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Why I, a young gay woman, feel sympathy for Tim Farron

For Farron, he attempts to be a Christian and a liberal in an environment where ‘liberal’ is defined by secularism. For me, I’m trying to be a Christian and a queer person in an LGBT+ community defined by a similar lack of religion.

I never thought I’d be saying that I relate to Tim Farron. He’s a middle-aged, straight, married centrist. I’m a young, radical, queer single woman. But we have something in common. Thanks to a faith in Christ Jesus, we both attempt to exist in two worlds at once, worlds that don’t sit comfortably together.

For Farron, he attempts to be a Christian and a liberal in an environment where ‘liberal’ is defined by secularism. For me, I’m trying to be a Christian and a queer person in an LGBT+ community defined by a similar lack of religion.

For the record, I don’t believe that the Bible forbids me from any same-sex relationships. I believe that I am fully, beautifully and wonderfully made by God, from my hair colour to my sexual preference. But down to personal preference, I’d prefer my potential partner to be another Christian – and that’s not an easy thing to find. So I’m fully, happily single.

See, as a Christian, my views on morality inform my decisions on relationships. Not your decisions, not a bloke down the street’s decisions – but mine. If I choose not to have sex, then I’d like you to respect that decision. If I choose to marry another person of the same gender, then I’d hope for similar respect. Whatever decision I make on these difficult theological conundrums has no bearing on anyone but me.

The same is true for Tim Farron. He thinks gay sex is sinful? Luckily for him, he isn’t having any. And while his opinion might feel like judgement on other people’s decisions, it doesn’t have to affect anyone but him (and perhaps his wife). The decision we make regarding sex and relationships doesn’t have to be the same for each of us.

This desire for homogeneity pushes Christians like me out of the LGBT+ community, marginalising us even further. Somehow if I stay celibate (as my current circumstances have led me to be), the decision I make for me and my body is seen as a judgement on other people. It’s not; it’s just me exercising my right to bodily autonomy. And I’m so fed up of being pushed out of LGBT+ circles for that decision.

But that rejection keeps happening, and nobody wants to know about it. If I admit my faith, the first question I normally get is “Why bother?” and I’ve frequently been accused of letting down LGBT+ people through supporting the church, though attendance and support are two very different things. Additionally there’s a desire to play devil’s advocate with my existence, particularly among atheist men. They believe the Bible is a fairytale, but will question me in depth about the validity of my liberal interpretation while basing their own in a reading so literal and conservative the Victorians would be confused. Although I’d love to find inclusive LGBT+ spaces, I frequently feel like I don’t have a place there.

Yet in certain Christian environments I can have a place. These are spaces where nobody judges you for what you think; where the person next to me thinks gay sex is sinful, yet looks at me in love and respects my differing views; where I look back at them and have confidence they've made the right decision for them. Rather than being based on a version of respect that calls for agreement, these are places where respect means trusting that the decision someone makes for their identity and their relationships is personal and legitimate. Sadly, as Farron has found, such a space does not exist in British liberal politics.

If this sounds like I’m trying to bury, deny or ignore the church’s history of homophobia, I’m not. I don’t just know that history, I experience it. I can empathise with ex-Christian LGBT+ people who resent the church for its behaviour, because I resent it too. Like so many, I would love to see real, serious change, the type of change groups like Diverse Church or Two:23 are fighting for.

A united front, with secular and faithful LGBT+ people calling for inclusion and respect across all religious spaces is the only way I can see that change coming about. That united front could lead the way, presenting a radical vision of respect and inclusion that compels others to follow. But if we can’t get to grips with inclusion and diversity of belief and behaviour in secular spaces, I can’t imagine it happening in the church, with its complex history and pockets of conservatism.

Once a year, I witness a moment of that unity. The cheers from the crowd as religious groups march in Pride gives me a rare sense of optimism. The mentality in that moment is to celebrate our diversity, our unity and our love for one another, not to exclude based on what someone does in private. Let’s extend this beautiful respect from Pride to politics.

Bill Haydon is an account for writers who, for whatever reason, cannot write under their own names. If you would like to feature, please email stephen.bush@newstatesman.co.uk.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear