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Young People, Sexuality and How Youth Workers Can Best Support Them

Posted on: May 17, 2014

Note: This blog is longer than our usual posts but we encourage you to read it (especially the real-life story) and reflect on the questions at the end.

Sexuality has been at the forefront of many discussions in the church over the last few years and even more so with the legalisation of equal marriage. If you’re anything like me it’s something that you find people have widely varied views on and something young people want to talk about, debate and explore for themselves.

This blog isn’t about the theology behind sexuality or which side of the debate is ‘right’ but it’s about the most important part of the discussion and that is the people who are questioning their sexuality and working out how it fits into their faith, often the young people that we are working with.
For many young people seeing ‘homosexuality’ appear on the youth programme will will just be another topic, for some however it will be a big issue with a lot riding on it as they question their own sexuality or have friends who are working out theirs.
Some of you youth workers reading this will have had young people ‘come out’ during your time in ministry, others may have had it given as a scenario to discuss as part of a youth work degree, others may have never even thought about what you’d do in that situation.
Below, Lucy Gorman, one of the founders of Hull’s LGBT Christian fellowship shares her story of coming out as a young person within a church youth group.

I remember when I was maybe about 14 we went on a family holiday, I can’t even remember quite where it was, somewhere in Devon. One of the evenings we went to the theatre, again I couldn’t even tell you what show it was! What I can tell you, is one of the main characters was this beautiful tall, slim, redhead with the most amazing voice. I don’t really buy the whole love at first sight lark, but I certainly had a sizeable crush on her. I came back to the hotel that night, went into the bathroom to get ready for bed, and sobbed. I had to keep it brief, I didn’t want anyone to ask me what the matter was, I couldn’t tell them the truth. How could I ever tell anyone? 
I have loads of little scenarios like that right from the age of about 12 and when I got to 17 they were far too frequent and much too strong to ignore for any longer. I had boyfriends during the years I was ignoring it, but I never really felt attracted to guys in the same way I would women, especially if they had stubble! UGH! I knew that being gay and being a Christian didn’t go together, we’d  looked at the subject of homosexuality and the Bible at my youth group, although the conclusion was always that it was wrong. I also distinctly remember when I was getting a bit more confident in the matter, challenging the youth leader, that I wasn’t too sure that same sex relationships where wrong after all. I got a disapproving look, and I think, referred back to the Bible. I’d like to think it goes without saying that I did a lot of research, studying, and praying about my sexuality. The pivotal moment came one evening, when I was fed up, I was gay, I knew I was, but I wanted so desperately to be straight. I would have given anything, tried anything, I just wanted it to go away. I wanted to be normal. I put my iPod in, put some worship music on and settled down to go to sleep.  A song by Delirious came on, Majesty, with the lyrics “Your grace has found me just as I am” It was those four words that leapt out and grabbed me. “Just as I am”

I had done so much praying, talking, asking, and reading that actually I hadn’t given God any time to say what he wanted to. He made me, He knitted me together in my mother’s womb, He knows the desires of my heart (Psalm 139). 

From that point on I joined an online LGBT support forum and discovered this strange new world of being both gay and Christian. I told my best friend first mainly to see what her reaction was. I think she replied with “Ok, are you still coming for tea?” and then I told my parents. I think my story would be a very different one if my parents weren’t so supportive. (They weren’t sure what to think, but it wasn’t until years later I discovered that.) To me at the time, they were supportive and that’s what I needed.  Next up were my friends, I told those who meant the most to me, and then the rest I decided to take the ‘rip the plaster off’ approach. I posted a blog online about my journey so far and the conclusion I had come to. Everything was going ok! This wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be. Then for my Church. 

I won’t go into huge amounts of detail, but I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t handled brilliantly. I knew from previous experience that the youth leaders weren’t overly keen on homosexuality! The youth group were told that although I had come out, that this wasn’t right, and that the rest of the group shouldn’t follow suit. That was one of the last times I went to the youth group, I did carry on going to the Church with my parents, but mainly because I was stubborn, I didn’t want them to think that they could treat me like that and I would just disappear. It did however have an effect on my relationship with God, I went through the motions, but I couldn’t respect anything that was said when we had such different views on the issue of sexuality. Such different views ultimately, on my life. 

I’ve been through it, and come out the other end of a dark tunnel. But so many young people don’t. I thought things through for myself, but many don’t. I had the support of my friends and family, but again, lots don’t.

Between the ages of about 12-18 is when you start to realise you’re a little bit different. It’s when puberty kicks in, and it’s also when you want to fit in the most! 

There are more views on Sexuality vs Christianity than I could possibly count but what I find myself stressing over and over again, is that this isn’t just a theological issue to discuss. This affects their lives, their families, their friends. Whether a young person feels they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, whether they were born intersex, or whether they think they might be a-sexual we need to be there for them. We need to help them explore their options and come to their own conclusions, and ultimately be comfortable in who they are. 

Questions To Reflect On

If a young person in your group ‘comes out’ to you;
– How would you react to this young person?
– Regardless of your biblical view of homosexuality how could you best support them?
– How might you further support them as they come out: to their parents? in church? in their youth group?

When you’re planning a session on homosexuality;
– What message will a young person questioning their sexuality take away from your session?
– If you think it’s fine to be gay and a Christian would you include the opposite view in your session as well? (Likewise if you think it’s wrong would you include the other side of the discussion?)
– How can you make sure that the overall message remains that God passionately loves & cares about us?