Coming out to a religious family

Coming out as gay, bi or trans can be a scary thought at the best of times. But how do you handle it if you're from a very religious background? The Mix talks gender, sex and religion.

Graphic shows a young person in their bedroom who is wearing a headscarf and waving a pride flag. There's a thought bubble showing they are thinking about coming out to their religious family

Telling your religious parents you’re gay or trans

It’s probably taken you a while to come to terms with your sexuality or gender identity, and now you’ve accepted who you are, you feel you want to be honest with your family. You may have also found true love and want your relationship to be accepted.

But regardless of whether you’re one of the millions of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or trans (or somewhere within the LGBTQIA+ rainbow), the news might not go down so well with your family, especially if they’re deeply religious.

Everyone has their own interpretation of religion. Some believe their god treats everyone equally. Other more traditionally religious people, however, claim that homosexuality is forbidden, and struggle to accept the full spectrum of gender identities. So, if you’re coming out to a religious family or community, be aware that you might get some very negative reactions.

Repercussions of coming out

Sex and religion can be a difficult thing to navigate, so think long and hard before you announce your news to your family. If it’s taken badly and you’re still living at home it could make life very uncomfortable for you.

Nadyne (18), from a Muslim family in London, is living in a secret location after her family discovered her sexuality. “Last year my mum found pictures on my phone of me kissing a girl. She went mad. I had to leave in the middle of the night and stay with a friend in another city,” she says. “I’ve spoken to her briefly, but can’t tell her where I am because they’ve threatened to take me to Pakistan to get married.”

“Obviously, you’re the only one who can judge whether now is the right time, but think deeply about your family’s reaction,” is the advice from Annie at Albert Kennedy Trust, who support young LGBTQIA+ people with homelessness. “It might be safer to wait until you’ve left home or are more independent and secure before coming out,” she says.

Talk to someone

If, however, you’ve decided to bite the bullet, talk it over with a support group first. They’ll be able to give you advice on how to handle it. It’s also recommended you have somewhere safe to stay lined up, in case it all goes horribly wrong.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of calls from young people who have come out or been outed to their religious families and life can be very difficult for them,” says Fiona, a helpline volunteer at the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. “In extreme cases there can be violence, or the threat of forced marriage to someone of the opposite sex,” she says.

Some gay people from religious backgrounds try to hide their sexuality forever. Others find the secrecy can become too much, opting to be themselves and have minimal contact with their family, rather than live a lie.

Will my religion accept my sexuality?

Many people struggle with coming out, but can find a way to be happy. Mike, now 24, used to be part of an Evangelical Christian Church and came out in his teens. The reaction from both his parents and the church was one of such strong disapproval that he was forced back into the closet.

“When I came out to my mum aged 15, she told the Church and they were not happy with me; they told me that being gay was very wrong,” he says. “I came out to another Church youth leader three years later and this time I was quickly linked up with someone who tried to ‘disciple me’ to stop being gay. They cut off my internet so I couldn’t use gay websites,” he says.

After a difficult couple of years, Mike cut off all ties with the Church, met his boyfriend James and is now working as a nurse. He is also back in contact with his family.

Nadine, however, has not been home for fear of being forced into marriage. She misses her family but has created a new life for herself studying and working in a new city. She also regularly goes to a gay youth group for support.

Join a gay faith group

There is still reason to hope that trans identity, sex and religion can co-exist in harmony. Not all devout followers of religion dismiss different sexualities and gender identities. There are gay, trans and queer religious people and groups that interpret religious books to give messages of equality for everyone. These groups accept and celebrate the idea that you can be a sexually active gay person, or identify as queer, trans or non-binary and still be a valued part of the religious community.

Gay faith groups, such as Al Faitha for LGBT Muslims, Young Lesbian and Gay Christian Group or the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group, not only allow you to practice your faith in a safe and protective environment, but offer friendship and support when you need it most. They can also provide materials to help your family understand – and hopefully accept and love – you for who you are.

Support for young LGBTQIA+ people from religious families

Find out more about support for gay Muslims.

Take a look at Stonewall’s resources for LGBTQIA+ people of faith.

Head here for resources and stories from The Proud Trust.

Read Emmanuela’s story about coming out as bi to her religious mum.

Next Steps

  • The Albert Kennedy Trust supports LGBT people aged 16-25-years-old who are homeless or living in a hostile environment. AKT has offices in London (call on 020 7831 6562), Manchester (0161 228 3308) and Newcastle (0191 281 0099).
  • Muslim Youth Helpline provides free and confidential faith and culturally sensitive support services targeted at vulnerable young people under 25 in the UK. Contact them on 0808 808 2008. Opening times: Mon to Fri: 6pm -12am sat - sun: 12pm-12am
  • LGBT Youth Scotland has lots of great advice articles about LGBT issues, as well as running supportive live chats online. Text on 07786 202 370.
  • Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline offers a range of help services for the LGBT community, including message boards and a helpline. 0300 330 0630
  • Queer Youth Network gives you the opportunity to meet and chat with other LGBT young people online.
  • Stonewall campaign for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across Britain and abroad.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Claudia Cahalane

Updated on 26-Jan-2021