Our Lead Chaplain, Lucy McGrath met Genevieve (they/them), a resident in our 24-hour supported accommodation, at chaplaincy meals in Brighton. Inspired by their conversations, Lucy asked to interview them about their activism and what led them to set up a project called Queer Christians Brighton. Genevieve has subsequently been nominated for the Young Campaigner Award at the national YMCA Youth Matters Awards. We hope you find their story inspiring.
Can you tell me a bit about the project you are involved with?
Queer Christians Brighton started as an Instagram page (we now also have a Facebook page) for LGBTQU+ people to find out about LGBTQU+ affirming churches. It is specifically to find out about affirming churches. Sometimes churches say they are inclusive, but this is a bit of a grey area – some LGBTQU+ affirming churches call themselves “inclusive” but so do some churches that aren’t.
What are you looking for in an LGBTQU+ affirming church?
It depends on the denomination – for example with the Church of England I am looking for churches which bless same sex marriages (same sex couples still cannot marry in a C of E or Catholic Church). In terms of other churches, I am looking for churches that marry same sex couples and I’m also looking at whether openly LGBTQU+ people can be in leadership positions and be in a relationship.
What feedback have you had about Queer Christians Brighton?
Mainly positive! I got lots of emails from people who had moved to Brighton and Hove during lockdown and were looking for a church in their new area. Sometimes I end up providing emotional support. One young person ended up joining one of the churches on the list and has become a Youth Worker there!
Why did you set this up?
I have become an activist mainly because I care about younger people who are LGBTQU+ and Christian. Some will be growing up in Churches where LGBTQU+ issues are not talked about. Do you know about Lizzy Lowe? (Read more HERE). I don’t want young people to have the experience she had. She took her own life at the age of 14 because she didn’t think she could reconcile her sexuality with her Christian faith. Since then her church has learned a lot and worked so hard to change and become properly inclusive.
My own experience too has fueled my activism. When I first came to university in Brighton I came out as bisexual and joined a church which described itself as inclusive. A year in and I was going back in the closet; my experience at church chipped away at me. I particularly remember an All-Age Church service called “Life without God” where LGBTQU+ issues were talked about. I remember sitting in the pews with nowhere to go – it was horrid. By this time I was so involved with the church (they were my community) that I stayed. At the time I was in therapy and had a Christian counsellor – when I talked about my experience to her she was so affirming – I was so surprised!
In the end I left that church and lost what felt like my whole community. I was losing it in other ways too before I left though. I have severe mental health issues and members of the church were praying for healing. I had two suicide attempts while I was part of the church. Because I wasn’t healed, I felt I wasn’t seen as “holy” enough.
Leaving church didn’t immediately help my mental health, as I’d lost my community, so was grieving. Around this time I met a friend who’d also left the same church. They took me to an LGBTQU+ group at Metropolitan City Church; I was the only other LBGTQU+ Christian they knew. It was really good to feel affirmed!
Throughout my whole childhood I hadn’t met any out LGBTQU+ Christians, meeting up with my friend and finding others was so helpful. I also joined a social group of mainly older LGBTQU+ Christians at St Nicholas’s church and that was helpful too!
You are running an event for University freshers at Brighton and Sussex Universities this year – can you tell me about that?
Yes, I am doing an LGBTQU+ positive church search event for new Freshers on 28th September.
How are you funding the costs of this event, and is anyone helping you to organise it?
I am funding it mainly myself and through donations. The costs are the flyers and posters, and some food and drinks for the stand. Last week I bought biodegradable cups which were more expensive but I couldn’t bear to have plastic cups! I think it will cost about £130 (you can donate HERE). The University Chaplains have been very supportive in helping me organise it.
Can you tell me a bit about your own faith and sense of God in everything that has happened to you?
I feel like I want to get back to how it was as a teenager – my faith feels warped – so much of my church experience feels coercive and not Jesus-like. I don’t like pushing my faith onto people. My faith is about loving your neighbour. As a teenager I did a lot of petitions and social justice/charity work. Perhaps I’ve always been a young campaigner. I raised money when there was flooding in Brazil; I volunteered at a foodbank; I ran Macmillan coffee mornings and did 1-1 reading with younger kids struggling with reading. I won an award for my community work.
For a while I had so much hatred for that church world. I felt cross with God for letting bad things happen. The question of why God allows suffering is so hard. I try to focus on Jesus; he’s great. His whole life embodies my political beliefs in the goodness of humanity and helping other people. I think it is interesting that mega churches exist when Jesus said, “sell all your possessions”. He called out religious leaders. It is interesting too to see what Jesus rebukes – it is unkindness, hypocrisy, and corruption.
I generally don’t have much energy; I have depression, but I can feel the Holy Spirit with me doing the Queer Christians Brighton work, giving me strength.
I do have real issues with God about my mental health. I guess I think now that God doesn’t just work through miracles but works through people and in other ways – like through therapy which has really helped me. I think God is in that and in my experience at YMCA DownsLink Group. I love the values of the YMCA which I see are based in Christianity. Before I lived in this YMCA house, I slept on my friend’s sofa for 7 months. My friend looked after me, taking care of me, feeding me, keeping me alive (I had had three suicide attempts and a stay in a psychiatric hospital while at Uni). God was in the kindness of my friend too. My parents are homophobic, and I couldn’t go home.
How has it been for you living in YMCA DownsLink Group supported housing?
Great! The first year was about stabilising and feeling safe and now it is about helping me to thrive.
Do you feel you’ve been helped to thrive?
Yeah!!!! I’m a whole different place – I’m no longer really tired from fighting not to give in to suicide. I think it helps that it is the staff’s job to “look after us”. That has given me permission to open up and seek support when I need it. I have also been given long-term therapy sorted by YMCA DownsLink Group. That has made a massive difference (on the NHS you only get 6 weeks – not enough for me). My keyworkers have all been amazing!
When I was at psychiatric hospital, I felt like I was the problem – at YMCA DownsLink Group I have been treated like someone with a problem; that we are working together on my issues. Having someone checking on my mental health gives me some space and they come at things with a different perspective which has helped me break things down into manageable bits.
What has been your experience of chaplaincy sessions at YMCA?
I was cautious and wary at first because of my experiences– I mainly came because of the free food. I’ve gradually warmed to it, but I always ask the volunteer chaplains to tell me what church they go to. A lot of straight and cis people don’t even think about what things are like for LGBTQU+ people of faith – I hope they’ve learned from me! It is good to know that one of the questions asked of all volunteer chaplains in interview is aimed at teasing out attitudes to LGBTQU+ issues.
Lastly, can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?
I’m Christian, non-binary and bisexual – a fun intersection! I’m 23 and a massive nerd. I collect comic books and watch old films…I’m an introvert!
Young Campaigner of the year 2021
YOU CAN VOTE FOR GENEVIEVE AS YOUNG CAMPAIGNER OF THE YEAR 2021 IN THE YOUTH MATTERS AWARDS HERE!
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