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Stuart Soley is the Parish Priest for Saint Mark's Anglican Church Fitzroy, guiding and caring for the spiritual and community life of his parish. As one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI+ Leaders of 2020 Stuart shares the importance of being an open spiritual leader.
Role models: Other LGBTI+ priests and their partners have let me see what a grounded and integrated spiritual life could be for a person who is ordained. They helped me see there was no contradiction in being gay and being a priest.
Changing perceptions: I believe the vast majority of people, in society and within the churches, do see the LGBTI+ community as equal members of society. Within the churches there is certainly a growing movement of LGBTI+ people of faith. Society is seeing that we have the same desires, hopes and dreams as anyone else.
I think that most people want to do more than accept us but also celebrate us and our lives. That band of allies is more than willing to call out non-inclusion. On the other hand, there are those who are still uncomfortable with us, even hostile, and this is true for some with religious convictions. We need to be realistic about protecting our hard-won gains and respecting the fragility of the situation for others.
LGBTI+ inclusion and visibility: We can play a role in LGBTI+ inclusion and visibility by being open and honest in our vulnerability and hopes. Visibility makes it easier for those who may not have many LGBTI+ people in their families or communities of origin.
Following the events of 2020, how can we continue to make an impact on the community and those within the community who may be struggling? I have started making a list of the things I don't want to lose after coming out of pandemic restrictions. I think these speak to any of us struggling with life and who we are.
Pace; to slow down and not be driven to be frantically busy. Quiet; to make times for quietness. Stillness; to do the inner work of not being anxious or drawn into others' definitions, urgencies or agendas. Reflect; to have time to 'be' and ponder. Bonds; to remember that we are all connected and need to foster these connections. Hope; to know that this will pass and that it gets better. If we are not where we want to be, where we are is enough for now. We will work on getting where we want to be.
On inclusive leadership: I’ve gained so much from seeing LGBTI+ people in leadership positions like mine. It lets those of us who are fragile or 'on the edge' of life know that there are ways and places where we can be safe.
Can you share a story with us that has made the most impact on you during your LGBTI+ journey? One of the difficulties in following the vocation I have is that I have learnt it requires constant gentle work to be authentic as a priest and as a gay man. Sometimes I feel wedged between the anger in people who see me as compromised because I am in the church, and another group of angry people in religious traditions who see LGBTI+ people as depraved or unworthy. So, the most profound moments are when people see me for who I am and not what I do. There are times I have felt affirmed for holding together the life of faith and an openness about sexuality. In recent years, a gay colleague had not been renewed in his position in a church that is not affirming of LGBTI+ people. We had never met, but he had heard about me. He came to my parish at a time when I was struggling with loneliness and the tensions described above. After Mass he said seeing me exercising my role gave him such inspiration to carry on with his vocation. I felt overwhelmed and humbled. I realised how important being visible is – even when I don’t feel it makes a difference. He now is in a very affirming position within the church, we have become good friends, and he is a very effective advocate for us.
Not everyone has the confidence or support (whether that be from family or colleagues) to be themselves at work – what advice would you give to them? I fully acknowledge how oppressive some workplaces can be in culture and perspective, but while not exhaustive, I would say the following things are important to me: Be strong and hold fast your dignity. You are made in the image of God, just as you are, and no one can take away or belittle your beauty. And – to reinforce this point – you are wonderful whether you are a person of faith or not. Resist being defined or pressured by others. Seek out those who respect and love you for who you are to balance out your life.
Words to describe me: Passionate, compassionate, funny.
Stuart is one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI+ Leaders of 2020 – a list that recognises and celebrates the many LGBTI+ role models in business and across our community. For more on our inspirational LGBTI+ leaders, visit our Outstanding 50 webpage.
Jade Fosberry leads communications for Inclusion, Diversity and Wellbeing, within Deloitte’s Corporate Affairs and Communications team. Jade is passionate about storytelling and believes in the power of a compelling story to effect real change.