An exclusive interview between LGBTQI activists Jayne Ozanne and Philip Baldwin
BY PHILIP BALDWIN (@philipcbaldwin)
National Coming Out Day takes place annually on 11 October. Over the years it has become one of my favourite LGBTQI awareness days. Each LGBTQI person is uniquely beautiful and has their own coming out story.
I sat down with Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation, to find out more about her story to celebrate this year.
PHILIP BALDWIN: Can you describe your coming out journey?
JAYNE OZANNE: I think it is fair to say I’ve had a pretty bumpy coming out journey! Sadly, it took two spells in hospital and two major breakdowns before I finally did so. It’s not a journey I would wish on my worst enemy as it cost me dearly, particularly in terms of my close friendships. If I’m honest, I felt I was left with no choice but to come out as I knew that to continue living with such deep inner turmoil was not physically, nor mentally, possible. I longed to love and be loved, and I desperately wanted to know if a relationship with a woman would bring me the happiness, peace and the intimacy that I so yearned for. On coming out, I learnt that it did! What’s more, everyone else could see that too: love sets people alight, it’s indistinguishable!
How do you reconcile your faith and your sexuality?
Having grown up believing that being attracted to other women was sinful and “not God’s best for me”, I invested significant time and money trying to “pray the gay away”. Although I thought at first it was working, I realised over time that it didn’t. I was then told that I would have to be single for life, and never find the love I craved. In coming out I thought I would have to walk away from my faith. Fortunately, I was able to meet others who had travelled the same path and started to reread the Scriptures that had been used as a weapon against me. On reading them afresh I started to understand that I am loved, just as I am, and that God is not homophobic, but His Church often is!
What made you want to set up the Ozanne Foundation?
Sadly, religious teaching is the root cause that fuels so much of the prejudice and stigma that LGBTQI people face both in the UK and around the world. It has been used to legitimise oppressive systems which have criminalised people for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and condoned violence. This must change, and the only way that can happen is to engage with religious leaders at all levels. My Foundation therefore seeks to work with religious leaders around the world to encourage them to understand the harm that certain religious teachings can cause, and in particular work for a global ban in conversion therapy.
What are the two greatest challenges, in your view, facing the LGBTQI community?
The first is regards to our ongoing safety. I fear the gravest threat here is one fuelled by certain religious teaching that can cause so much trauma to vulnerable LGBTQI people at a key time when they are discovering who they truly are. That is why we must work for a global ban on conversion therapy, which covers all religious practices, and look to ensure that we affirm people and help them find self-acceptance.
The second is for us to support our trans colleagues, who are sadly experiencing increasing vitriol and hate crime. We need to join together to fight transphobia and misogyny, in all its forms, and recognise that an attack on one minority group is an attack on us all.
Your book – Just Love – is an excellent read. Can you tell DIVA readers about it?
I wanted to share my coming out journey with people so that those within the Church would recognise the pain and trauma they – often unknowingly – put so many of us through. I’ve been fortunate to have quite a varied life, and I thought that by sharing my experiences as a woman in international business, who has a deep faith that has taken her from the jungles of Burma to the White House, they would be challenged to think again. I also hope it will encourage others who are treading a similar path, so that they know that they are not alone.
What would your advice be to someone from a faith background who is struggling to come out?
Firstly, know that you’re not alone! There are thousands of others who have been just where you are now, and they’re just a click away. Reach out and talk to those who have walked the same path, don’t try and go it alone. Secondly, open your heart to the possibility that what you have been told might be wrong – and know that God is a God of love, that God rejoices in who you are and wants you to experience life in all its fullness. Finally, know that God will always walk with you – even if coming out is costly in terms of friends and family, you will, I promise, have a happier more fulfilled life. For the truth shall set you free.
Follow Jayne on Twitter: @JayneOzanne