Interview: We’re in this together
Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, talks to Stephen Tomkins
As the leader since 2014 of the UK’s largest LGBT rights charity, it’s no surprise that Ruth Hunt has been responsible for campaigns to tackle homophobic bullying, to address discrimination in sport, and to improve the health and social care of LGBT people. It might – perhaps – be a little more surprising that she is a Christian and a lifelong churchgoer. Under her leadership, Stonewall hopes to overcome the “them and us” relationship between the LGBT community and the Church and other faith communities, by sharing stories of gay believers who reconcile their sexuality and their spirituality.
Reform talked to her in the Stonewall office in London.
Can you tell me a bit about the faith that you were brought up in?
I was brought up Catholic, and attended a Catholic school with my brother. My parents no longer identify as Catholic, but I do. It’s generally quite a private part of my life, but it inevitably shapes some of the decisions that I make and how I think about things.
Your faith seems to have been important to you. I know you read the Bible a lot as a teenager.
Avidly. I read the Bible several times – at school, as a teenager and as an adult – and I know it very well. You can’t do English at Oxford without knowing it!
You discovered your sexuality without any sense that it was in conflict with your religion.
Around the time of adolescence, I didn’t find anything in the Bible that spoke against how I was feeling and what I was doing. What I was struck by in the Bible was Moses getting his gig because he wasn’t very good at public speaking, and Ruth and Naomi – these really powerful stories about love and compassion – the good Samaritan. This was what resonated, rather than: “You like girls, you’re wrong”. That certainly wasn’t something that struck me in the Bible, or my faith communities, so I didn’t experience any rejection.
At the time, my relationships with my extended family were increasingly important: my aunt had just died, and the Catholic community wrapped itself around our family, so the overwhelming conflict was about grief, death and love rather than who I might fancy. That just didn’t factor into any of those conversations or internal dialogues.
I also read Julian of Norwich for the first time when I was about 16. That was one of the seminal texts in my faith and again I didn’t feel anything incongruent between what she was saying and how I was feeling.
In terms of leadership, when I got older people started talking more publicly about that; but in terms of my spirituality, no. No contradiction…
This is an extract from the April 2016 edition of Reform.