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12 Ruth_Hunt

‘I never felt the need to break away [from the Church]’

Ian Dunn talks to Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt, a Catholic, in search of common ground between religious groups and the gay community

The head of gay rights organisation Stonewall is not someone you would expect to find in the pages of The Scottish Catholic Observer. Current CEO Ruth Hunt is, however, a practicing Catholic and she is on a mission to break down barriers and foster better communication between religious groups and the gay community.

Ms Hunt (above) spoke to the SCO to mark lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) month, which this year had the theme of faith, religion and philosophy.

“I think at Stonewall we have often seen the idea that the faith community and LGBT community have to come to blows as something artificially constructed,” she said.

”There are many LGBT people of faith and many LGBT people have lots of friends and family in faith communities. To think in terms of binaries and opposites is not helpful.”

Ms Hunt admitted she was surprised that people have been so interested in her own Catholicism.

“I was brought up Catholic, I believe in one Holy Roman Catholic Church,” she said. “I believe it is where Christ is most accurately reflected. I feel at home there, I maintain a good relationship with the Church, I am pleased to be part of it.”

She said she ‘had my moments’ of doubt but the Church was ‘part and parcel of my life growing up’ and when we had some difficult times in our family’s life, when I was 12, 13 the Church became this very important thing that wrapped around us and supported us.”

She said her study of medieval English at university and figures like Julian of Norwich had fascinated her and reaffirmed her Faith.

“I never felt the need break away,” she said. “In the past, when I didn’t go I found I missed it, it provides community and creates a space that is very profound and spiritual for me.”

Like Stonewall as a whole, she is an ardent supporter of gay marriage though says her organisation will always accept ‘marriage within Churches is a matter for faith communities.’ The Catholic Church wholly opposes same sex marriage, defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman open to bringing a family into the world.

As a Catholic Ms Hunt says that gay marriage, like contraception, is something that many Catholics struggle with and that these are ‘live issues discussed in Catholic communities.’

“We respect religious freedom,” she said. “It does concern me the way some opposition is expressed. I don’t think it is Christian to be harmfully offensive. I think there’s always room to disagree with compassion.”

She says that while she knows some members of the gay community feel hostility to organised religion, her experience was quite different.

“Hearing the truth of people’s testament is very important,” she said. “In all my experience, I never felt excluded from the Church I attended, which can’t have always been easy for them but never felt I wasn’t welcome. A lot can be achieved if you start on basis of love but it’s difficult when people are utterly determined not to hear each other.

“I do meet people who have had different, difficult experiences though who’ve been damaged by being told to deny their sexuality, who felt rejected by God,” she said. “That’s saddens me, and at Stonewall we often talk about the need for ‘kind eyes,’ when we listen to people.”

While increased awareness of gay rights in recent years has been a source of great joy to Stonewall, Ms Hunt says ‘legal rights only go so far’ and there is ‘still much to be done.’

“We need to reach deeper into communities, to help people be accepted as they live, work, socialise and pray,” she said.

As a former head of Stonewall’s work in Scotland, Ms Hunt says she was impressed by the ‘generally greater sense in Scotland of community and loyalty that you get here.’

“Just my outsider perspective, the sense that ‘we might have a wee problem with him being a poof but if you touch him we’ll have words,’” she said. “I come from Wales and it is the same there. And perhaps within the Church there’s more scope for discussion than is the case in England.”

She is also hopeful that, in Scotland and elsewhere, there will be increasingly less conflict between religious and gay communities.

“I think it’s over inflated, the perceived conflict of freedom and gay rights,” she said.

In answer to the concerns by Church clergy and spokesmen that legislative concessions to the gay community impede and erode religious freedom, Ms Hunt is emphatic.

“The rights of LGBT people don’t get in the way of people of faith who practice that faith,” she said.




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