The intersectionality between faith and the LGBT+ community

Imogen Hamblin
Imogen HamblinEmployment lawyer

In this article marking LGBT History Month, Imogen Hamblin, employment lawyer at Thrive Law and member of our LGBT+ Lawyers Division Committee, explores two facets of her identity – her faith and her sexuality.

As a member of the LGBT+ community and also of Christian faith, it is unavoidable not to talk about the chasmic divide that sometimes exists between both communities.

I have been reticent to publicly “out” myself as an LGBT+ Christian, due to the strength of belief that some religious groups hold about the morality and inclusion of the LGBT+ community.

Despite this, I now feel compelled to join in the conversation about whether being LGBT+ and a person of faith, are two concepts which are really so incompatible. However, this lack of acceptance can be charted throughout history and is still an issue today.

Since 2010 and the introduction of the Equality Act, the employment tribunal has seen many landmark cases involving claims from religious persons who have alleged discrimination arising out of their beliefs, where their homophobic and anti-trans views have led to conflict.

Where dismissals have been effected, it appears as though the tribunal has been conducting a balancing act between competing protected rights and has found in favour of the LGBT+ community. However, this is not necessarily an accurate perception of how the tribunals have rationalised their findings.

Two of those landmark cases involved employees refusing to provide services for the LGBT+ community due to a conflict with their personal religious beliefs; one of whom was a registrar [Ladele v London Borough of Islington [2010] IRLR 211] and the other a counsellor [McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd [2010] IRLR 196].

Both organisations in these cases were found to have a legitimate aim in providing effective services for all. In the context of ensuring equal opportunities for the LGBT+ community, the dismissals of those refusing to work with same-sex couples were upheld.

Three other cases involved office holders who were carrying out functions for a public body and therefore had a duty to uphold the Equality Act 2010. These cases include Mackereth v The Department for Work and Pensions and another ET/1304602/18, Higgs v Farmor’s School ET/1401264/19 and Page v NHS Trust Development Authority [2019] 6 WLUK 291. Again, in these cases, the tribunal held that the dismissals were both fair and non-discriminatory.

There may therefore be a perception that the tribunals have prevented people of faith having a religious belief or from holding controversial views. However, the point of objection, relates to the public display of views that discriminate against another group and the tribunals have therefore sought to protect minority groups.

It draws a distinction between prejudice against the LGBT+ community, where a person of faith has not been dismissed because of their beliefs, but because of their expression of them.

Without a doubt, an individual who did not have the protected characteristic of faith, but who was disseminating similar materials, would also have been disciplined in the same way. It is important, therefore, to challenge the perception that the law is biased against Christians. This is not the case.

When reaching their decisions, the tribunal felt it was necessary to consider the morals of society at the present day, as the purpose of the Equality Act was to create a fair and just society. I am now calling upon the Christian faith to do the same.

Furthermore, the huge advance in the field of biblical studies over the last decades prompted by significant archaeological finds and advances in historical, cultural and linguistic understanding, have led to new insights and perspectives on the interpretation of the biblical text.

We can now invite legitimate challenge to literal interpretations of the Biblical text (old and new). In my opinion, if Jesus was alive today, I believe he would find companionship in those that are discriminated against so fiercely, as he sought out the underdog of society to extend the love of God.

Let’s note, rejection of the LGBT+ community can take many subtle forms, for example exclusion from the membership or leadership teams, refusing to conduct marriage ceremonies and making comments like “we love the sinner not the sin” or that “you are welcome, but your way of life is not”.

The implication is there is something unholy or sinful about our lifestyle.

The church is in an uncomfortable place for LGBT+ persons; however, there is good news.

Facets of the church have reacted positively to the changes in legislation and have adopted a more thoughtful approach to the teachings of Scripture, recognising the culture in which it was written.

The church is starting to become more inclusive and some Christian denominations do not consider homosexuality or transgender identity to be sins. Leading the way in this advancement is Rev Steve Chalk MBE of Oasis Church, Waterloo. He celebrates having LGBT+ people in the leadership team, music team and youth work teams. They also regularly conduct same-sex marriages.

I have also found a Baptist church in Nottingham, where I live, that is totally welcoming and accepting of who I am. This to me is amazing progress and has helped me to reconcile my faith and sexuality.

As a Christian, I can only talk about my experience from this perspective; however, I welcome others of faith to engage in this conversation within their own communities and challenge ideas about where prejudice for the LGBT+ community has come from.

Can it ever be a truly good and loving act to reject someone on the grounds of their sexual identity, however subtly that rejection is done?

Related resources

Share your experiences as LGBT+ lawyers and allies in the workplace

LGBT History Month: Inspiration through the ages

LGBT+ History Month: Identity and authenticity

LGBT+ History Month: Intersectional identities and inclusion

An introduction to asexuality

Coming out: my journey as a junior lawyer