One of the most inspiring speakers at last Friday’s Stonewall Workplace Conference in London was Vicky Beeching, who shared with the audience insights into her life story.
Beeching grew up in Kent, England. Raised by a strongly religious family, she began writing songs for her church when just 13.
She enjoyed a successful recording career as a writer and singer of Christian-themed rock and pop, and relocated to the US in her 20s, where she routinely performed in front of thousands in mega-churches across the country.
Then, in 2014, she made the decision to come out. Her announcement sent shock waves through the US Christian community and she received condemning messages from scores of people who had previously been fans of her music.
‘I prayed, “God, you have to change me or take my life”’
At last Friday’s conference, Beeching – who studies theology and now works as a speaker, writer and broadcaster in the UK – explained how it doesn’t just require courage to come out but also the capacity to show vulnerability.
‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to get you to be something else is the greatest accomplishment.’
She explained how she’d been taught that homosexuality had been ‘the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah’ when she was just 5 or 6 years old, and how lonely she had felt in the closet.
‘I prayed, “God, you have to change me or take my life”.
‘I totally sacrificed that part of myself. I never dated. I never had relationships,’ she said of her time as a music performer.
The stress hit both her mental and physical health. She realized that staying in the closet could no longer be an option. The reaction to her coming out was immediate.
‘My world exploded. I lost my music career and many of my friends.’
Despite this, she has never regretted the decision.
Gay Star News caught up with Vicky after her appearance and asked her how she felt about moving away from music.
‘It was very tough to lose a career I’d been so passionate about. It’s hard to let go of something I’d been doing for 20 years.
‘My record label, booking agency and management were all rooted in the American conservative Christian music sector, so once I came out, it was no longer viable for me to get booked in mega-churches or make ends meet through Christian music.
‘To move into mainstream rock or pop would’ve meant starting all over again with a new label and building a totally different base of listeners; I’d managed that once but couldn’t face doing it twice. So it didn’t feel like a realistic option.
‘I did a lot of media work alongside music in the States; TV presenting, writing for magazines and papers. So now I’m using those “transferable skills”! You can catch me co-presenting a bit on BBC1, and doing commentary on faith or LGBT issues, on channels like Sky News and Channel 4.
‘I’m excited about these avenues as I can express far more than I ever could in a song. Now I get to write, speak, present, and get far more of my thoughts and opinions across which feels liberating. I sometimes sing in my kitchen, but that’s about it these days.’
Vicky continues to receive hateful messages on social media, and admitted at the conference that it’s not always easy for her. Her response is to send back cute photos of puppies and kittens with a message of peace and goodwill.
‘Haha… Yes! Sending photos of puppies and kittens is my tongue-in-cheek way of shutting down the aggressive vitriol that gets thrown at me online from religious anti-LGBT people. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to have meaningful dialogue with people who spew so much hatred at me.
‘Instead of engaging in their nastiness, I just tweet them photos of sweet, heart-meltingly cute puppies or kittens and say “Peace! Have a lovely day!”. I hope that reminds them there’s a real person at the end of my Twitter feed, and at least takes the edge of their awful mood!’
‘Back in Wilberforce’s day, the Bible was used by conservative Christians to defend slavery as a God-ordained order of society’
Despite this, she has a serious message when it comes to people quoting passages of the Bible to denounce her sexuality.
‘I am doing a PhD in the Biblical texts about same-sex relationships. I take the Bible very seriously; my undergrad degree in religion and ethics was at Oxford, and my theology PhD is at Durham. So the academic side of my faith is really important to me.
‘The small handful of texts in the Bible that are thought to relate to gay relationships have been interpreted in many ways over the years. Many academics have already argued that they don’t apply to loving, consensual, same sex couples today. So I’m just building on their excellent scholarship.
‘People are simply choosing to see the texts as homophobic when they really aren’t if you dig a bit deeper into the original languages and historical contexts.
‘Back in [William] Wilberforce’s day, the Bible was used by conservative Christians to defend slavery as a God-ordained order of society. That view is deeply embarrassing to the church now.
‘The Bible was then used to oppose the Suffrage movement and tell women their place was at home, subservient to their husbands. That view is now embarrassing to the church.
‘So the same will happen on equal marriage – it’s just a matter of time. We evolve; our understanding evolves as God enlightens us; but it’s a slow process, unfortunately. I’m committed to doing everything I can to bring change to the church and the Christian community.
‘More open-minded Christians got in touch to say that they’re cheering me on’
Next Wednesday, Beeching will be in Manchester to take part in a panel discussion taking place as part of Digital Pride. Hosted by the Co-op, the discussion will be on loneliness in the digital world – something she believes is not talked about enough.
‘I’m looking forward to the Co-op event and to an open discussion about these taboo issues. We’ll talk about loneliness, and also about mental health and the damage that living in the closet can create.
‘It was a strange experience for me to sing in front of 10,000 people in American mega-churches, to hear them singing loudly along to my songs, then to meet people afterwards and hear how much they were moved by my music – and yet, all that time, to know if they were aware of my gay orientation, they would throw me out of the church and want nothing to do with me.
‘That took a real toll on me in every way, including my physical and mental wellbeing. It was deeply lonely to feel put on a pedestal and, simultaneously, feel very estranged inwardly.
‘The coming out process also added to that sense of loneliness as I lost so many former friends, networks and Christian colleagues on the church and music scene. People just sort of ‘disappeared’ quietly and stopped getting in touch.
‘But thankfully, more open-minded Christians got in touch to say that they’re cheering me on.
‘The LGBT community has also embraced me in a wonderful way – I literally felt like they rushed in and picked me up. Finding a home within that world has meant more than I can say; everyone has been so fantastic at helping me feel welcome and in finding my feet.
‘Since coming out in 2014 my inbox is constantly full of emails from people in similar situations; people who are LGB or T and belonging to a faith community. It’s been heart-breaking to read their stories of isolation and loneliness, but brilliant to be able to empathize and help them in their journeys.
‘Knowing my coming out has had something of a domino effect in helping others find their courage has made it all worthwhile.’