In a month from now, October 16th, millions of people nationwide will don purple clothing and take to social media in what has become an annual display of love and support for LGBT youth called #SpiritDay. In past years’, Bondings 2.0 has marked this event by highlighting the bullying of LGBT youth and Catholic responses to this problem.
Today, we highlight the tremendous problem of LGBT youth homelessness, suicide, and related pastoral concerns in the hopes you will add your voice to #SpiritDay on October 16th. Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will look at the other side of this problem–how religious social service providers are impacting LGBT youth experiencing homelessness. #SpiritDay is sponsored by GLAAD, and you can find out how you and your company, school, church, organization can participate by clicking here.
Rolling Stone magazine took up LGBT youth homelessness in their September 11th issue, mixing hard data with anecdotes from four LGBT youth to tell this tragic story. To set the scene, the article cites Center for American Progress numbers that between 320,000 and 400,000 LGBT youth experience homelessness in the United States and this is approximately 40 percent of the homeless youth population overall.
The causes of LGBT youth homelessness are varied. The average coming out age has dropped to 16, when most youth are still dependent on their parents, and more youth may be coming out following legal victories for LGBT equality.
Research also shows that almost 40 percent of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness are on the streets because of family rejection, primarily rooted in religious concerns. The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State published data showing a distinct correlation between highly religious parents and the rejection of their LGBT children in comparison to those parents considered less religious. Two of the four youth who shared their stories in the Rolling Stone article came from families identifying as Catholic.
Jackie was raised in Idaho amid an upper-middle class family. She succeeded academically and socially, pushed on by traditionally Catholic parents. It took until college for Jackie to realize she was gay, coming out sophomore year over the phone to her mother. The article reports:
“So while Jackie hoped for the best, she knew the call she was making had the potential to not end well. ‘You can’t hate me after I say this,’ she pleaded when, alarmed to be receiving a call in the middle of the night, her mom picked up the phone.
” ‘Oh, my God, you’re pregnant’ was her mom’s first response, before running through a litany of parental fears. ‘Are you in jail? Did you get expelled? Are you in trouble? What happened? What did you do?’ Suddenly her mom’s silence matched Jackie’s own. ‘Oh, my God,’ she murmured in disbelief. ‘Are you gay?’
‘Yeah,’ Jackie forced herself to say.”
Her mother hung up after using a slur against Jackie and questioning what she, as a mother, had done “for God to have given us a [gay] as a child.” Jackie’s parents cut her off financially, kicked her out of their house, and broke contact with their daughter. They mentioned later that Jackie, who experienced homelessness while still pursuing her college education, could get their financial support if she enrolled in “ex-gay therapy.” Of this, Jackie says:
” ‘I wanted to be their kid, but I couldn’t change. Everyone I’d ever known my whole life cut ties with me. But this was who I am.’ “
James was a raised in the Midwest, in a highly religious town where there was a church “on every street corner.” His mother, once Catholic, experimented with evangelically-oriented Christian traditions before returning to her original church. James, who had heard his mother rail against homosexuality, started quietly dating a co-worker. He was forced to come out after his mother found a picture of him with his boyfriend on James’ phone. Upon graduating high school, he was kicked out and, after a month of hitchhiking, ended up in Atlanta at a shelter for LGBT youth, called Lost-n-Found Youth.
One additional note is that LGBT youth who are kicked out experience higher rates of violence, sexual assault, HIV/AIDS, and prostitution than averages for youth experiencing homelessness. These can lead or exacerbate existing substance abuse and mental health issues, and in too many cases lead to suicide.
Jesuit Jason Welle questions the acts of Catholic parents and family members who would reject an LGBT child or sibling, commenting on its inconsistency with teachings of Jesus. He writes at The Jesuit Post:
“And this kind of rejection is shameful and heartbreaking because, really, our faith tradition should teach us that rejecting our children is a rejection of the promises we make in Baptism, namely that when a Catholic parent has their child baptized, the priest or deacon instructs them to teach their child to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor, and then asks pointedly, ‘Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?’
“The thing is, before you bring a child into the world no one asks you if you know what you’re getting into. But when a Catholic parent baptizes that child, they must respond directly to this question first. It leaves me crying out: what part of throwing a gay or lesbian child out of the home shows our love of God and neighbor?”
Beyond the family, there is still the matter of the Catholic community. San Francisco social worker Kelley Cutler wrote a blog post at Patheos with questions for this fall’s Synod of Bishops tackling marriage and family life. Cutler asks the right questions, I think, for the church at large presently faced with all of the above:
“How can the Church follow Christ’s example? What do queer people want and need to feel welcomed and supported in the Church where they may find him? How can the Church support queer people already in the pews, let alone the many on the street? What do they hope for from the Church, and how is the Church failing those hopes, thus contributing to a sense of hopelessness?”
Cutler points out that community and a sense of belonging, as well as spiritual care are essential components in helping marginalized communities — and what the church can offer to LGBT youth. She concludes:
“It takes a genuine connection to make the vulnerable feel truly safe, and truly seen…if we truly want to outreach to queer people, we need to do more, starting with real dialogue. Without being defensive, we need to see queer people through Jesus’ eyes, understand why they feel like outcasts, and then ask what we as a community can do to bring them home.
“If we listen, we will hear that we all share the same desires: for connection; for community; for hope; for love; for a place where we may safely graze.”
Making public your support as a Catholic or person of faith for LGBT youth this #SpiritDay will let them know there is a supportive community out there. New Ways Ministry is joining with other faith-based and LGBT groups to co-sponsor #SpiritDay with GLAAD. We hope you will join us and help us spread the word! For more information, click here.
Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will follow-up this post by looking at the impact faith-based social service providers have had in confronting LGBT youth homelessness.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry