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Secrets of a gay Jehovah’s Witness: how I escaped the religion and rebuilt my life

Secrets of a gay Jehovah’s Witness: how I escaped the religion and rebuilt my life

When gay Jehovah's Witness Josh decided to embrace his sexuality, he was no longer allowed to speak to his religious family and friends

My upbringing was entrenched in religion, and distant, internalized questions about my sexuality: never the perfect combination.

I wish my experience of growing up gay as a Jehovah’s Witness in the East Midlands area of the UK was a more positive one. But my story is what it is, and it’s one I want to share, in case anyone else is going through something similar.

When I was 17, I had my first experience with a guy. Life was never the same again. I immediately confessed all to my parents and my religious community; I was then made to sit in front of three elders from the congregation and tell them everything I had ever done. It didn’t go so well.

I was told the only way I could go on was to become a ‘non-practicing homosexual’. Meanwhile, my mother gave me books to try and turn me straight and whenever I told her I was struggling she’d say I wasn’t trying hard enough.

My father asked me whether I had ever fantasized about having sex with my younger brother and sister. He thought that because I was gay, I was also a pedophile. He made me keep my toothbrush separate from other people’s in the house because he thought they might catch HIV.

My father was never physically violent but often was found in a rage. He once broke a door and a TV, and he was always shouting – we always lived in fear that he’d do more. My mother had to stay with my father because our religion said that the only reason for divorce was adultery.

School offered some respite from my upbringing, and I was one of the most academic and highest achievers in my year. But I left at 16 because, as a Jehovah’s Witness, you’re encouraged not to pursue higher education, such as A Levels and university.

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Feeling trapped, I decided to move to France when I was 19 to escape my situation. I lived for three years with a French family who were also Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was sent on a mission to preach to English-speaking people, but I always had a deep underlying urge to explore my gay side.

I came back to England when I was 23. I started therapy with a kind, understanding counselor. She completely understood my religious upbringing but helped me to make my own decisions and realize what it would mean to live for myself.

At this time I started experimenting in secret with guys. I found my first boyfriend and he and his family showed me what it was like to be truly accepted. At this point I was living a double life. I was always looking over my shoulder in the supermarket to see whether my parents might see me with my boyfriend. I was always on edge and this brought much stress to our relationship.

In November 2014 I decided to tell my parents that I could no longer be a non-practicing homosexual. This means one thing in the religious organization – ‘disfellowshipping’. This means my family, friends and contacts that are Jehovah’s Witnesses can no longer speak to me.

From the day this happened I haven’t received so much as a text message from my parents. Some people ask why I haven’t tried to contact them, but I feel as it was their decision to distance themselves from me, I don’t feel inclined to be the person to approach them.

In 2015 my father drove past me in the street and totally ignored my existence – his own son. This is when I decided to move to London to get away from the town where I grew up. I wanted to start a new life, so my boyfriend and I decided to move together.

However, later that year, we split up. He and his family had been very supportive but I realized I lacked the strength to hold down a relationship. The day I broke up with him I remember walking the streets of London crying, not knowing who to call for help. I reached rock bottom – but I rebuilt myself from there.

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In the months that followed I rebuilt my life and made an amazing new friend: a gay guy called Manuel from Germany [above, left], with whom I moved into a flat-share in East London. He became like a brother to me, and has helped me turn my life around. He’s been there for me through the hardest of times. As well as running Regency Creative – an east London web and branding agency – Manuel and I recently formed the LGBTI networking venture KRUSH.

The LGBTI community is now my support network, and KRUSH is my way of saying thank you. KRUSH has been formed to encourage people in the community to leave the apps for an evening and come network face-to-face. After all, there’s no harm in meeting people in traditional ways.

We have our first event on 12 May at the Boudoir of Bar Soho in London, and invite all members of the city’s LGBTI community to come along to meet great, like-minded people. This is only the beginning: we have big plans for the network, and hope to see it expand exponentially.

For more information about Josh, Manuel and KRUSH, visit the official website by clicking here.