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.

Marlow Newman-Valentine is a Social Science graduate with further education in Human Resource Management and Project Management. He is a seasoned human rights advocate and defender working tirelessly towards ending othering for gender and sexual minority groups. Marlow was the first pastoral leader at the Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church as well as the deputy director at Triangle Project. He currently serves as an executive board of the Red Ribbon Foundation, a HIV/AIDS community-driven project. Marlow joined Inclusive and Affirming Ministries in October 2019.

My journey to date has been varied and colourful. A common thread that I find weaving throughout is my passion and drive to develop communities within a human rights framework and to disrupt the stereotypical narratives around gender and sexual minority (LGBTI+) groups. My fundamental objective has always been to end the othering of bodies and to be a catalyst for social transformation. 

My professional journey began in the world of banking, but as I began my own journey to embrace my sexuality and faith, the corporate world felt too stifling. I needed an enabling, safe environment where I could affirm my own embodied reality, which I found at the Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church (GHMCC) in Zonnebloem where I was appointed the first Pastoral Leader. GHMCC is an inclusive, welcoming and affirming Christian space for LGBTI+ persons, their families, friends and allies, and provided me what I needed at that time. I then moved into community development and human rights when I joined the Triangle Project team. From there I ventured into the HIV/AIDS sector at NACOSA, leading their MSM/LGBT Higher Education programme. After almost four years, I joined Positive Vibes Trust and led their regional SRH+R project through Amplify Change. I also started my own consulting practice called TRANS-Action Consulting Services which focused on organisational development, conflict management, mediation, mentoring, and facilitation of gender and sexual diversity training.

While my professional life has been full of rich and rewarding experiences, I always felt I had a calling to work around faith and spirituality. Deep down there was a yearning to explore this as a vocational expression. Over the years, my career and work always intersected and intertwined with the work of IAM. We collaborated and partnered with each other on various projects and dialogues, and I saw the way they intentionally grappled with difficult questions and evolved over the years – but always as an outsider, an observer. When the opportunity arose to be an integral part of the team, it seemed like a natural progression.

IAM’s mission – to transform lives; to assist LGBTI+ persons to embody their faith, spirituality and identity; to open safe spaces to engage and grapple with the God-story and to change the violent language we use to exclude, hurt and persecute parts of Christ’s body; to give LGBTI+ identifying persons, their families and allies an alternative narrative and lens to view faith and sexuality; and the struggle to make LGBTI+ bodies visible in faith communities – is my daily reality. It is my personal journey. And even though I have found a safe space to express who I am in Christ does not mean that I am free from the shackles that bind, silence, invisibilise or victimise. As long as queer bodies are persecuted, I can never be free or complacent. I see myself as a catalyst for change – just an instrument for social justice, human rights and support. IAM accompanies bodies and organisations on a journey of hope and healing. It is humbling to be a small part of this accompanying journey.

I believe that faith does not equal religion. Religion binds and limits. Faith is liberating and free. My right to be treated as equal is constitutionally guaranteed, however that right is denied when I cannot express my faith in a space where my identity, my sexual expression, my orientation, or my body is used as a reason to exclude or discriminate. If I am secure in my faith and I am reconciled to my sexuality and identity as a Divine gift, then even in one’s “inequality” you can still transform prejudiced thinking. 

This work that we do – for ourselves and with others – is a journey and you never officially “arrive” or complete the work. I constantly look back to look forward. I constantly “chose life” even when my rights are infringed or challenged. Having an embodied faith expression means that you need to tell your own story and challenge the heteronormative stereotyping of faith, sexuality and identity constantly. This is the work that I am excited to continue as part of the IAM team.