Originally published 30/04/2021
So Jayne, tell me how growing up as an evangelical Christian shaped your coming out story?
I was brought up in Guernsey and I was a typical tomboy, as well as being academically gifted and musical. I always felt different, but I put it down to my faith and being intelligent (she studied maths at Cambridge). I grew up in a conservative family and area, which meant I had no knowledge of lesbian or even the notion that they even existed. I was conditioned really, by church and society that women got married and had kids – in my mind it was like a Disney film, but didn’t happen for me. At school I couldn’t understand my classmates crushes, and although later on at university I had gay male friends, I honestly didn’t make the connection that women could also be in same sex relationships too.
And what about after university? When did you have your realisation?
I got into a fairly high flying career, working in international marketing. I worked with a woman who I considered to be a great friend – I loved spending time with her. My realisation actually came from someone else – a mutual friend asked me when I was going to be honest about my attraction for this woman.
Almost immediately I felt a real internal conflict. I had a strong faith and now this appeared to be the worst thing that could happen to me. I craved love and to be in love but how could I reconcile these feelings when the object of my affection was a forbidden love. I continued with my career, but as time went on I continued to feel attracted to other women. I decided I needed to settle down with a man, and starting dating a lovely guy who I did genuinely like. Just before this I had met a woman who again, I felt an attraction for, and when she came to visit me I realised that I couldn’t lead my boyfriend on, as my feelings for her were far stronger, and of a completely different magnitude than they were for him .
The pressure of hiding my sexuality became too much. I suffered from acute abdominal pain caused by the enormous stress I was under. This huge secret triggered a major breakdown. I ended up in a couple of clinics and tried desperately to resolve the conflict I had between my faith and my sexuality. Unfortunately, my therapist told me to change my faith, which was a ridiculous proposal, and I shut down as clearly she didn’t understand my internal hell.
Instead, I voluntarily chose to undergo conversion therapy over several years, usually abroad or in remote places for fear of being recognised, as by this time I was part of the Archbishops’ Council for the church of England.
How did this new role sit with your sexuality?
I was an unusual and dare I say brave appointment by the Archbishops, being a young female evangelical. However, I recognised I now had a significant position of influence, which I used to hold a mirror up to the church and try and show it as I thought the public did – out of touch with society and hypocritical. At the same time, I still carried around this huge secret. I spent literally thousands of pounds on exorcisms, therapy and Christian counselling. That said, I truly believed that it took me to a place where I thought I was cured.
When did you eventually come out to yourself, and to the church?
I moved about with various roles, setting up a couple of foundations (the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, and the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust), meeting everyone from presidents to refugees, and working across international relations. But then I felt my faith guiding me, so I sold up and left everything and moved to Oxford. I lived with a friend who encouraged me to do some research at the university. I ended up being the first British National on the Foreign Service programme. Whilst there I met a woman who I developed feelings for. The years of therapy and conversion therapy clearly hadn’t worked!
This took me to a very dark place – I had tried everything my faith had asked of me and it still hadn’t worked. I was still single and celibate but I had no desire for that to be so for the rest of my life – I still very much wanted to love and be loved. I ended back in hospital, having a massive second breakdown as I turned 40. I decided it was finally time for me to find out who I was, so I dated some men and some women, and fortunately I met a lovely woman, who I was in a relationship with for 6 years. Love brought me alive, but I still wondered how I could come out to my Christian friends, as I knew many people would see this as biggest sin I could commit.
But you can’t hide being in love! People noticed and whilst I lost many friends others were challenged enough to revisit their beliefs. I stepped down from major church roles, and came out privately to those around me in 2008 and then more publicly in 2015.
Can you tell me how you ended up involved in the church again?
To be honest I struggled for a while professionally. My career had been wrapped up in the church, but after coming out they wanted nothing to do with me, so my CV became a “dogs’ dinner”. I literally fell into fundraising, with the World Association of Girls Guides and Scouts, Oxfam and even the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
I became connected with the Church of England (CoE) by leading various initiatives, including a letter to the Archbishops calling for an apology to LGBT+ community, which was signed by over 100 senior Anglicans. It would be true to say that I feel I was in a sense “destined” for this work rather than something I actively chose to do.
Tell me more about your foundation and what you are trying to achieve in the global religious arena?
With the Ozanne foundation I am trying to make things better for LGBT+ people of faith. Our immediate priority is to look at the safeguarding challenges faced by LGBT+ people of faith, and specifically on the topic of conversion therapy, which sadly has a horrendous impact on many young people leads many to suicide. I believe that all faiths ultimately believe in the dignity of all and the sanctity of life, and this is a good starting point when trying to get religious leaders to back a ban on conversion therapy.
LGBT+ people are still ‘othered’ by religion. Through testimony of LGBT+ people learning can continue and more people can reconcile themselves with their faith. There’s a long way to go, but the good news is that many LGBT+ people still have a faith, even though they have been badly hurt by organised religion.
So what’s next for you?
I will continue to work with senior faith leaders, ensuring the safety of LGBT+ people in religion. I’ve also written a book on my experiences, ‘Just Love’. And although I have left the Government advisory panel I am actively continuing to campaign for a ban to LGBT conversion therapy, including conversion of trans people and fight against religious exemption.
You can buy Jayne’s book, Just Love, here on her website – https://www.jayneozanne.com/just-love/