What’s it like to be a young gay man and a man of faith? Rhodri Roberts, 22, talks about his identity as a politically outspoken, proud gay man, and a Quaker.
Rhodri lives in London and works for the students union at a London University. His mother is a Quaker and brought her three children up involved in Quakerism. Rhodri has been going to Quaker meetings since he was a young child.
“I went to University in South Wales and after a year as LGBT Officer for my Students’ Union, I ran to be LGBT officer for the National Union of Students in Wales. I got to speak on a panel with Ruth Hunt from Stonewall and I talked about being a Quaker young person and being LGBT. I talked about it in terms of having to come out twice. I came out with my sexuality when I was 13 but at university, I made an unconscious choice to take a step forward about being LGBT and a political voice, and a step back from being a Quaker. I barely went to Quaker meetings. I realised that I had to come out as being religious.
People come with so much baggage about religion: you can’t be religious and LGBT because religion doesn’t like LGBT. Of course in some religions that’s still the case, whereas Quakers have long worked for equality. It was really weird to have to do a second version of coming out that was completely unknown, to come out to LGBT people about being of faith; and that I don’t necessarily believe in God for example, but I consider myself a Quaker and that experience has shaped me, and I consider myself quite spiritual. The biggest rejection came from the LGBT community. I often got responses like, ‘Oh religion, I can’t do that because I had a bad experience with a specific church, therefore I don’t want people to talk about it around me.’ The LGBT community has so many bad experiences, especially older LGBT people who experienced society backing up religion with negative views. Society is shifting away from those views now, but many older LGBT people found it incredibly difficult to wrap their heads around the idea that there can be more than one part of my identity: that I could be religious and LGBT.
When you come out you answer loads of questions. When you’re LGBT and come out as religious you do that for LGBT people about religion. I got lots of questions like ‘Do you believe in God? Does God believe homophobic people are going to hell?’ I was like ‘Ask me in another 20 years, I haven’t figured it out yet!’ It’s that same grilling as when you’ve got a straight friend who’s really interested in who’s the man or the woman in the relationship: that level of weirdly obscure questions.
Quakerism is a Christian denomination, but for me it has loads in common with Buddhism. I find it much more comforting to think of it in that way. Buddhism is not about sticking to extremes of indulgence or abstinence, it’s very much a case of finding the middle ground between two extremes and living by that. Quakerism is very similar in my experience.
Quakerism asks people to be silent and mindful. It’s a very slow paced culture. Unless you’ve gone through it and realised how it’s important for you, this is not an attractive point for most young people. I live in a fast paced way in the rest of my life. It’s really nice when I do get to go to a Quaker meeting to have that one hour to centre myself and reflect. It’s a really good coping method for modern life. In the stillness, there’s no one directing via a service or sermon, there’s no pre-scripted reading, it’s all entirely led by the people in that meeting at that point in time. I’ve learnt to use that silence in a way that is beneficial to me. It’s like meditation.
We don’t have to stick to The Bible. The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is reading through Quaker faith and practice and not finding a definitive answer on what Quakers believe. There is no automatic answer. It’s more about looking to Quakers in the past who have considered something and come to this conclusion. This is very much what I did when I was considering coming out to people. Some people might look in The Bible to find evidence that being LGBT is OK. There’s a section in Quaker faith and practice on sexuality: it’s a very easy indexed read! It looks at how Quakers in the past looked at their sexuality and gender and how they consider people who are not straight or not CIS gender. The most important part in a loving relationship is the love and not the bodies. This was really comforting to read as a 13 year old in a Quaker meeting. I told my mum I’m gay when I was 13. I grew up in a very left-wing middle class bubble. My family have always been really amazing about my sexuality and so have my friends. It was very much a case of just having a discussion about it. I value that every time I talk to other LGBT people. That was so important for me to be comfortable to identify myself so early on.
Quakerism has given me that opportunity for self-development and exploration. I wouldn’t have come to the conclusions I have about political, personal and social issues if I hadn’t as a young person been given that one hour a week to sit down and process what’s happened. I’ve also had an amazing group of people around me who are supportive and are stakeholders in my own spiritual and personal wellbeing. I have an extended family across the UK, a community that even stretches outside of the UK, wither through knowing Quakers and friends of Quakers. I have such a great group of people in my life I’ve felt very well rounded growing up.”
For interesting facts and explanations read our Exploring Quakerism article here.
For further information: Quakers in Britain can give you more information about Quakerism and put you in touch with your local Quaker meeting. Visit their website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0808 109 1651 to find out more.