London LGBT Pride – giving publicity to human rights abusers

This week, I’ve seen two movements that I love become sullied by complicity with the arms trade. First, Church House (a leading Christian conference centre) hosted a gathering of arms dealers and generals. Now, London LGBT Pride are about to allow a section of this week’s march to be used to publicise a company that is complicit in homophobia– and other human rights abuses – around the world.

BAE Systems, a multinational arms company that sells weapons to dictatorships, has been allocated its own section at the Pride march in London on Saturday. This is a march to promote and celebrate the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Yet BAE’s biggest customers include Saudi Arabia, one of the most viciously homophobic regimes in the world.

Thus the Pride march will include the symbols and branding of a company that actively works against the very things that the march is calling for.

BAE is not one of the “official sponsors” – though these include some very unethical multinationals, such as the tax dodgers at Starbuck’s and Barclay’s. BAE is one of the companies that have been allocated a section on the march for their workers. BAE have an LGBT employees’ group and it this group that will be on the march, in the same way as there will be other groups of workers from John Lewis and the Direct Line Group. There are also religious and cultural groups (most of them placed near the back, as usual). I will be marching with Christians Together at Pride.

I don’t want to stop BAE’s workers marching at Pride. If BAE employees support LGBT rights, I’m pleased to hear it (especially as their bosses clearly don’t). But they will undoubtedly be wearing, carrying or otherwise displaying logos and publicity from BAE. This will help the company’s bosses in their relentless drive to present themselves as being ethical and pro-human rights.

I tweeted the organisers of the march (@LondonLGBTPride). I’m grateful to them for replying very quickly. However, their reply made a very unclear argument. It said:

“Organisations apply and BAE have an LGBT group. Change can come from within. We will not abandon and disengage with LGBT groups who strive for the right and the freedom to express themselves”.

I’m pleased if the LGBT workers at BAE strive for the right and the freedom to express themselves. I’m glad they’re coming on the march. But it’s either naïve or misleading of the organisers to overlook the fact that by listing BAE Systems as one of the groups on the march, and allowing BAE branding to appear, they are actively helping the company to promote itself.

Of course, I accept that this issue is part of  a wider problem with the commercialisation of Pride. There are various other unethical companies involved. I wouldn’t rate Barclay’s or BP as much better than BAE. You could make an argument that this is just as bad. However, I suggest the nature of an arms company is different.

An arms company cannot become ethical, because of the very nature of the arms trade, which involves selling weapons to virtually anyone who will buy them (if they can get away with it, which they usually can). Further, BAE actively promotes homophobia by arming homophobic governments that oppress their own people. I don’t know what “change” the Pride organisers imagine will “come from within”, unless it’s by the active rebellion of the workers against the BAE bosses (which would be great, but seems unlikely).

Despite the commercialisation of Pride, despite the excessive alcohol, the high prices and the vacuuous celebrities, despite all the things I don’t like about it, I must admit that the Pride march in London has played an significant part in my life. Going toPride was an important moment for me as I decided to be public about abandoning my former homophobia. London Pride was one of the first places in which I told a stranger I was bisexual. In 2011, when I walked from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for my formoer homophobia, the Pride march was the last leg of my pilgrimage. The significance of the Pride march for me makes me feel even sadder and angrier about its misuse by arms dealers.

Please tweet @LondonLGBTPride, or otherwise contact them, about this issue. And remember, you can always wear a Campaign Against Arms Trade badge on Saturday.

Christians must speak out against anti-gay bus adverts

Once again, groups that attempt to “cure” people of same-sex attraction have made the headlines. The Core Issues Trust (whose only “core issue” is an obsession with opposing same-sex relationships) and Anglican Mainstream (who are not at all mainstream) have co-sponsored bus adverts for London, promoting the idea of being “ex-gay”.

The Mayor of London has now banned the adverts. In the ensuing controversy, the two groups will get at least as much publicity as the adverts themselves would have generated. But they won’t have to pay for them.

Conversion therapy” for gay and bisexual people used to be a very marginal idea in Britain. When I (to my shame) supported a homophobic position, in the mid-late 1990s, most socially conservative Christians either refused to accept that homosexual orientation existed, or (in the case of the slightly more humane ones) insisted that gay people should be “celibate”.

But in the last few years, we have seen a sharp increase in support for “ex-gay” and “therapy” ideas deriving from the US. To understand the reasons for this, we need to look at the social and religious context.

Christianity – or at least certain traditional forms of it – have in recent decades moved from centre-stage in an increasingly multifaith society. This has been a welcome relief for Christians who want to move on from Christianity’s collusion with wealth and power. But it has been frightening for some more socially conservative Christians.

This is not surprising. What is worrying is that many of them have latched on to sexuality as the issue to fight over. They claim to be protecting “Christian values”, “biblical values” or “family values”. But they are usually defending their own privileges.

Extreme groups such as Anglican Mainstream and Christian Concern have become obsessed with sexuality. Their narrow focus and extreme rhetoric have alienated more moderate conservatives. There are people who still have a problem with same-sex relationships but who are open to dialogue with those who disagree and who think that Christians should also be concerned with issues such as poverty, peace and climate change. While I want to challenge these people’s views, I would not confuse them with people who sponsor anti-gay bus adverts.

Unfortunately, whenever a story of this sort breaks, much of the media cover it in terms of “Christians v. gays”, as if the two groups were mutually exclusive. The Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream cannot claim to represent Christians generally – or even evangelical Christians generally. No Christian group can do that.

But these sort of stories perpetuate the impression that all, or nearly all, Christians are homophobic. Last year, when I went on a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobia, I received emails from people who had genuinely never heard of a non-homophobic Christian before (let alone a gay or bisexual one).

The media cannot take all the blame for this. Homophobia is on the march, and pro-equality Christians must be prepared to speak up as loudly as Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust.

Let us never confuse the radical inclusivity of Christ with the legalism of the homophobes or the shallow surface equality offered by secular liberalism. Let us have love for our opponents. Let us be open to learning and developing our views. Let us not be afraid to take a stand for love and justice. Otherwise, the only news that the world will hear from Christians is a message from people who want to “cure” them of falling in love with the wrong person.

Occupying Royal Holloway

This evening I have had the privilege of speaking with students at Royal Holloway College in the University of London. They today began an occupation of their college, camping outside the Principal’s office and calling on him to oppose the government’s agenda for higher education.

I gave two talks at the college. The first, which was planned weeks ago, was a talk about my walk of repentance for homophobia. I’d been invited by the Students’ Union, Chaplaincy and Catholic Society. It was great to have an engaged and diverse audience, with interesting and challenging questions from (among others) a Muslim and at least two Catholics and members of the college’s LGBT Society.

The second talk was much more spontaneous. Some of the students involved in the occupation, which began this afternoon, asked me to go and speak to them. I was honoured. I wasn’t sure what they wanted me to say, but as they gathered round in the corridor, I spoke about my delight at the outbreak of active nonviolence over the last year. I encouraged them to resist the lies and misconceptions that would be spread about them and shared some thoughts and experience. As with the people at the first talk, I also had much to learn from the questions and comments with which they responded.

I was inspired by the enthusiasm, sense and detailed commitment of these people.

Students listened to each other, including on occasions when they did not agree. They seemed to be working well together to organise things effectively. They have allocated one room (the Principal’s Meeting Room) as a quiet study area, where students who have essays to write or research to do can go and work in silence. There was a steady stream of people with books and laptops going in and out. There seems to be a careful allocation of space. There was a quieter area dedicated for sleeping. Bins are divided for paper recycling, plastic recycling and general rubbish.

The diversity of students present was a challenge to the assumption that student activists are a small minority of eccentrics who get no real interest from the main student body. There appeared to be a gender and racial balance and the diversity of clothing did not live up to stereotypes of activist hippies.

The two talks I gave this evening were about different subjects, but the links between them are becoming ever clearer to me. Sexual ethics and economic ethics are closely linked. Tackling homophobia and resisting economic injustice are both part of a wider struggle to challenge a world in which people are encouraged to relate to each other on the basis of power, prejudice, money or convention. As a Christian, I believe we are called to relationships – whether personal or political – based on love, justice and mutuality. This is a challenge to both legalism and selfishness.

I am often accused of being too optimistic, particularly about politics. But I find it hard to imagine my reaction if someone had told me after last year’s general election that there would be an outbreak of active nonviolence in the coming year and a half. If they had told me that people would peacefully occupy the shops of tax-dodging corporations, that student activists would occupy universities across the UK in protest at tuition fees and that there would be a global movement of nonviolent occupations targeting financial centres, I would probably have laughed in their face.

In some ways, there are many reasons to be pessimistic about the future. Economies are in crisis across Europe. The UK government is responding with a vicious assault on public services and the welfare state.

But as I sat in that corridor at Royal Holloway tonight, I was reminded that there is another way. That the government’s assault on the working class and lower middle class is being met with resistance. That people from Cairo to Wall Street have inspired the world to stand up to injustice. That the power of money and markets will never understand or suppress the power of love manifested in active nonviolence.

No longer can radical campaigns be dismissed as the preserve of eccentric minorities. The breadth of support for Occupy Royal Holloway was very clear. While I was there, the Roman Catholic Chaplain spoke and offered his solidarity. For me, one of the most encouraging comments came from a security guard, as he wandered over to listen to the discussions. He told us he was glad to be working the evening shift because “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world”.

Speaking about my walk of repentance

Since July, when I finished my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia, I’ve been a bit taken aback by the number of requests I’ve received to give talks about it. I’m really chuffed that so many people are interested!  

In the talks I’ve given so far, I’ve been both encouraged and challenged by the questions and conversation. I hope that the other people there have got as much out of the events as I have. Many thanks to the people who have organised the events I’ve spoken at so far – at Courage UK, the Greenbelt festival, the Student Christian Movement, Southampton University, St Mark’s Church, Sheffield and City United Reformed Church, Cardiff.

Please click here to see a new page giving details of that I’m giving as well as other events I’m involved in.  

Over the next few days, I’ll be discussing my walk on three occasions: 

Firstly, at 6.00pm on Wednesday (30 November) at Royal Holloway, University of London (just west of London). See or visit the Facebook event. 

Secondly, at 7.30pm on Thursday (1 December) at the Chaplaincy at Warwick University (in Coventry). See

Thirdly, as part of my sermon at All Hallows Church, Leeds at 10.30am on Sunday (4 December). See 

I’m very much looking forward to them all! If you would like to know more, please feel free to email me at

Lessons from my walk of repentance

This summer, I walked from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobia. I wrote the following article for Reform magazine. It appeared in the September issue.

“Gay Christian embarks on homophobic ‘hurt’ journey” declared the BBC website on 16 June, as I set out from Birmingham on my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia. I was both pleased and annoyed. On the one hand, my walk was drawing media attention to the issues involved. On the other, the coverage included a major inaccuracy.

My girlfriend was one of the first people to text me to tell me that the BBC thought I was gay. After some effort by a friend, the BBC changed the wording to “bisexual”.

The article appeared as I left Carr’s Lane Church, with 160 miles and just over two weeks to go before arriving in London and joining the Pride march. I had received a wonderful send-off the evening before, when Robin Fox, a Methodist minister, led an act of commissioning. Staff at the Student Christian Movement had clubbed together to buy me a waterproof jacket and a Muslim friend of mine suprised me by turning up with a large cake.

As I walked along the Warwickshire lanes on that first day, I was only partly aware that the media interest had taken off on a far larger scale than I expected. It triggered a flood of emails. They offered support, prayers, questions, suggestions, disagreement and occasionally outright abuse. Overwhelmingly, they were positive. I was deeply moved.

I feared the support and publicity might go to my head. At times, I became slightly freaked out by it – such as when someone asked to have her photo taken with me. But the nature of the walk guarded against egotism. It is difficult to feel big-headed while scrambling up a muddy bank with wet feet, or walking miles back in the direction I had come after going the wrong way.

Despite the media attention, I do not think I was doing something remarkable. Many Christians have changed their views on sexuality. After becoming Christian in my late teens, I accepted an anti-gay position, partly out of a desire to fit in at the church I had joined. That church was wonderful and helped bring me closer to Christ. But over time, I concluded that they were mistaken about sexuality. I could no longer reconcile opposition to loving same-sex relationships with a Messiah who fulfilled the law and who calls us to live by love – a message at once more demanding and more liberating than the legalism that Jesus challenged.

It was some time before I became aware of the level of hurt that my prejudices had caused, and even longer before I recognised the damage to my own integrity in denying my own sexuality. When the vision of a pilgrimage of repentance came to me, I knew it was not something I could choose not to do.

It was a chance to pray and reflect, engage in dialogue and draw attention to the issues involved. Although I set out each day with maps, plans and remote support, I had little idea what would happen before the day was out. Prayer, worship, events and chance meetings all affected me, to say nothing of aches, blisters, tiredness and growing awareness of my body.

I had some fascinating conversations, both after giving formal talks and more spontaneously. I met a gay minister who used to deny his orientation, a woman who had nervously decided to introduce her female partner to her church and a man whose pastor told him he would not be welcome at church again after he said he might be transgender.

My walk was made possible by practical help and emotional support from friends and strangers. My excellent “remote support team” divided up the days of my walk, taking it in turns to update the website, check I was OK and help out when I wasn’t. A few people joined me for short stretches. They included Chris Campbell, the first gay Christian I ever knew and now an elder at Maidenhead URC. Chris experienced my homophobia directly and walked with me for a day in solidarity.

In some ways, I am only just beginning to understand how my pilgrimage affected me. I learnt about prayer, pain, dialogue and dependence. Three lessons seem particularly relevant to Christian concerns over sexuality.

Firstly, I realised the value of informal dialogue. On one occasion, I stayed with a minister who did not agree with my position, but kindly offered to host me after my intended host fell ill. Over breakfast, we had a conversation that challenged us both. A few days later, I answered questions from a group drawn from five churches in Chesham. The discussion ranged between marriage, sin, Old Testament law and the nature of gender.

Secondly, I was struck by the fruitfulness of such conversations compared to the official deliberations of denominational institutions. I have no doubt that many denominational leaders (across the churches) are compassionate people genuinely seeking a way forward. But they are hampered by the desire to make balanced statements and maintain unity. I think it’s worth remembering that Jesus did not base his plans on religious leaders, but relied on those on the outside. Change in Christian attitudes comes from the bottom of the Church, not the top.

Thirdly, I am convinced that the need for love and dialogue means we should tackle controversial issues, not shy away from them. Jesus challenged his listeners with parables and actions that engaged them in difficult questions. We are not called to a superficial unity based on shutting up. This is not only an issue about sexuality – important though that is. It is about the nature of a Gospel that frees us from rules and invites us to live by God’s spirit. Love calls us both to engage in genuine dialogue and to stand up for justice.

My journey from homophobe to equality activist has made me aware of how easily I can be wrong. I am sure I am still mistaken about all sorts of things. Humility requires us to recognise that we don’t have all the answers.

It is a paradox of Christian calling that this humility encourages commitment rather than dissuading us from it. We are not certain, but we are called to follow Jesus and seek to live out his message of love and justice – personally, socially and politically. As someone with my appalling lack of navigational ability knows all to well, we walk by faith and not by sight.


To read more about my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia, please visit

Bishop welcomes walk of repentance for homophobia

I’m delighted to report that the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, has expressed his support for my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia. He said that the church needs to repent in relation to gay and lesbian people.

My pilgrimage involes a walk between Birmingham and London from 16 June to 1 July. I will be giving talks at churches along the way.

In an email that I received on Monday, Richard Harries said:

“It is very good that you are undertaking this pilgrimage of repentance. I very much hope it will have a wide influence. Repentance in the original Greek word means changing one’s mind, and rethinking one’s whole outlook in the light of God’s saving presence in Christ. That is what the church needs to do today in relation to gay and lesbian people.”

It is great to have Richard Harries’ support. I wish more church leaders would be prepared to take this sort of stance.

I have also been overwhelmed and deeply moved by the many messages of support I have received from a wide range of individuals and groups who have heard about my plans. They include a man whose Christian parents won’t accept homosexuality, a gay Methodist minister who used to be homophobic, a straight Muslim and a bisexual teenager. I thank God for the courage these people have given me as the date of my pilgrimage approaches.

For more information on my pilgrimage, please visit

Pilgrimage plans published

It is now less than four weeks before I begin walking from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobia. I’m delighted with the support and encouargement I’ve received and I’m very pleased to report that details of events during the walk have now been published.

Please click here to read about the events.  

As you’ll see, there will be three city centre events. These will be in Birmingham on the evening before I start walking (Wednesday 15 June), in Oxford around half-way (Sunday 26 June) and in London on the evening I arrive (Friday 1 July), which will be the day before Pride.  

I am still discussing events with churches in other locations, and details will be available shortly. In addition, a few churches and other groups have kindly invited me to meet them more informally or join them in worship.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at

To read more about the pilgrimage, please visit