Former singer Vicky Beeching has revealed that she is still coming to terms with experiencing years of homophobia after being brought up in a strictly religious household and forging a career as a singer on the US’s conservative Christian music scene.
Beeching came out as gay in 2014 after a decade spent touring US mega-churches. She promptly saw her music career come to an abrupt end, although she has since moved on to broadcasting and writing alongside her ongoing theology studies.
She was one of the special guests at a Digital Pride event last night hosted by the Co-op at its headquarters in Manchester, England. The event – which was streamed live on Facebook – explored issues around loneliness and social isolation from an LGBTI perspective, and was organized with the help of Respect, the Co-op’s LGBT employee network and the Group’s Digital and Diversity Teams.
Beeching talked about her career, her personal experience of coming out, and experiencing mental health issues and PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] from her time spent in the closet.
She says that one of the lowest points was taking part in an exorcism. Asked by Gay Star News to elaborate, she said that it had happened when she was just a teenager: ‘It was actually something I volunteered for. [Exorcism] is a strong word and it’s a bad word too, but it’s the only word I can use.
‘We’d say it was a “prayer ministry” in my church – I went up to the front and said “I know I’m gay, I haven’t told anyone, can you pray for me?” But they saw it as a demonic problem – they shouted and prayed for these demons to come out of me.’
She said that an after-effect of the session was that whenever she felt attracted a to a girl, she felt that it was a demonic – that she was being ‘controlled by an evil presence.’
‘The people doing it were very well-meaning, but I would hope the church now would not handle a 16-year-old girl in the same way now as they did 20 years ago.’
— Co-operative Respect (@CoopRespectLGBT) April 27, 2016
Beeching talked about how staying in the closet had consumed tremendous amounts of her energy which led to her suffering from chronic fatigue. She then developed an auto-immune condition called scleredema, which required her to come back to the UK for chemotherapy treatment. This prompted her to re-examine her life and led to her decision to reveal her sexuality.
She said that she had been trolled on social media, and had sometimes thought about deleting her profiles, but ultimately, she had also received many messages from people who have told her that she helped them.
‘The more I thought about leaving, the more I got messages from people saying they’d been helped by what I’d said or done, which made me realize it was all worth it … even when it’s a horrible place, [I want] to be a joyful presence to help people in the closet.’
The evening’s other speaker was trans woman Amy Collins, who spoke eloquently about her personal history and decision to transition.
To tie in with the concept of Digital Pride, Amy spoke at length about how she had researched issues around being transgender and transitioning on the internet. She recalled that she had spent hours every week gaining information, but had still not had the courage to reveal to anyone that she was transgender. At the time, she was married to a woman and a parent.
She said she had found particular help from YouTube and Reddit, following transgender video bloggers – such as A Girl For All Seasons – on the former and asking questions and entering into discussions on the latter.
It was Reddit users that challenged her assumption that coming out as transgender would lead to her losing her job, being unhappy and needing psychotherapy.
‘I said I’d need years of therapy and they said “no therapist is going to transition for you – you have to do it yourself”.’
She spoke about the success of online campaigns such as the #WeJustNeedToPee hashtag – created in response to bathroom bills in the US – but cautioned that the internet could also have its drawbacks. She said that besides negative messages, social media sites such as Instagram could portray a filtered depiction of reality.
‘My make-up and hair is way better, the sea looks bluer … I do wonder if it creates unrealistic life expectations.’
Ultimately, though, she said that the online world had helped her enormously.
‘You can grow up thinking you’re the only person who feels that way, but you can go on the internet and find someone within three minutes who feels the same as you.’
Sharon Pegg, Group Inclusion and Diversity Manager, Co-op, said afterwards: ‘Loneliness is something that can happen to anyone at any time in their life, however, in some communities there can be a greater impact. Which is why highlighting social issues and understanding our community is imperative.
‘Having real stories to tell about somebody’s experience, and the honesty with which these stories have been delivered, may just help one person where social isolation and loneliness is having a real impact on their life.
‘In short, support is out there, we care and we understand, which is why we are supporting this theme.’
You can watch Amy and Vicky take questions from the audience below: