The opposite of shame – A reflection for Pride in Liverpool 2020

Pride in Liverpool is ten years old this year. It was formed as a response to the murder of 18-year-old Michael Causer, who died 12 years ago today.

Michael Causer (9 October 1989 – 2 August 2008)

It’s also twelve years since the launch of the first Open Table community at St Bride’s Liverpool, and five years since the beginning of the Open Table Network. Last weekend I offered a version of the following reflection on how Pride came to be in Liverpool, and how it relates to the Open Table journey, during the online service for the Team Parish of St Luke In The City, Liverpool, which includes St Bride’s:

My name is Kieran Bohan, and I have the privilege of being the Open Table Network Co-ordinator. The Open Table Network is a partnership of Christian worship communities hosted by churches in different traditions which offer a warm welcome to people who are: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer / Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA for short), their families and friends, and all who seek an inclusive Church. There are now 16 Open Table communities across the UK, with more to come. 

If you would like to watch the service during which I offered this reflection, you can see it on YouTube here (41.5 mins)

For the past three years the Open Table Liverpool community has organised a group to walk in the Pride march under the banner of Christians at Pride. We’ve been joined by a growing number of more than 100 Christians each year from Open Table communities and other churches who wish to stand in solidarity with us, including the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, and Sheryl Anderson, Chair of the Liverpool Methodist District. 

For the last two years, Open Table Liverpool has hosted a Post-Pride service at Liverpool Cathedral. Unfortunately we are unable to do that this year, but it is good to share this journey with the parish whose hospitality made the first Open Table community possible.

Twelve years ago in June, the first Open Table community began at St Bride’s Liverpool, as part of its vision to be a ‘Creative, Progressive, Inclusive’ church. 

Twelve years ago last weekend, 18-year old Michael Causer from Whiston lay unconscious in hospital following a brutal homophobic attack. His death became the catalyst for Pride in Liverpool, which was marked online on Saturday 25th July, the anniversary of the day Michael was attacked.  

Before Michael’s death, concern for the safety of LGBT people in Liverpool had been raised by a 2006 survey which showed that more than half feared being victims of hate crime, and three in five had experienced hate crime, though only two out of five had reported it to the police. 

One outcome of the report was the formation of the Liverpool LGBT Network, which voted to set up a permanent Pride in the city. By 2008, Liverpool was the largest British city not to have its own Pride event. 

Then Michael Causer died on 2nd August 2008 following that brutal homophobic attack, and our community was shocked to the core. The outpouring of grief and anger following Michael’s murder led to plans for a march in his memory, which evolved into an annual vigil for Michael and all victims of hate crime in the heart of Liverpool’s LGBT Quarter around Stanley Street. 

In October 2009, when gay trainee police officer James Parkes was left fighting for his life after an attack on Stanley Street, 2500 people attended a candle-lit vigil, and 1500 people walked in a March Against Homophobia, led by Michael Causer’s family. 

So, while Pride as we now know it had begun to emerge in Liverpool before Michael’s death, the high-profile homophobic attacks on Michael and James galvanised the city, brought diverse people and organisations together and caused a major shift in attitudes. 

The Presidents of Churches Together in the Merseyside Region (including the leaders of the Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed and Salvation Army churches, issued a statement in November 2009 affirming a commitment 

‘to work with others to build a community where all can have their place of belonging, feel welcome and live in safety.’ 

Liverpool Church Leaders issue joint statement on homophobic attacks

In August 2010, Michael Causer’s parents led more than 3,000 people in the first official Liverpool Pride march

In November 2011, Liverpool was the first UK city officially to recognise its LGBT district, by investing in the regeneration of the Stanley Street Quarter and marking its street signs with rainbows. 

In 2012, my husband Warren and I became the first couple to register a civil partnership in a place of worship in the UK. The same church was the scene of a same-sex wedding in the 2014 Hollyoaks Christmas special

So what difference does Pride make? Why do we campaign, march, and celebrate who we are in this way? 

The word ‘Pride’ can be problematic for some, especially in faith communities – the Old Testament Book of Proverbs says: 

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall

Proverbs 16:18

From the fourth century AD, early Christians began to speak of seven virtues, and seven ‘deadly sins’, of which pride was considered by some to be the most serious! Given that LGBT people hear much from some people of faith about our supposed sinfulness simply because of who we are, regardless of how we live, why choose a term so bound up with that language? 

Pride, for us, does not mean the deadly sin – the desire to be more important or attractive than others, failure to acknowledge the good work of others, or excessive love of self above others and God. Something’s been lost in translation. The English word ‘pride’ comes from the Old French for ‘brave or valiant’ – when the native Anglo-Saxons heard the Norman invaders apply the term to themselves, the Anglo-Saxons took it to mean superior, arrogant, the kind of selfish ‘pride’ we are warned against. 

Pride for the LGBT community is the opposite of shame – a brave, valiant affirmation of self in what can sometimes be a hostile environment. It’s not about being more important, but about campaigning for equality and celebrating the diversity of human identity, sexuality and gender. 

Which brings me to the reading from St Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus in Turkey (Ephesians 3:14-21). This passage has resonated deeply with me around my sense of identity for many years. 

I first discovered it in my 20s when I was a trainee Roman Catholic priest. I was living in fear and trying to be something I wasn’t. I thought I was praying for my ‘inner self’ to grow strong so I could suppress my sexuality and be a celibate priest. God had other ideas – I have learned to accept myself and enable others to do the same by learning to live in love, not fear. 

As Open Table has grown from one community in Liverpool to sixteen across England and Wales, I have begun to share this reading as a prayer for these communities – a reminder that it’s not our own kingdom we’re building, and that those six people who met in Liverpool in June 2008 to create a safe sacred space for LGBT+ Christians had no idea we were starting a movement that would ‘do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine.’ 

That reading is also my prayer for Michael’s parents, and for all of us who long for a little more of that brave, valiant spirit of Pride in our lives, and more than just once a year.  

Michael’s parents never imagined they would mourn their son twelve years ago. They never imagined walking in Pride without him. But out of their heartbreak came a passion for justice for all LGBT people, and a movement which has made Liverpool a safer, prouder and more diverse place. 

From grief has come strength, from hate has come love, from fear has come courage, and shame has been conquered by Pride. 

This reflection is based on a longer presentation I gave during the Post-Pride service at Liverpool Cathedral in July 2018.

The Open Table Network is at a key moment in our story – we’re about to become a charity, and we’re fundraising to support the phenomenal growth we’ve seen in the last five years, from six people at the first gathering in 2008 to 16 communities supporting hundreds of people today.

It’s important to me as I step out from Liverpool to support this Network that the community, the city which gave us life is supporting us in prayer and in any way they can. To find out more about the Open Table Network, visit the website: opentable.lgbt – if you send a message via the contact form, it comes to my email address.

Thanks for your support!

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