In a piece for The Washington Post, Caitlin Ryan, a Catholic woman who heads the Family Acceptance Project, reminds parents they do not have to choose between LGBT children and their faith.
Ryan’s piece comes after the high profile suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old transgender girl whose Christian parents refused to accept her gender identity. Ryan writes that Alcorn “should never have died,” but “profound misinformation” stopped her from receiving the necessary health care and counseling she desired.
A major part of what held Leelah back from receiving help was family rejection, of which Ryan notes:
“Our research shows that LGBT youth like Leelah who encounter family-rejecting behaviors are at higher risk for suicide, depression, drug abuse, HIV and other health concerns. In fact, LGBT young people who were highly rejected by their families during adolescence were more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide during young adulthood and nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression as nonrejected peers.”
“Over the past 10 years, we have developed a family support model that helps all families — especially socially and religiously conservative ones — to support their LGBT children. We start by meeting families where they are and showing them that the behaviors they thought were helping their LGBT child instead contribute to higher risks for health problems and family conflict.“[W]e have learned that compassion, culturally grounded education, counseling and behavioral work can help families decrease rejection, increase support and change outcomes for their children.”
Specifically, Ryan lists four lessons:
- Parents who reject their LGBT children are typically motivated by trying to help, not hurt, them.
- We need to help families begin a journey toward support and acceptance.
- Compassion is essential.
- Education is vital.
“Families that are struggling need to understand that they don’t have to choose between their LGBT child and their faith. Parents and families can support their LGBT child — even if they believe that being LGBT is wrong — by simple actions that don’t require them to accept a ‘behavior’ or ‘identity’ they don’t condone.”
Ryan recommends education from young ages, even before sexual orientation and gender identity become factors in a child’s life. It means instruction for clergy and religious institutions, as well as families. Ultimately, Ryan concludes:
“Supporting our LGBT and gender-diverse children is not just about protecting them from harm. It’s about promoting their well-being, developing their strengths and abilities and, most importantly, helping their families accept and nurture them. For Leelah and all of our children, we must start now.”
Catholic parents of LGBT children have long been some of the most forceful advocates for justice and welcome in the church. Indeed, this blog recently posted a deacon’s reflection about how his family loves and accepts their trans* daughter and has featured many examples of how families support their LGBT loved ones. We also called for a trans* epiphany in the Catholic Church as a 2015 resolution.
A full read of The Washington Post piece is well worth it and you can access it here. To read more about how Caitlin Ryan’s own Catholic faith informs her work, as well as more about the Family Acceptance Project, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry