Photography by Brian Moody
Gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell grew up in Melbourne, Australia, during the 1950s and 60s in a Christian family where being queer was considered a sin – almost on a par with murder and rape. For many years he suppressed all recognition of his own homosexuality.
Not all Christians are homophobic, but many are. In 1969, at the age of 17, it finally dawned on me that I was one of THEM. According to the Church, I was destined for eternal damnation. Given such attitudes, I felt compelled to hide my gayness from my family; fearing they might disown me and even turn me over to the police. In Melbourne, at the time, Christian-based laws decreed that homosexuality was a crime punishable by imprisonment. Courts could order lesbian and gay people to undergo psychiatric treatment to cure their ‘sickness’.
My family’s religious-inspired homophobia estranged me from them. I moved away from home, visiting rarely. A previously honest and close relationship with my parents, brother and sisters became one of distance and deception. It was not how I wanted to live my life. But I needed to protect myself – and my boyfriend. I feared that my parents, or other Christian relatives, would, if they knew about our relationship, assume he had corrupted me and want him put in prison. For a few years this Christian intolerance forced me to lead a secretive, double-life. Fortunately, I eventually got through this ordeal undamaged. Other gay people are not so lucky.
Forgiveness? There is much to forgive. For 2,000 years, Christian homophobia has led to hundreds of millions of queers world-wide being rejected and reviled by their families, driven to depression and suicide, discriminated against by anti-gay laws, and condemned to death for sodomy. This homo-hatred is rooted in Biblical teaching. Leviticus 20:13 says that queers are an abomination and should be put to death. Christian churches followed this murderous incitement for 1,800 years. We sodomites were stoned to death in antiquity, burned alive during the medieval inquisition and, in Britain, hung from gallows until the mid-nineteenth century. This slaughter of homosexuals took place with the official blessing of successive Popes and Archbishops of Canterbury.
While the Church no longer advocates the death penalty for queers, most of its leaders still preach a gospel of sexual apartheid. In Britain, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has backed attempts to maintain discrimination against lesbian and gay people with regard to the age of consent, marriage, employment and fostering and adoption. Likewise, the Pope has authorised Vatican pronouncements declaring gay people “objectively disordered”. These homophobic Church leaders give legitimacy and respectability to the prejudice that leads to discrimination and violence against the gay community. They have queer blood on their holy hands.
In this atmosphere of on-going, unrepentant Christian bigotry, it is difficult to forgive – especially when the Church leaders who sanction our victimisation express no remorse. But while hatred and a desire for vengeance might be understandable, these are negative, destructive emotions. They perpetuate the cycle of division and intolerance.
I want justice, not revenge. Love and justice necessitate campaigns to overturn the continuing Christian-sponsored persecution of gay people. But these campaigns should, I believe, show a spirit of generosity that offers the hope of redemption. It would be wrong to stoop to the Church’s inhumanity. While loathing the sin of homophobia, we should love Christians who sin against us, and strive to deliver them from prejudice and discrimination.
To those who are prepared to renounce homophobia, I am ready to extend the hand of friendship and forgiveness. I want them as allies, not enemies, in the struggle for queer emancipation. Though difficult, forgiveness is the key to reconciliation based on love and justice.