An employee of Leeds City Council since 2015, Kieran is a Senior Service Development Officer and BME & Faith Project Co-Ordinator for the Leeds LGBT+ Hub. Kieran is also a Stonewall Alumni, having completed the Stonewall UK BAME LGBTQ Role Models Programme. Kieran is also a current Postgraduate at the University of Leeds, reading Global Development and Gender.
Faith, gender and sexuality are inextricably linked; they maintain a longstanding relationship, embedded within the scriptures of the Sacred Texts. This relationship is complex, yielding a profusion of power across time and place. Particular interpretations of the Sacred Texts have created rigid societal structures, practices and ideals that have too often been reinforced rather than weakened, under the guise of ‘culture’ or in the name of the Holy. From a crude ‘validation’ of the Slave Trade, to the systemic oppression of women, and the marginalisation and condemnation of the sexually ‘deviant’, the Sacred Texts have been manipulated to uphold a structure of inequalities.
Indeed, in many ways religion can be viewed as both a foundation for, and maintainer of, patriarchal and heteronormative ideals. At this stage, I’d like to make clear my own religious beliefs as a Christian, and recognise that despite the picture I had painted thus far, religion does too provide comfort and solace, guidance and a moral code for many- including, of course, those who find themselves out in the margins. Yet, there is no doubting the very real undercurrent of rejection both felt and experienced by (at the very least, a number within) the marginalised when it comes to Religion. For the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans+ (LGBT+) global community, there has, for many, been a long journey of reconciliation with Religion. Facing a strong narrative of an incompatibility between their sexuality and/or gender identity and their faith, many have struggled along this reconciliatory path, with some critically re-interpreting Sacred Texts and others discarding their beliefs all together.
Here in Leeds, the Leeds LGBT+ Hub has been working to understand the many varied experiences faced by LGBT+ people of faith, whilst also trying to get to grips with some of the complexities of the relationship between Sacred Texts and sexuality and gender identity. We have not rushed this journey; with a number of sensitivities across the board, we have stuck to a careful engagement process. Nevertheless, what is clear is the real need for critical conversations around the intersection between Religion and LGBT+ identities, in open yet safe spaces.
It is in the consideration of ‘spaces’ that the challenges are clear; they are also somewhat trifold. On the one hand, LGBT+ people of faith seek welcome and comfort within religious institutions, whist on the other, they seek acceptance and safety within faith communities. At the same time, LGBT+ people of faith also seek acceptance and safety from within the wider LGBT+ community itself. Clearly, the task at hand is large- but as part of our Best City ambitions here in Leeds, influencing the creation of a safe space of visibility, where a multiplicity of voices are heard equally, is a strong commitment.
In January, to mark World Religion Day, the Leeds LGBT+ Hub hosted a round-table discussion event exploring the challenges faced by LGBT+ people of faith, with a further focus on how, as a city, we can practically overcome them. The event, which also featured panellists including Rev. Jide Macaulay and Dr. Adriaan Van Klinken, also saw the launch of the Leeds LGBT+ Hub’s Faith Action Plan. This document, whilst reinforcing our commitment to this agenda, will also shape the work plan of the Hub over the coming 12 months, as we attempt to give greater visibility to LGBT+ people of faith, whilst also deconstructing the various barriers they face on a (sometimes) daily basis. A big part of this will be working in conjunction with the Leeds Faith Hub, facilitating engagement with and between Faith Leaders on this agenda, finding collaborative solutions to some of these wider issues.
As a Hub, we are ever grateful for the support and influence of our leaders, both from within Leeds City Council and within our communities. We do, of course, welcome more enthusiastic individuals and organisations to get involved with our work and I greatly encourage anybody interested in doing so to get in touch. Working together, collaboratively and with innovation, we can go far in realising Leeds as a fully LGBT+ Inclusive City.
By Kieran Ferdinand.