In this monthly series, we hand over the blog platform to IAM’s staff to share their own journeys, stories and insights in their own words. Though our journeys are all unique and individual, many of us share common challenges and dilemmas as we simply attempt to lead our lives as people of faith while loving whom we love.

Ingrid Schoonraad holds an honours degree in Development Studies from the University of Stellenbosch Ingrid has worked with IAM in many capacities since 2003, joining the team full time in 2010, and is currently responsible for IAM’s programming throughout Africa in her role as Regional Program Manager.

Since 2003, I’ve collaborated with IAM on many projects as a consultant. After the First African Conference on Sexuality and Spirituality – the first of its kind on the African continent in 2009 – IAM was approached by many countries in the region in search of IAM’s expertise on how to dialogue, especially on the topics of sexuality and spirituality. During this time, I joined IAM as Regional Program Manager. My years of working with IAM have raised my awareness of the evil of patriarchy, the challenges that LGBTI individuals live with, the homophobia that exists within faith communities and the different ways to interpret Sacred Texts.

Since IAM is a faith-based organisation I want to share something of my faith journey. What I remember as a child of four years old from church sermons was that if you pray, you can ask this God person anything and He (God was still a He to me then) would give it to you (answer prayers). I liked that, it sounded good. It was when my favourite doll suddenly went missing and I searched everywhere (especially the cupboard where she was kept) that I decided to test this theory. I remember standing on my knees beside the bed where I prayed to God to please give me my doll. When I finished the prayer, I stood up, open the cupboard and there she was! The thought that my sister might have had something to do with the whole situation did not cross my mind. From that moment on I was a believer in God and prayer.

Little did I know that the journey with IAM would support and confront me in ways that I could not predict.

Fast forward to the University of Stellenbosch where I did a Honors degree in Development Studies and had my first exposure to a LGBTI story. I still remember how scared she was and how difficult it was for her to tell me, “I am gay, I like women”. She was my friend and her sexual orientation did not matter to me, but I was asked “to keep quiet about it”. Iknew instinctively that to silence your authenticity could not be a good thing and that I wanted to change this.
She then spoke the words that are echoed by LGBTI individuals in my work at IAM to this day “the Bible condemns homosexuality, therefore I am condemned”. To this day I still do not believe this.

It has been a few years since then. I learned that been an LGBTI-ally comes with its own stigma and discrimination. Under a veil of suspicion, I had to answer the question “are you a closet lesbian” more than I care to count. Faith leaders and LGBTI individuals have talked to me “because the Bible instructs that if you associate yourself with homosexuals, you will also be condemned.” I was labelled “as a person who wants to convert people to homosexuality.” One particular faith leader even offered to hug me “since I was on my way to hell and he is going to heaven.” I choose to focus on the commonalities that we are all human beings, our blood is red, we are all vulnerable and feel emotions.

Fortunately, my lived experience on this journey with IAM also includes many great stories. Courageous Malawians determined to complete the IAM workshop on the integration of sexuality and spirituality by candlelight, while we hide from the police who want to arrest everyone that has anything to do with homosexuality. Zambians with integrity who educated me on the importance of intersectionality in the work that IAM does. Passionate Kenyans and Namibians who worked, without pay, to found and grow organisations that are changing faith communities and the plight of LGBTI people. The list goes on and I am thankful for the privilege to be allowed to collaborate in these journeys and to create safe spaces where people can meet despite differences.

Slowly, but surely, social transformation is happening. I will keep on making the choice to engage with people that are different from me, trying to build bridges towards understanding and inclusion. Opening myself to change and learning. Celebrating a God that has become bigger than religion, a God of many names, faces and