Recently, a story went viral about a teenage boy named Daniel from a Fundamentalist Christian family who, after telling his dad and stepmother that he’s gay, was verbally and physically abused before being thrown out of his home. A hidden camera recorded the entire altercation, and people everywhere, gay and straight alike, were horrified to witness the cruelty of these parents towards their son.
Sadly, Daniel’s story is not an isolated event. Wherever you go, teenagers who come out to their parents risk being kicked out of their homes. And it isn’t just Fundamentalist Christian families where this happens; all kinds of religious families express this kind of hostility.
Rolling Stone magazine recently featured a few of the kids who are disowned and left to the streets when their religious parents refuse to accept that their children may be gay or lesbian, children who make up a disproportionate number of the homeless youth in America:
Research done by San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project…empirically confirms what common sense would imply to be true: Highly religious parents are significantly more likely than their less-religious counterparts to reject their children for being gay – a finding that social-service workers believe goes a long way toward explaining why LGBT people make up roughly five percent of the youth population overall, but an estimated 40 percent of the homeless-youth population.
I find especially galling that several of the children featured in that story were Catholic. It’s a clear and painful contrast to the pastoral leadership of our present Pope Francis who famously remarked to reporters who asked him about gay seminarians, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
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?
Fortunately, there are contrasting stories, filled with hope and love and mercy. The New York Times highlighted one such story, about Caitlyn Ryan, a social worker from San Francisco who works with Mormon parents to find love and acceptance of the gay and lesbian children, to avoid the kinds of stories Rolling Stone exposes. What’s more, her work is motivated both by her Catholic faith, and her own personal experiences:
Dr. Ryan’s mission to the Mormons began in her Irish Catholic household, where she was reared on stories of the Easter Rebellion and imbued with the belief that God acted on behalf of the oppressed. From her own coming-out in the 1970s, however, she also learned firsthand the anguish of a family’s rejection in the name of religion.
So moved by her work among them are her Mormon allies that one took to calling her saint: “This good Catholic sister, who loves us, loves our family, has brought us a great gift…I honor her as a true latter-day saint, in the full meaning of the word. We don’t wait until people die. So: St. Cait.”
And as for Daniel, rejected by his Fundamentalist family, he has something to teach all of us about the love of neighbor. After thousands of dollars in donations poured in to help him, he redirected those funds to a homeless shelter for LGBT youth.
An undertaking clearly understood, indeed.