Riyadh Khalaf shines a light on the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Riyadh meets a disfellowed Jehovah's Witness.
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This programme contains some strong language
I'm Riyadh, a gay man living in London,
a vlogger and a journalist.
I grew up Catholic, but my father is Iraqi
so I spent much of my childhood at the local mosque.
When I came out, I began to understand that mainstream religions
don't like people like me.
To me, LGBT stands for, "Let God burn them."
You say, "Well, it's LGBTQ."
Well, then, you can say, "Let God burn them quickly."
God hates fags. What part of that don't you understand?
How can you engage yourselves with the same sex?
The Koran clearly says that it is wrong,
what you are doing.
You're walking through a Muslim area dressed like a fag, mate.
You need to get out of it.
I want to know, though,
can you bring together your religion and your sexual identity,
even though the scriptures say that you're wrong?
Does God really hate queers?
I don't think God hates queers. I think people hate queers.
God created all of us, so how could He hate us?
God loves everybody, really, I think God's quite forgiving.
But see, you say that as if we're supposed to feel sorry about it.
I'm not going to apologise for being what You made, that's like
the little cake that you made in the oven being like, "Sorry, I'm burnt."
You left me in too long.
I feel like He doesn't hate anyone.
He just doesn't want anyone to be gay.
I would say that God likes me very much.
Why would it be a sin to hold my girlfriend's hand?
It just doesn't make sense.
Of course, attitudes toward homosexuality have changed with the times,
and even religions have had to adapt, especially here in the UK.
But it's still a fact that in 72 countries,
same-sex relations are illegal, and in 13 of those countries,
it's punishable by death.
One option is that you can abstain.
Which is not something that I would ever do,
but I'm super intrigued by the fact that there are still
faith-based organisations out there willing to help you
rid yourself of your homosexual demons.
-Do you believe that the Lord tonight has set you free?
I'm not gay no more!
I am delivered!
I don't like men no more.
I said I like women!
Women, women, women!
I'm not gay!
I would not carry a purse.
I would not put on make-up.
I WILL love a woman.
What did I just watch?
AMERICAN ACCENT: "I don't like men no more!"
Yeah, you do.
I moved to London about a year and a half ago.
Dalston's a great place to find yourself
and not be ashamed of who you are, I think.
One day, I told my family that I am gay and I have a boyfriend.
I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness,
so we were taught that homosexuality is a sin.
-People have their own ideas
about what is right and wrong,
but what matters is how Jehovah feels.
He wants us to be happy and he knows how we can be happiest.
That's why he invented marriage the way he did.
-You mean, one man and one woman?
Because I'd confessed to my parents,
we had to confess, also, to the congregation.
They saw that I wasn't as repentant as I was probably supposed to be,
and that is when they decided to disfellowship me.
Disfellowshipping is being judged and excommunicated
from the Christian congregation.
The whole process is to keep the congregation clean.
This is the Bible that I used to preach with.
I've pretty much got rid of everything else,
but I just can't bring myself to get rid of this, for some reason.
I just think it's a lack of respect to throw away a Bible.
I've actually got the date in there, when I got this Bible.
That was about ten months before I came out.
I'm trying to find out as much as I can
about what the Jehovah's Witnesses don't like about the gays.
There's a lot.
They say that if you are homosexual,
the reason why that is, is because you have a demonic possession.
Josh hasn't been back to his hometown since being ostracised
by his family and congregation two years ago.
-You grew up here?
And your family still live here?
Yes, they live down this street, actually, a bit further down.
These were the streets that I used to preach on, as well,
so I'd literally go from door to door on this street.
Does it feel like you kind of want to rock up there to number 22,
knock on the door and give the spiel again, or has it completely gone?
I think I'd be a bit rusty now.
At some point in your life,
-you realised that you were having feelings...
..that weren't quite accepted by the Jehovah's Witnesses.
I suppose when I reached the age of 14,
I started looking at guys and thinking, "Oh, yeah."
You know. "This is clearly what it is."
And I was caught watching porn at 14.
-Can you believe it?
-On dial-up, as well.
You know, my mum found some stuff as well, and that's how I...
Dude, are we, like, the same person?
Do you feel like the kid who was here
is the same guy that is in front of me now?
Are you a different person?
It almost feels like a dream, ages ago.
I was brought up to be a person
that I thought I was supposed to be, in the religion.
You can only live so long lying to people and, like, pretending.
So I told my parents, and then you have to be put into something
that's called a judicial committee.
And they ask you a lot of questions about what you've done,
how many times have you had sex, what kind of sex have you had?
Do they make a distinction between a hand job and anal?
You can even be disfellowshipped for homosexual pornography.
And then it goes up, yeah, so, hand job, blow job,
-Is anal, like, the worst you can do?
So, this is Kingdom Hall,
where you would come for your meetings.
When you were here the last time, was this for the judicial process?
I just remember walking out into the car park and giving my...
my parents a call to let them know the news.
That's the worst kind of news that you want to hear
if you're a Jehovah's Witness parent.
I got a letter through my door a few days after that,
saying that my family no longer would be able to see me any more,
and I went round in the evening and kind of...
..said goodbye to them, I guess.
And there was loads of tears, loads of crying and...
..and then I left and I drove off, you know.
And I've never seen them since.
I don't blame them for what's happened.
Because I understand what's going on.
But I'd also just love there to be some connection,
no matter what it is, you know?
If they can find it in themselves to have some connection.
When he was disfellowshipped from the Jehovah's Witnesses,
he was sent a letter by his family.
He told me that it was too painful for him to read out in person,
so he's sent it to me.
"it is with the deepest sorrow and tears
"that we have to write you this letter.
"Association and texts have to stop now,
"until the day when we are family again.
"Please keep going in your resolve to come back to us,
"as a single day will not go by without one of us thinking of you.
"We love you so much. Please be strong, love from Mum.
"I love you so much. Love, Dad."
Just the idea of not having your family there.
They're still there, they're not dead,
but you can't be with them, you can't even...
She said that he can't text them any more.
My mum and me, and the idea of her throwing me out
and not having me in her life any more...
I know it would kill her and it would kill me.
They're basing these huge life decisions...
..on a book.
Josh has had literally no choice
in finding himself on the outside of his faith.
But there are faith groups all over the UK
opening up to the LGBTQ community.
I identify as trans-masculine,
so I use he/him pronouns.
My sexual identity, I say that I'm pansexual.
Growing up, and struggling with my sexual identity
and then my gender identity,
I just didn't feel like I belonged anywhere.
So my faith has been incredibly important,
because it's always given me a reason to keep going.
Could it be possible to genuinely reconcile the desire
for a faith identity as an LGBTQ person?
How important is your faith to you?
I had this feeling that I was somehow wrong
or that I was somehow, you know, a bit gross.
I was feeling, like, you know, if this continues,
then I don't want to be on my own,
I don't want to feel this isolated and kind of...
..sad all the time, you know, and kind of self-hating all the time.
I'd rather just, um...
not be around.
It was the knowledge that there was this power that loved me
no matter what I did or who I was that's actually save my life.
Did you feel that there was a fear there? Because, obviously,
you've seen the way certain churches treat gay people.
In the church that I'm in now, and the church that I came out in,
they practise what they preach in terms of being open,
in solidarity with the LGBT community.
So I always felt safe.
You've got a very special day coming up, is that right?
I am having a naming ceremony.
It's kind of like a dedication or a christening kind of thing.
Because I started my transition over two years ago
and I became quite upset with the name that I chose
and became quite disconnected from it,
because I wasn't passing and people would call me Ellie.
So what I wanted to do was kind of stand up in front of my community
and say, "Hey, this is me, I want to be a part of the community."
And the more that I've kind of come back to my church and kind of...
Got through the fear and just said, "Fuck it, this is who I am,"
the more that I...
.. start loving myself and my name again.
So it's actually really important to me now.
You seem so strong because of your faith.
You can just feel it, it's radiating from you.
If you had one piece of golden advice
for a young trans person of faith, what would it be?
Your faith is going to get you through.
And also, you have to learn how to love yourself first.
I think that's the thing.
Because you can change your own internal monologue,
even if you can't change anybody else's mind.
I'm going to see you in a couple of weeks at your renaming ceremony.
-I can't wait.
I'll chat to you later.
Elijah is insanely inspirational.
The renaming ceremony is just going to be that next step that
he needs to take to feel absolutely 100% comfortable in his own skin
and with this new name that he's chosen.
I think it's going to be a very, very special
and emotional day for him, and probably for me as well.
An advert suggesting gay people can be cured through therapy
has been banned by Transport For London.
Should you try to cure gays?
Well, this man says therapy changed his sexual desires.
I've always been aware of my homosexual issues,
and even though I've been married for almost 29 years,
I have been in conflict in terms of my Christian identity
and my understanding of sexuality.
So it's been my personal desire to try to establish
the greatest heterosexual potentiality that I have.
Has it been a struggle?
It has been a struggle.
I'm about to call Dr Mike Davidson.
He's from the Core Trust,
which is a Christian organisation who say they can change you
and get rid of your homosexuality.
How do you help gay people?
So, for some people,
homosexual feelings are inconsistent with the values that they hold.
Because we see it as a developmental issue,
it is something that we think anybody can work on
if that's what they want to do.
A developmental issue? Explain that.
So, developmental in that context is about postnatal,
in other words, what happens to you after you have been born.
The environment is very important.
Do you believe that homosexuality is a choice?
Certainly, in my case, it wasn't a choice.
I found that I had these feelings
and I was not consciously aware of choosing anything.
But I recognised in my life that I had choices around those feelings.
And I think that that is a very important dimension
that is being lost today.
Were you shameful of your homosexuality?
Absolutely. I was. Because I didn't understand it.
For me, it didn't sit comfortably.
And, certainly, certainly, there was a spiritual component to this.
There was an understanding of a Biblical world view.
And I'm not talking about eight Scriptures,
I'm talking about the whole tone and tenor of Scripture.
Is it possible for a gay person to be religious
and for the two to live in harmony?
Clearly, there are individuals who hold those two things together,
and are happy doing so.
But if you take the biblical scholarship,
there is no way you can reconcile
modern understanding of homosexuality
and spiritual faith that is Bible-based.
-For a client coming to you seeking your service...
..what sort of cost is it?
So you do it from the goodness of your own heart?
I do it because professionals in this country have reneged
on their responsibility to be open-minded
to people who are being denied the right and the freedom
to go in the direction that they want to go in.
They are being told that they don't know what's good for them.
That's why I do it.
Thank you so much for your time.
-Have a good day, Mike.
I'm sorry, but if you're offering people this service,
you are telling them that there is something lesser or something wrong
with their sexual identity and their sexuality.
I find it deeply, deeply insulting
that anyone, even a therapist, would say
that my sexuality is interchangeable.
I think sexuality is incredibly complex.
I don't think we can put it down to it just being a choice.
This is one thing that I'm just so adamant about.
Being queer is not a choice.
Um... No. Absolutely not.
When people ask me if gay is a choice, it's quite infuriating.
A ridiculous statement.
You can't help who you love.
I didn't choose to be this way,
I wouldn't choose to put myself through all of this stress.
Do you know what? If it was a choice, I would definitely be gay.
100%. I love being gay.
Homosexuality is not accepted in Islam.
So the Muslim community will never accept homosexuality in a whole.
You either be gay or you be Muslim.
No-one is forcing you to be a Muslim.
What are people like me meant to do, then?
I was brought up in an Islamic household,
I'm from an Islamic community,
I'm from a very conservative Pakistani community.
For a lot of young Muslims living here in the UK,
there can be a cultural pressure for them to get married,
and the idea of coming out is simply not an option.
I'm going to meet Marium, who says she wants to be with a woman,
but right now is on the hunt for a marriage of convenience.
For Marium, the stakes are high.
This is not her real name, and it's not her own flat.
Why is it so important for you to get married?
How do you identify now religiously?
Do your parents think that you're a devout Muslim?
And they're wrong?
If your parents were to find out about your sexuality,
what would happen?
And losing your family, for you, is not an option?
Do you see yourself ever coming out to them?
You're going to tell me a bit about marriage of convenience, what is it?
Would you mind showing me your profile?
This is your description of yourself.
It's the weirdest dating app profile I've ever seen.
So, when you're with a girl, at what point do you tell them,
"I am looking for a gay man to be my kind of cloak?"
That would be an incredible woman.
I think she's out there.
I hope she is.
A marriage of convenience is a way for Marium to hold on to her family
and wider community.
She's not willing to give up on them,
even if it means she must live a lie.
In the absence of acceptance, it's an interesting alternative.
I got these amazing little chocolates for Elijah
to celebrate today,
because obviously it is a massive, massive day,
and it's been an absolutely huge time coming.
Why is it that this church practises such inclusivity and such openness
compared to most of the others?
The Bible says, on the very first page,
that every man and every woman is made in God's image.
That's what it's about.
So everyone is welcome, whatever their gender,
their gender identity and their sexuality.
they are welcome here in this church.
It's a great thing. I think you're being called away.
We're about to start, so I don't want to hold you,
-but I'm looking forward to the ceremony.
-Thank you, Steve. Cheers.
-God bless you.
# Lay down your love
# Lay down your heart... #
Welcome, everyone. It's great to see you here at Oasis Church, Waterloo.
We have this wonderful opportunity this morning
of worshipping God together.
I'm going to ask Elijah to come to the front.
Elijah is going to be named.
So, Elijah, there you are. Welcome.
Elijah is, obviously, a little bit nervous, I guess,
standing up in front of people.
But Elijah will explain to you why he has come to this point
and why this moment is a sacred and holy and special moment for us all.
I came out as female-to-male transgender over two years ago.
Whilst the process of accepting and showing my gender identity
was freeing on so many levels, it has also proven to be
the hardest and most challenging experience of my entire life.
But I found that the more that I shared my new name
with people around me,
the more I also started learning to apologise for who I was.
I apologised for my voice being too high,
for my body being too feminine,
for my interests being too stereotypically female.
Because the world around me didn't seem to accept me,
I stopped accepting myself.
I lived in fear of having to explain my gender identity
because how do you explain a part of yourself that you've learnt to hate?
This act of allowing myself to be seen and heard reminds me
that today is about letting go of my shame, my fear and my self-doubt.
And today I can honestly say that I am proud to be Elijah,
and I am grateful to be able to share my story with you
in a space that I know to be safe and encouraging.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
So, will you, the congregation of this church,
commit yourselves to Elijah, to play your part in supporting him
through your love and active, ongoing care and prayer?
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-Do you feel like you've been reborn?
-I do, yes.
-Do you feel like a new person?
I feel stronger now because it's out there,
there's nothing left to be scared of.
-Take it or leave it - I'm Elijah.
-And I think they took it.
-Well, everyone has said, "We do."
-Then you lost it.
-You're going to make me cry again.
-How was that? Was that OK?
-Was that OK?
-Yeah, it was good.
This is like nothing I've ever seen before,
you know, growing up in a very different religious set-up.
There is so much love in this room.
Well done. I'm so proud of you. Well done.
There are churches, there are religious groups like this
that accept everyone.
-Oh, you were so good!
-Thank you. I appreciate that.
Does it affect how you are outside of this building,
what happened today?
I'm going to remember everyone standing up and just accepting me
-and think fuck it.
I've got a community so it doesn't matter
what people think of me any more outside of this community.
And I feel better in my own skin.
-And thanks for coming.
-My pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
-What a special day to be part of.
I claim a faith, yeah.
I tend to shy away from the word religious
because I think it has a lot of negative connotations.
I've identified as Christian in the past, but not any more.
I don't really feel like it has a place in my life.
No, I'm spiritual
because religion has caused many problems in the world.
But the truth of the matter is the Bible says God is love.
I identify as a spiritual person
who appreciates lots of different religions.
I know what I believe in,
I know who I believe in,
and I try and do right by that.
Everything that I've prayed for, I've got.
I caught up with former Jehovah's Witness Josh
in his new life.
I'm here in his new home, his new habitat, if you like,
to see what he's like as a young, open, free, gay man
in the middle of East London.
And of course I've brought some beverages.
I've always been told by my mother,
"Never arrive to a party with swinging hands."
-How you doing?
-How you doing?
-Good to see you again. You OK?
-Oh, my God, look at your flat!
-I know, can you believe it?
-It's actually clean for once.
-Can I move in?
I love your interior design. Sorry, that's the gay in me coming out.
-So, you know what we're doing tonight?
-I'm actually not sure.
-I've never been, like, "out" out in East London.
What am I going to have to...?
So, we're going to this bar called The Glory tonight.
It's a gay bar and it's quite unique.
I've found people here now that have become my new family,
that have taken me under their wing,
that have kind of made friends with me and said, "Look, Josh,
"if you need us at any time, we're here for you."
And I think that's really important, like, in the ongoing process.
Because it's not ended yet for me.
You know, there's still a process
that I need to go through continually
to carry on figuring myself out,
and, I guess, figuring what is going on in my head.
-God, you're really pulling out all the stops.
Look into the eyes when you "cheers"
-Seven years of bad sex.
THEY LAUGH Look at me here!
-Yeah, that's good.
-That's really good.
Time for Josh to show me what his new life has to offer.
MUSIC: Comfortably Numb by Scissor Sisters
# Gotta keep it going through the show
# C'mon, it's time to go
# Gotta keep it going through the show
# C'mon, it's time to go
# Gotta keep it going through the show
-# C'mon, it's time to go
# Gotta keep it going through the show
# C'mon, it's time to go... #
The environment that I was raised as a Jonas Jehovah's Witness,
it was very controlled.
You know, you're expected to be the person that they wanted you to be.
I can be myself here.
In my hometown, I felt trapped, I felt lost.
# It's just a little pin prick... #
Is it possible to be both a gay man and devout to your religion?
Whatever that religion may be, can you have both in the same world?
For my particular religion, I don't think it's possible.
I think it is possible, however, to be gay and take religious values
from the Bible and to apply them in your life.
But for a particular religion like Jehovah's Witnesses...
..I think it's impossible to lead two lives at the same time.
# Ah-ha, ah-ha... #
Look, of course an LGBT person can have faith,
but how they choose to live in that faith and practise it
is an extremely personal thing.
Does God really hate queers?
I don't think so.
# Comfortably numb. #
YouTuber and journalist Riyadh Khalaf gets under the skin of queer culture and shines a light on the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Riyadh meets a disfellowed Jehovah's Witness, a Muslim woman seeking a marriage of convenience and transmasculine Christian Elijah as he is renamed in church.