Near the end of October, a significant story broke in the world of sport. 21 year old Josh Cavallo, an Australian footballer, became the first professional player to come out as gay, while still playing.
In an emotional video Josh spoke of how hard it was trying to perform to the best of his ability while, at the same time, living a double life. He said it was exhausting. He also spoke of the immense support he gained from team mates, family and friends when he came out.
This was such big news, not only in sport, but also in the gay community. Many items were run on news and sport programmes around the world. One particular interview I heard was on TalkSport here in the UK where a gay rights campaigner spoke of how difficult it is to have to hide your true identity or feel that you cannot show it through fear of persecution or judgement and that the hope was that this would spur more sports people on to be brave themselves.
As I heard this I thought that you could swap out the words 'gay footballer' and replace them with the words 'Jehovah's Witness' and everything would still apply.
That idea that you cannot have your true identity and that you have to appear to be the person that is expected by those around you. That if you were dare to voice your true feelings or show a different side to yourself it may not be accepted. You could be judged, misunderstood or face abuse. (I can't even begin to imagine how it must be to be a Jehovah's Witness AND gay)
Unfortunately, the parallels with the two situations end there.
Josh explained how he received support and understanding from all those around him, which enabled him to truly be himself and show his true identity.
For a Jehovah's Witness, sadly, that is not the case. The very people that Josh described as being so supportive, family, friends, peers, would, in the case of a JW, be the very ones doing the judging, shunning, and abusing.
And if you were a born in JW, these are very likely the only people you know. There are no 'non JW' friends or family elsewhere to welcome you with open arms, supporting you in your decision to leave the organisation and begin your journey to become an ex Jehovah's Witness.
A Jehovah's Witness could feel that same sense of being trapped, living a lie, unable to fulfil their true identity and having to conceal their true feelings but realise there is no way out other than to lose everyone that matters.
One day people will realise the seriousness of how the Jehovah's Witness organisation uses shunning as a weapon to control it's members, but until then all we can do is try to raise as much awareness as possible.
If you are in this position or know someone that is, www.exjwcounselling.co.uk offer specialist counselling for ex Jehovah's Witnesses or those that are secretly trying to find a way out.