House of Rainbow started as a safe place for LGBTIQ+ people of faith in a hostile context. In 2006, Reverend Jide Macaulay started House of Rainbow as a weekly gathering for LGBTIQ+ Christians in Lagos, which the media soon described as ‘Nigeria’s First Gay Church.’
Intimidation and death threats followed, but this only highlighted supporting LGBTIQ+ people of faith in Nigeria and elsewhere. Jide returned to the UK to develop House of Rainbow as a global organization, based in London but delivering project work worldwide.
Today, House of Rainbow supports sister organizations in twenty-two countries in Africa and the Caribbean and has become a leading global advocate for LGBTIQ+ people of faith. It has also pioneered dialogues between LGBTIQ+ people and religious leaders to break down barriers and build understanding.
“BLACK LGBTQ+ COMMUNITIES NEED TO ORGANIZE, OCCUPY, AND TAKE OWNERSHIP.”-JIDE MACAULAY
Tell us about yourself.
Thank you so much. Jide Macaulay is an openly gay pastor. He is an Anglican priest and the founder of House of Rainbow, an organization that supports the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly black African LGBT people. I trained as a lawyer, and my first degree is in law. I worked for the Crown Prosecution Service for about 12 years and then moved on to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers for about three years. I went into my own private business, where I worked around consultancy with companies and ventured into enterprises. I looked around and decided that I would go back to my passion and continue to train for theological ministry.
As a black gay pastor, how do you deal with the stigma around being gay and a Christian?
Huh? I think being black and gay is something that society sees as conflicting, and being black gay African is even seen more as being wayward. I have never had an issue with being black. I am a black person who is very proud of being black. But of course, there are challenges with my sexuality, and that is because of what people say, what society says, what the law says in countries like Nigeria, which is my country of origin. Dealing with stigma as a gay person and as a Christian comes with the territory. It comes with knowing that it is OK to be gay. It is also OK to continue practicing my faith as a Christian. The challenge comes in when you have to deal with a society that has legal provisions to criminalize people like myself for who we are. It becomes more challenging when dealing with people who have no basic knowledge of human sexuality. I dealt with stigmatization differently as I got older; as a young person, it was different, but now I have gained a lot more knowledge around being who I am hence a reduced sense of stigma towards being gay or Christian.
Tell us about House of Rainbow and what made you do this. Was there an epiphany?
The ministry of House of Rainbow started for several reasons, and it took me probably a good part of about ten years plus, from when the idea was conceived. In 1994, I separated and divorced my ex-wife. I used to be part of a church community in the UK, and that church community rejected me, and I was ostracized because of coming out as gay. I mean, for two years after that, I did not go to church. I contemplated finding a place I could worship, and this was a time when church services were popular on the radio and television, so I found a church that I could connect with through the media, and I went to that church in 1996. I had time to adjust to the fact that I am homosexual and had time to make friends with other gay people, which made me more comfortable understanding myself a little more. However, I was still missing my Christian journey, so I joined a Pentecostal church in 1996, I was in that church for about four years, and everything was proliferating. I was becoming more involved with the church in leadership and the different ministries like pastoral care ministry, the drama and poetry ministry, etc.
In 2000, I took part in a documentary with a television program where I shared my story about being gay, being a Christian, and so forth. Of course, the church found out about this documentary, and I was immediately subjected to highly inhumane treatment, including conversion therapy. I was called so many things, including contaminated soil abused. The scripture was used to bash me. I submitted myself to the church discipline at the time, but it affected my mental health. Now, as somebody born in a Christian family, a very conservative Christian family from the age of 13, I have always known a lot more about my sexuality because this was a time that I came into puberty. I was very much involved even in the church as a young person and have always wanted to be a pastor, and therefore being a trained lawyer did not feel suitable for me. At this period in my life, I also began to address and ask questions, “Is there ever going to be a church where gay people can be accepted as they are?” So, I did not particularly have an epiphany moment. I had a real human experience of rejection, ostracism, discrimination, and spiritual violence, and I wanted to correct that. I wanted to readdress that; I wanted that to be a part of my journey, which I think I can change. It took me roughly another year to two years before I was introduced to a church, and my friends who introduced me to this space said this church is inclusive and welcoming of gay people; you do not have to worry. The ministry was the Metropolitan Community Church in London, and when I made inquiries, I found out that this church was good for me. They mean what they say, “gay people are welcome here.” I decided to join this church and sometimes dressed up differently. I wore my high heel shoes to church, and there was no condemnation at all.
Now, because I have always had a passion for ministry, I inquired about training as a pastor in this church. They came back to me a few months later and trained me as a pastor. I was taught academically and practically for two years, from 2003 to 2005 in London. I was then posted to America to go to the Pacific School of Religion and was confirmed and ordained in Calgary, Canada, alongside many others. As a result of my training, and a combination of my journey from 1994 up to about 2000, I decided to go back to Nigeria to share the gospel to the gay community that “God loves them the way they are” and that was how the House of Rainbow Ministry started.
What are some of the backlashes you faced when you came out HIV positive, and how did you deal with the trauma?
Well, I think the first thing is that the backlash started with me because when I contracted HIV, I felt a lot of shame and stigma within myself and was in denial. There were times when I thought that this was God’s punishment for being gay because this is what I have heard repeatedly. But I think the backlash for me was very different, especially looking outside, and I have been living with HIV for over 19 years. The backlash towards me had been relatively minimal because I have done much work to understand that living with HIV is not a crime, a sin, or a death sentence. However, it does not minimize the external trauma that I experienced from some of the priests in my church. Generally, the backlash that I have with my HIV status is minimal instead of being an out gay pastor.
What do you think is missing or needs to be addressed in the black gay community? In other words, how do we make the community better?
Well, I think there are so many things to be addressed in the community. I created a mantra for myself quite recently, and I think I am always focusing on the fact that the black LGBT communities, particularly in Africa, need to be more organized then after being well organized, we need to occupy and then we need to overtake and then we need to take ownership. Now, I go for this format because the LGBT community in Africa is so disarrayed. We are not organized and united. And I say that because I have a personal experience with the House of Rainbow. If the gay organizations had been more organized when there was an attack on House of Rainbow or any other LGBT organizations, we would have been able to stand tall and firm. The other thing is that we need to occupy. How many gay people are in a place of power, how many gay people are senior managers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and I’m talking openly comfortable, black, and gay in Africa. Most are in the closet even if we are in higher positions, powers, and high authorities. We know many gay people who are magistrates and judges and politicians in Nigeria and Ghana, even in the same Ghanaian parliament where people are proposing anti-gay bills and suggesting that gay people should be punished. There are gay people in those spaces, too. After we organize and occupy, we also need to overtake the homophobic institutions and make them more inclusive. We need to overtake businesses and communities that ostracize or discriminate against LGBT. We also need to take ownership. For instance, as a Christian in the Anglican Church, I believe that I’m taking ownership for the LGBT people to have space to provide pastoral care that is culturally, traditionally appropriately, and sensitive. During my time as a young teenager, there was nobody to talk to, which was why I got married to a woman. I am grateful to God for this generation because many gay and lesbian people accepted same-sex marriages and set an example for others to follow.
How can organizations partner with House of Rainbow?
I think partnership comes in different ways, and the one question for me is, what’s the mutual benefit? You know, how are we going to support one another and gain from one another? it is not always just in funding alone, you know, it could be a series of events, It could be creating platforms for conversation to take place, you know, helping with the PR of House of Rainbow. Different organizations might have different visions or focus on outcomes in terms of a partnership. But we are open to collaborations that provide mutual benefits to our service users.
What advice do you have for people struggling to come out because of their religious background or culture?
My advice for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community will not be to come out because there is nothing to come out about. You can be out and proud as gay, but you need to navigate your environment. If your climate is hostile, and you are going to struggle, then don’t come out in that environment, and it’s OK to be gay and be in the closet because the closet is a place of protection, especially if you know the environment is hostile. Coming out as gay is great, and everybody should come out as gay. Come out to yourself, better understand your sexuality, and accept that you are doing nothing wrong nor against God or nature. Suppose heterosexuals do not have to come out as heterosexuals because society is heteronormative. We need to get the organization to ensure that the environment is also normative for the gay community.
Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story.