February marks LGBT+ History Month, an annual month-long observation which celebrates and recognises Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender + history, and increases the visibility of their lives and experiences. This year’s theme focuses on Mind, Body and Spirit and how this concept can be encompassed in our day to day lives.
Here, Jason Harper, Business Development Lead for Dental Services at the NHS Business Services Authority, explains his personal experiences as a member of the LGBT+ community, and the role this played in establishing his religion and spirituality.
Hello, I’m Jason. Welcome to my blog on religion and spirituality through the lens of an LGBT+ individual.
The earliest memories I hold of religion are those of my primary school – crisp early mornings that are painted with the brush of Christianity, with my school day starting with the assembly in the main hall, subdued by the hush of a short prayer and then rejoicing a well-known hymn. Of course, alongside this celebrating various Christian dates of note throughout the year; Harvest Festival, Easter and Christmas with the Hymns from the choir and Nativity plays in the local church.
I’ve mixed views looking back on this now – one of powerful nostalgia, yearning for a return to the simpler times of youth and the other wondering why religion was part of my schooling. A comparison that no doubt stems from my life experience.
This journey, I think, is a constant one.
Coming to terms with my sexuality through my teenage years and how society and religion viewed it in general was an ongoing process. I found myself reading various, hefty books in the library on the many and varied religions across the world, attempting to find one that accepted me for who I am.
To my surprise and delight, I did find several that accept homosexuality as just another part of nature and that provided me with some comfort. However, I found that due to this over exposure to the many existing religions, I concluded that none of them were for me – well, almost.
What do I consider myself now?
A difficult question and one that has no easy answer. I tend to see myself as atheist, with the view that there is no overreaching presence watching from above and rather take the humanist philosophy with a touch of, I guess what can only be called ‘Paganism lite’. By not following a single set of beliefs, practices and texts means I now find myself a firm believer of separating religion from state, which includes education and allowing the individual to make their own journey to come to terms with their spirituality and beliefs, and what feels best for them.
I find Paganism with its strong connection with nature interesting (likely to do with having grown up on a farm!) and some of my fondest memories are of reading under a giant Black Oak tree near the river Waveney in East Anglia. For me, that is my spiritual home, for now at least.
It can be very, very difficult for LGBT+ people growing up in a religious household; rather than providing that secure feeling of belonging, it instead can foster the direct opposite. Those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or non-binary will likely have to hide who they are creating lasting harm. Again, there are no easy answers, but I remain hopeful as things look to move in a more tolerant direction, at least here in the UK.
Continuing the positive note, there are quite a few religions that affirm us in the LGBT+ community, I’ve included links at the end so please do take a look if you’re interested in finding out more.
Finally, writing this has presented me with the opportunity to reflect upon where I am now, working for the NHSBSA. The NHSBSA endeavours to be as inclusive as possible to the many religions and minority groups in the world today. I’m not sure all employers are this forward-thinking, but I can say with certainty that they do exist and the NHSBSA is a shining example of this.
Here are some links if you’d like to find out more about religion and LGBT+ intersectionality: