Last Thursday more than 200 individuals gathered to hear a series of speakers talk about the great work they had done tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within their communities. This might not sound too unusual for a Stonewall event, and it would not have been were it not for the fact that the speakers - and most of the audience, were made up of people from faith groups.
Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Catholic, Church of England and minority Christian groups were all in attendance, all with stories of what they had done to tackle homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia within their own communities, and toward the end of the evening a panel made up of LGBT faith leaders answered questions from the audience. It was a fantastic night, challenging in itself the idea that LGBT people and faith are somehow mutually exclusive.
In 2012 Stonewall commissioned YouGov to conduct a piece of research called 'Living Together' and found that while 61 per cent of people felt that faith attitudes were responsible for homophobia in the UK, people of faith were actually no more likely to be homophobic than anyone else.
It is important that faith groups are not labelled as inherently homophobic, biphobic or transphobic - these labels fit better on individuals than they do vast swathes of the world's population. There are individuals (both LGBT people and allies) in every faith who are working hard to make their communities more inclusive of LGBT people. Many of them are not supporting LGBT inclusion in spite of their faith - but because of it. While these groups and individuals won't get as much press as those who blame the weather on gay people, they are making crucial differences to improve people's lives every day.
We have a network of more than 1200 schools across the country, as part of our School Champions programme, that have made a commitment to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and approximately a third of those are faith schools. People are sometimes surprised when I say that some faith schools are examples of the best schools we engage with. The more engagement we do with faith groups the more I am convinced that it is not faith itself which makes a person homophobic, but the lens through which they choose to view that faith.
Justifiably many LGBT people I meet have criticisms of religion and faith. Some have directly suffered as a result of religion, and others simply don't want to engage with groups that have historically rejected them. But where does this leave the many LGBT people for whom faith is an important part of their lives? All too often LGBT people of faith report being unable to be themselves within their faith group and also with LGBT friends, who they fear will reject them because of their faith.
Stonewall wants acceptance without exception, so that everyone can be themselves wherever they work, socialise or pray. We will continue to provide platforms for individuals from faith backgrounds that do exceptional work promoting LGBT inclusion and continue to open dialogue with faith groups that are earlier in their journey and willing to speak to us. Many of the battles that Stonewall and other groups have had for legislative equality have been won, but it's important we don't forget the groups and individuals in the UK who are still rejected because of who they are. While LGBT individuals of faith are still marginalised, our work continues.