Sam Bennett

Just Love - cover (3)‘Unashamedly gay, unashamedly Christian’ is how Jayne Ozanne is described on her website – but there was a time when she was shamed by her same-sex desires. She grew up in Guernsey, “quite a conservative place”, she tells me at the Kings Arms in Sandford-On-Thames. “Back in the sixties-seventies, I suppose it felt like the forties-fifties.” Her “very Evangelical, charismatic upbringing” instilled in her that being gay wasn’t right, normal, or God’s will. Plus, though “a bright kid”, she didn’t even know women could be gay. While living in Paris in her twenties, she became “completely besotted” with her closest friend. “It had never quite crossed my mind that I might be madly and utterly in love with her until someone pointed it out,” she tells me. She was so shocked at this news she knocked over a bottle of wine. “Then I was cast into this huge, horrendous inner turmoil of not knowing how to reconcile what I was feeling.” She spoke to her friend about how she felt, “Sadly she didn’t approve and I never spoke to her again. So it was a bit of a car crash.” What followed was “a series of major crushes on women I was either working with or on holiday with”. She would try and talk to these women as she had with the girl in Paris, and would pay a heavy price for doing so.

“So I decided I better just settle down and try and find a boyfriend,” she says, “which I did in my late twenties – a lovely chap.” However her feelings for a woman she’d met in Australia, who later came to stay with her whilst travelling Europe, “were of a completely different magnitude to [those for] this lovely chap who was very sweet but just a good friend really”. Unable to cope with what she felt, she had a breakdown, ending up in Cromwell Hospital. She then hoped she could be ‘healed’ of her sexual orientation at church, where she was told there were perhaps spirits of homosexuality from which she needed delivering.

“I’ve had the spirit of sexuality cast out of me numerous times; it obviously just kept coming back. When you’re so hungry to become what you believe is Godly and acceptable, you go through frankly anything with people you trust.” She believed the healing had worked, but then she went to Oxford University as a mature student, for a post-grad in international diplomacy. “On the first day of that course I walked into the room full of diplomats from all over the world,” she remembers, “and met an extraordinary lady from Romania.” She knew then her so-called curing hadn’t worked – “I was right back to where I was: madly in love with this lovely lady.”

Photo by Sam Atkins (3)In light of this (unrequited) love she decided her orientation could not be changed. “I should have perhaps believed what the medics had been saying – that it was impossible – but often in a Christian Evangelical world, you believe God can do anything.” She resigned herself to singlehood and celibacy, an existence that proved “crucifying”. Due to the stress of it all, she had another breakdown and returned to hospital.

“After my second breakdown, I went to go and see the pastor in charge of pastoral affairs at our church.” She explained what she was going through, telling him she couldn’t manage.

“Jayne,” he said, “I think this is between you and God now.”

This was his way of saying, “You’re on your own kiddo.”

“Dear Lord,” she thought, “I’m really sorry, I’ve tried everything you can possibly ask of me, I need to work out who I am.” She started dating – carrying out, as someone once described it to her, market research. She dated some boys, some girls, and realised she “was definitely gay”. She soon met “the most wonderful lady who I was with for the next six years”, and was transformed. “I became alive,” she says. “Love has a funny way of allowing us to blossom, doesn’t it?”

She had come out to herself, and so started coming out to the people around her. Some cut her out of their lives, others “walked with me, like my parents; it took them some time but they couldn’t ignore how happy, joyous, loved and at peace I was”. Her relationship with the aforementioned wonderful woman ended because they both wanted different things. She refers to Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ (‘’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’), and concludes: “I think it’s better to have loved and lost – love allows us to feel fully alive.”

She is now director of the Ozanne Foundation, a new charity with “a big vision: to try and eradicate discrimination and prejudice on the basis of religious belief”. There are three streams to the programme. One is the ‘encounter’ stream, which is about enabling “meaningful encounters with those in positions of authority across religions. Let’s take the Christian faith,” the director resumes, “the Anglican Communion are going to be meeting in 2020 to discuss various things, but sexuality will be right at the top I should think. Wouldn’t it be amazing if every bishop there has had a meaningful encounter with an openly gay Christian who might challenge assumptions and stereotypes?” Another stream is ‘educate’: “I’ve talked about the need for us to get the right facts out there; I’m going to be leading a big conference on 8 December in London called ‘Faith and the Facts of Life’, and I’ve got some of the top professors in science, biology, and mental health coming to talk about what it is to be human and where we are in our understanding of sexuality and gender.” There is also an ‘empower’ stream, as lots of people at grassroots level want to see change within religious organisations but aren’t quite sure how to implement it; the Foundation aims to equip these folk “with tools, information, courses, ways to harness that energy and help them be change agents where they are.

“I think the nation as a whole has given up on the Church,” she admits. “A lot of people can’t get their head around how an institution that’s supposed to mirror the love of God shows anything but the love of God. The church does do a lot of good, but on the whole it’s known at the moment for getting things really wrong and being really homophobic.” The younger generation are especially disenchanted, she states, “and yet when they find someone like me who on paper should have given up on the church yonks ago, and yet something keeps me doggedly carrying on, they’re quite keen to know what that’s about”. It’s her place, she says, to show that you can be Christian and gay. “God loves us all equally and he wants us to be fulfilled in who we are.”

You can read more of Jayne Ozanne’s story in Just Love: A Journey of Self-Acceptance, publishing in July.

Christians at Pride will be part of the Pride in London parade on 7 July. To join them, meet at 1pm outside Methodist Church House at 25 Marylebone Road, which is near Baker Street tube.

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