Request for a LGBT celebrant

November 13th, 2014

By Mary Porter

I recently was asked to recommend a lesbian or gay celebrant for a funeral in London and automatically set out to find one.  As a relatively new celebrant I had no idea who to contact – apart from someone who has now retired and two practising celebrants who live in the North of England, neither of whom were able to help.  Nor were they able to suggest who else I might ask.    So I asked the network.

I was delighted and relieved to be contacted quickly by someone who was able to undertake the funeral.  And very soon I found that my automatic response of seeking a LGBT celebrant was questioned.  Until then I had never even considered that it might be thought to be inappropriate to comply with the request.

Anyway there was a lively and thoughtful debate on the forum and I thought I would take the opportunity of rehearsing the issues raised in the debate here and make a suggestion for the future.  But first I must make it clear that I am doing this as a celebrant and not as a trustee of the BHA.  This is not a concern of the Board; it is a matter for celebrants.

The concerns raised about my actions can be summarised as:

  • If we comply with  requests for  LGBT celebrants this could  lead to requests for white or straight celebrants
  • Because of the Humanist principals we all share, we are all committed to equality and acceptance.     It would be hoped that any one in our network could provide a sensitive and inclusive ceremony.    And so we shouldn’t be concerned about anyone’ s sexuality
  • BHA has been well to the fore for so long in campaigning for gay rights – and we provided affirmation ceremonies long before Civil Partnerships.  So being a humanist, gay or not, should be good enough proof of our credentials and trustworthiness.

 

On the other side, the arguments were on the following lines:

  • There is a difference between positive choice- e.g. for a LGBT or a black celebrant – and a negative choice, e.g. no black or no gays.  Alternatively, it is argued, we should be prepared to provide what people ask, even if it is for a white male.
  • If we are asked to recommend a celebrant for a funeral we are likely to take account of interests – e.g. if the deceased was a political activist, we might refer them, if possible, to a fellow, equally emphatic celebrant.
  • We recognise and tacitly accept that people do choose celebrants.    We present ourselves carefully on our websites so that people can identify with us  and our life experience, our interests  or our foibles
  • People in a minority who have strong experience of prejudice or insensitivity or ignorance are more likely to be more careful about who they trust with the ceremony for their loved one.
  • Choosing a celebrant is about empathy and familiarity. People like to feel safe and comfortable, especially if they are feeling vulnerable and the ceremony is emotionally charged.  It’s about trust and about knowing that you can rely on empathy simply because the other person understands on an intrinsic 
  • The present extent of homophobia in football and homophobic bullying in schools are just two examples of a continuing problem.  It is understandable  that people might play safe and ensure sympathetic handling of a funeral for a gay person, by engaging a celebrant who is also gay.
  • Many LGBT people may never have met an ‘out’ humanist so wouldn’t have the reassuring knowledge that we seek to be compassionate and caring towards everyone and that we have fought hard for equality.

 

I have tried to do justice to the contributions on both sides of the debate as well as those that spanned both sides.  I accept I am biased in one direction, but I hope you will accept that there are very strong arguments for our being willing and able to pass on requests for an LGBT celebrant.  The question then is how we might know to whom we could pass these requests on.

I do not suggest that we put a list of LGBT celebrants on our website.  This could undermine our position as a team of Humanist celebrants, working within in an organisation that has fought and is still fighting for gay rights, and who are committed to equality and respect and   providing sensitive and inclusive ceremonies for everyone.  Also it is questionable whether any of us would want to be defined primarily by our sexuality, which could happen if we had a public LGBT list.

So I would suggest that LGBT celebrants who are willing to be contacted in these circumstances could let the Head Office team know, so that there would be a centrally held list. Then, in the future, if we are asked to recommend a LGBT celebrant we could pass on the request through the central team.