through the 7 stages on the continuum from hatred to dislike, dislike to discomfort, discomfort to tolerance, tolerance to acceptance, acceptance to affirmation, affirmation to advocacy. For some the journey takes years. Others get stuck at one of the stages.
    3.  Should I make the gay issue a priority?. The gay issue is way down on their priority list. Many have  buried their heads in the sand hoping it would go away. But it hasn't and won't. In Australia we are seriously talking about marriage equality now. You can't pick up a newspaper today without their being something about LGBT rights or some similar story. Sometimes its headline news. You can read here the  reason this should be a priority for church leaders. Pastor Brian Houston from Hillsong recently mentioned this to his congregation.
    4.  The challenge on personal faith – if I take this brick out of the wall and discover we were wrong about homosexuality, will that  mean my entire wall of faith will collapse
    5.  It is not one issue that needs to be resolved. Its complex and will have ongoing ramifications. When I work with churches and leaders I let them know there will be 10 separate issues will be faced at some time. These include a natural aversion to same sex sex, celibacy, the bible verses themselves that speak about same sex activity, leadership in the church and finally marriage equality. I say finally marriage equality because if the other 9 are not ticked off then they will never come to that place. Moving along through these 10 separate issues can take a couple of years. Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International  works with churches and leaders and assists them to develop a strategy through those issues and ensure the pace is right and polarisation on the issue is minimized.

    With all these challenges we need to remember that we are all entwined in this journey together. No one person can do it alone. We need to discover ways to work together to the end goal of a church that loves, accepts and affirms our humanity. A church that Jesus Christ would be proud of and is a place of welcome to all people..

    Sadly while we try and get our shit together people will lose their faith, some will develop mental health issues, Christians will reject their gay and lesbian family and friends and young people will take their lives. I trust that this makes us conscious of the need for urgency. Some people don’t have forever, they need answers now.

    © Anthony Venn-Brown 
    Twitter: @gayambassador 

    Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and  was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.