To LGBTQ Kids with Unaffirming Parents: You Deserve Better

This message is co-authored by Fr. Shay & Brian

Fr. Shay:
I know all too well the sting of hearing “I love you, but I just can’t support your lifestyle”. The way that sting sinks deeply into your gut and pierces your heart. The way it makes you question what love really is.

And I understand the conflicted feelings when your parents are nice to you, when they maybe even invite the person you’re dating to family events (so long as you don’t hold hands or be physically affectionate with one another), when they don’t cut you out of their lives. You begin to think that maybe you’re being unfair, maybe you’re asking too much, maybe you just need to give them some more time.

But then you give them time and they still don’t change their beliefs. They don’t read any of the books that you recommend. They still go to their non-affirming church.

And they still tell you they love you.

At some point you’re allowed to say that their words of love without concrete action backing them up are not enough. It’s not enough to be kind and nice while still holding to theology that wounds the soul. It’s not enough to accept your partner as your “friend”. It’s not enough to only use the right pronouns 50% of the time.

You are allowed to demand more of your parents. And you are allowed to set boundaries if they refuse to meet those demands.

You deserve love and support that isn’t tainted by harmful theology. You deserve affirmation of all of the parts of your identity and body. You deserve to be seen a whole and holy. And you deserve to surround yourself with people who affirm you and protect your heart by limiting (or cutting off access) to people who do not.

Brian
If you come out as LGBTQ and your parents want to love you while also still maintaining their theology that says your life, love, or body is sinful, you have a right to understand exactly what that love looks like in practical terms.

As our friends at Church Clarity say, #ClarityIsReasonable.

Church Clarity asks specific policy questions of churches such as “Will you hire LGBTQ+ people for any ministry role?” “Will your church’s clergy officiate a wedding for LGBTQ+ people?” (Sneak peak: Church Clarity will be rolling out a “verified clear” option for individuals to weigh in on those same questions. You can be an early adopter here)

Fr. Shay and I realized that as we were navigating our own families who wanted to love us without fully affirming us—over a decade before Church Clarity was founded!—we too had specific questions that we wanted answers for. Will you use the right pronoun for me? Will you come to my wedding? Over the past decade, we asked our families (and our friends and our pastors and our churches) to clarify exactly what their “love” looks like in practice.

Here are some questions you might ask your unaffirming parents who want to love you without changing their beliefs:

  • My name is ________. Will you call me that?
  • The pronouns I would like to be referred to as are _________. Will you refer to me as that with these people _______ (“at all times in public and private” “with our family but not yet at school because I’m not ready to be out there”)
  • Do you think it is sinful for me to have a relationship? (yes or no)
  • Do you think it is sinful for me to transition? (yes or no)
  • If I face discrimination, will you support me? How?
  • Will you provide emotional support for my transition?
  • Will you help me navigate the medical/legal/whatever system as I come out/transition/get married, etc?
  • Is my boyfriend/girlfriend/theyfriend/partner welcome to visit your house with me? Is my partner welcome to stay the night with me? (If I have a partner in the future, will they be able to?)
  • Would you attend my wedding?
  • Would you participate in my wedding?
  • Would you officiate my wedding?
  • Will you stop supporting and contributing to individuals and organizations opposed to my equal rights? Including your church?
  • Will you vocally support my decision to not attend events at unaffirming churches if I am invited by other members of our family or our friends?
  • Will you read books and articles, watch movies, listen to sermons that explain the goodness of LGBTQ people?
  • Will you read secular news and research to better understand LGBTQ issues?
  • Will you attend therapy to work through any discomfort you feel about my identity rather than unloading it on me and asking me to resolve it for you?

For LGBTQ children living at home or financially dependent upon your parents, you might also ask these questions

  • Can we buy clothes that feel appropriate for me?
  • Will you help me change my name?
  • If I face bullying at school, will you advocate for me?
  • If I face discrimination, will you advocate for me?
  • Will you give any necessary parental consent for my transition?
  • Will you provide financial support for my transition? If you are not financially able, will you help us find free clinics, pro bono doctors, or other affordable ways for me to transition?
  • Will you shield and protect me from messages that attack the integrity of my soul by not forcing me to attend an anti-LGBTQ church and by interrupting friends, family members, church members, or strangers who attempt to question or undermine my worthiness as an LGBTQ person?

You deserve clarity about what your parents believe and how they plan to act so that you can decide how you want to respond. And what you accept and how you respond may change over time.

However your parents respond to these — or any other — questions, know this: you deserve full and complete acceptance from your parents, you deserve family who will support and defend you.

Fr. Shay
When I came out (first as gay, later as transgender) to my fundamentalist mother I knew that it was going to be a hard road for both of us. In the beginning I gave my mother a lot of leeway: I made sure that all of our conversations happened face to face so that she could ask questions and offer responses. When I came over with a partner I made sure to not talk about our relationship, to allow my partner to be referred to as my “friend” and to not be physically affectionate. When I came out as transgender I didn’t say anything about the usage of pronouns. I did that because I wanted her to have time to process.

But after a while that wasn’t enough for me. I never felt like I could show up as myself to family gatherings and I felt like, as nice as my mother was, our relationship was based on a falsehood because I wasn’t actually being accepted, affirmed, or welcomed. Not to mention that my mother’s use of the wrong pronouns frequently put me in danger in places where the use of those pronouns outed me. Because of that, even though for a long time I had accepted my mother where she was at, I finally had to set firmer boundaries. I asked her to read particular books, I asked her to use the correct pronouns. And when she refused I had to firmly limit contact with her. It’s painful, but it’s the only way that I can live safely and with integrity. And I do it because I know that I deserve to be loved and affirmed in my identity, not in spite of it.

You can set boundaries, you can change the boundaries you once set if they no longer work for you, you can protect yourself.

Brian
God loves, supports, accepts, and affirms you as an LGBTQ person just as you are. And the Bible makes clear, from Genesis to Revelation, that God has a preference for the oppressed, marginalized, and outcast. God is fighting for you. Your family should too.

If your family of origin doesn’t accept and affirm you, if your church community maintains that who you are and how you love is sinful, know that they don’t speak for everyone, they don’t speak for the church, and they don’t speak for God. You can find the support that you need. You can build a life and a family that sees, understands, and honors you.

You are a beloved child of God and as you live into that truth, we pray with you that your parents will come to see and know that beautiful truth too.

We started QueerTheology.com nearly 7 years ago to provide resources, inspiration, and community for LGBTQ+ Christians and straight, cisgender supporters. If you want to dive deeper into these issues and be part of an amazing international community, we invite you to join Sanctuary Collective

If you value this work and would like to support it so that it can continue, please consider supporting us on Patreon

No, QCF, it’s not “possible to have a healthy relationship with your child” if you don’t affirm them

On Thursday, Q Christian Fellowship published a blog post, which they also promoted via their email list, with a message directed at parents with “traditional” theology; that is, parents who believe that being LGBTQ or leading an open and authentic LGBTQ life is sinful.

Before publishing a response here, we spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday engaging in good faith with them on the facts about LGBTQ youth and family acceptance and the dangerous impact of their article.

Ultimately, we agreed to post our (edited at their request) response on their website (which is here) provided they link it from the original article, send it to the same email list, and give it equal promotion on social media. QCF posted the article but did not and would not promote it via email in an equal way so therefore we are posting our original, unedited response here. More details on our communication are at the bottom of the article.

The author of the blog post states that parents with unaffirming theology can have a healthy relationship with their children. This is untrue and harmful.

It is dangerous and irresponsible for Q Christian Fellowship to promote this message.

Evidence shows that when parents do not accept and affirm their LGBTQ children, LGBTQ children are at increased risk for mental, physical, and emotional harm.

As we will show in this article, the evidence is clear and we cannot silence the truth.

Q Christian Fellowship claims to not be “advocating a singular position – we post a wide variety of things and that shouldn’t be seen as endorsement”; however, they are suppressing the evidence-based piece while giving platform to an approach which has been shown to cause harm to LGBTQ young people.

Studies show that LGBTQ children with unaffirming parents are at higher risk for negative physical & mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, sexual risk behaviors, substance use, suicidal thinking, and more

A recently published study found that transgender youth who are not accepted by their family have higher rates of depression and anxiety than those who are accepted. In fact, trans youth with accepting families do not have elevated rates of mental health issues at all. (sources: Vice, NBC News)

This extends to both transgender and cisgender LGBQ youth, too.

A 2017 study by Sabra L. Katz-Wise, PhD, Margaret Rosario, PhD, and Michael Tsappis, MD found,

Family rejection may have serious consequences for LGBT youth’s physical and mental health. Studies have found that parental rejection is associated with health risk behaviors and poor mental and physical health outcomes among LGBT individuals. Sexual minority emerging adults with higher levels of family rejection were more likely to report attempted suicide, high levels of depression, and illegal drug use, and engagement in unprotected sexual intercourse.67 Parental rejection negatively affects health among both transgender and cisgender adolescents. In the Thai study referenced earlier, family rejection predicted adolescents’ level of depression, suicidal thinking, and sexual risk behaviors among both transgender and cisgender youth.

Conversely, family acceptance may be protective for LGBT youth’s health. Among sexual minority youth, adolescents whose mothers responded positively to their sexual orientation disclosure were less likely to use substances compared to those who had not disclosed their orientation to their parents or whose mothers and fathers did not react positively. In addition, family support and acceptance is associated with greater self-esteem, social support, general health status, less depression, less substance abuse, and less suicidal ideation and behaviors among LGBT youth. Family support is also associated with less substance use among LGBT youth. Among transgender youth specifically, parental support is protective against depression and associated with having a higher quality of life.

In all of these studies, it is clear that family acceptance or rejection plays a critical role in the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth. It is also clear that “acceptance” is more than just saying “I love you” and rejection does not have to be as severe as being kicked out of a home.

For instance, the supportive examples from the study cited by NBC News demonstrate an active, on-going, and enthusiastic support of their child’s gender transition (they advocated for him at camp, they actively supported him through transition related medical decisions, etc).

Maintaining that your child’s LGBTQ identity is sinful is not accepting.

In the 2017 study, the researchers specifically include a case study that lines up perfectly with how a parent who believes being LGBTQ is a sin might react — and the parents cited react in a way that the blog post can be reasonably understood to give support and permission to.

“The patient also chose to come out to her mother in the office with the physician present. Her mother was able to express an interest in understanding what was being explained to her but anticipated a slow process. The patient left the office indicating that the mother’s response was consistent with her expectations.

The next scheduled appointment occurred two weeks later. By that time the patient had told her father who did not attend the visit. Her father’s response was experienced as reserved and without clear acceptance or rejection.”

The studies authors explain,

“Acceptance was achieved within a broader social network, but peer and other community support could not replace the desired parental reaction. Without the support of the parents, the patient regressed and acquiesced to the sex assigned at birth, followed by depression that required pharmacological treatment.”

The study also explicitly states that “traditional values” contribute to LGBTQ youths’ perception of their families being less accepting of them.

We understand that it’s important to “meet people where they are” but we at Queer Theology believe that it’s vital we not leave them there. We have seen that people are willing to do the work to change their beliefs when they are held to a higher standard around their actions.

Our history of decades-long activism has shown this to be true over and over and our work continues to be rooted in this experience: When you demand people to rise to the occasion and do their work, they will but coddling them does nothing but further injure already marginalized people.

It doesn’t matter if you’re kind or smile or give your kids lots of hugs or say sweet things about LGBTQ people: Unaffirming theology is destructive and deadly. We must speak that truth.

If you agree that it is dangerous and irresponsible for Q Christian Fellowship to promote this message, let them know. Click to tweet.

For a further exploration of this, and a message for LGBTQ who face so-called “welcome” and “love” without embrace and acceptance, we recommend reading ”Kind Homophobia & Transphobia Is Still Evil”

We also recommend these resources on how you can know it’s ok to LBGTQ. Jesus taught us to judge the tree of a theology by its fruits; the fruits of anti-LGBTQ theology testify to their wrongness.

For transparency, further details re: our communication with the Q Christian Fellowship leadership:

When we saw the blog post titled “No matter your theology, it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with your child” on Thursday, we were horrified. We know that evidence proves otherwise. We emailed the QCF co-executive directors to share that research and asked them to replace the blog post, at the same URL, with facts about LGBTQ youth and family acceptance. (screenshot of that email)

A member of the Q Christian Fellowship executive leadership team responded that they disagreed with our claim that the blog post is inaccurate and harmful, saying the author is not “necessarily making any claims in the blog itself that would include the type of circumstances you mentioned [in the research studies linked to]” (screenshot)

We responded with a detailed explanation — including citations from multiple studies — of why the blog post gives permission to the types of parental responses that study after study have shown to be harmful to the physical and mental health of LGBTQ youth. We reiterated our request that they remove the blog post and replace it with facts (screenshot)

When we did not hear back from them, we reached out again to let them know we would be publishing a response on our website. At that point, they responded claiming the blog post “isn’t an organizational position, just one persons’ input” and extending an offer “we’d be happy to post a counterpoint if you’d like to write one.” (screenshot screenshot)

We agreed to publish our response on their website, provided QCF

  • “update the original blog post to link to our response (we link to it in ours)”
  • “give it equal social media promotion to the original article,”
  • “distribute the response via email to at least the same list that received the initial article”

(screenshot)

At this point, Q Christian Fellowship sent our response to the author of the blog post and asked if he would like to update his original post given the research we presented or respond in some way. He declined to engage.

Q Christian Fellowship then asked that we “adjust” some of our language which labels as “dangerous and irresponsible” misleading parents to believe they can not affirm their LGBTQ child and have it be healthy.(Research shows parental non-acceptance to be hurtful to their children’s mental and physical health, telling parents otherwise is dangerous and irresponsible).

(screenshoot screenshot screenshot)

We ultimately agreed to edit our piece slightly (screenshot)

When Q Christian Fellowship published the original blog post, they sent it out as a standalone email with the thesis statement of the article as the subject (“No matter your theology, it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with your child”). Yesterday, we were disappointed to see that QCF buried our article at the bottom of a long newsletter with no context as to what it was even about. We, again, reached out to the QCF co-executive directors and asked them to honor our agreement to give our response equal promotion. Despite claiming that their “goal is pursuing a dialogue not advocating a singular position,” they have clearly shown that they give some perspectives more attention and endorsement than others.

They refused to send an email to their list featuring just our article, as they had done with the original article, which is what we believed we were agreeing to. That’s why we are publishing our unedited response here, along with the details of the (days and days of unpaid) work we did to address this dangerous message.

Unfortunately, they are choosing to suppress the evidence-based article while spotlighting an article which encourages parents to engage in beliefs and behaviors which have been shown to cause harm to LGBTQ youth.

We Wielded Prayers Like Weapons

There is a scene in one of my plays where one character prays “I pray that you’ll break their hearts of stone and make them pliable.” There was always a bit of an audible murmur from the audience when this line was said. People couldn’t quite believe she said it. That she meant it. It seemed too harsh. No one would actually pray like that.

Except they do. All the time.

We wielded prayers like weapons back in the day. Praying that people’s hearts would be opened and changed. Praying that people would feel their need for God. Praying that they would be broken. Yes. That was how we were taught to pray. It didn’t seem cruel. It seemed like mercy because apart from God you were hopeless. Apart from God you were doomed forever. So a little bit of pain in this life in order to be saved from an eternity of torture? Well, in light of that, our prayers were kind.

I am sure that people prayed (and continue) to pray for me. That I will be convicted of my sin. That I will be brought to repentance. That I will change my ways and my life.

I used to resent those prayers. I hated that people were praying such mean-spirited things toward me. But these days I am grateful that they even still think of me. I am grateful for their prayers because I know that their prayers will be transmuted into the love that God has for me, just as I am.

And yet, I am saddened by them. Because I believe that prayer is less about “changing God’s mind” and more about changing ourselves and putting ourselves into alignment with God. And if your prayers are focused on outcomes: “God, make this happen for that person” then no matter how much you may think you’re praying for God’s will to be done you’re really praying for your own will to be done. Once again you are putting your own bigotry and transphobia onto God.

I think about the Kesha song “Praying” a lot these days. To me it’s not just an eff you song, it’s also a sincere song of well wishing.


I think about growing up in the evangelical church when I hear these words:

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become
‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”
I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

I think of the lies they told me about myself. That I was depraved and no good. That I was born sick. That my desires and bodies were wrong. That I was deserving of death simply for being born. I was told that when I left the church I was putting my soul in peril. And yes, I was put through the flames and put through hell. And yes, it did teach me how to fight for myself.

But the beautiful ending of this chorus: I hope you’re somewhere praying. I hope your soul is changing. I do hope that for all of those people. I hope they can find their way out of that fundamentalist church and into the arms of a God of love.

I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come
‘Cause I can make it on my own
And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known
I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name
You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”
I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

My years in that church taught me a ton of things. It gave me leadership abilities and, against their best efforts, a mind that can think for itself and that questions and interrogates and searches for truth. That church taught me how to preach (even though I wasn’t allowed to preach). They taught me about mission and vision. They taught me how to fight. How to protect myself; because I had to.

And in spite of being taught over and over again that pride is sinful and wrong, I am proud of who I am. Proud of who I raised myself to be. Proud of who I am becoming.

Oh, sometimes, I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive
I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

I do pray that they will see the light. The light of hope and grace. The light of love. The light of a God who cares desperately for the marginalized. The light of a God who cares about the world, not that they will saved someday in the sweet by and by but that they will be saved here and now. That they will have justice here and now. That God’s kingdom will come. Here and now.

So I will continue to pray and hope. I will continue to send my best thoughts and intentions their way. I will continue to hope their souls will change and that they will find peace.

Photo Credit: raysnaps ☂Flickr via Compfightcc

How Do You Reconcile Your Trans Identity With Your Religion?

How did you reconcile your trans identity with your religion? The question comes up after almost every talk I give, in every one on one conversation, and I always, always, always struggle to answer it. Because honestly? I didn’t feel like the two identities needed to be reconciled.

But that’s not the whole story either. It’s important to remember that this was not my first time coming out. I had already come out as gay years before. And honestly, in a lot of ways, that was a lot harder for me. Not because being gay was harder but because when I came out the first time I was still thoroughly entrenched in the evangelical world. I was still in a more conservative church (though not nearly as conservative as the church I grew up in). All of my friends were mostly conservative evangelicals. I was still living at home. The list goes on.

But the hardest part? When I came out the first time I hadn’t yet freed my own mind and soul from my fundamentalist upbringing.

Can I tell you a secret? You don’t actually have to reconcile your faith and your sexuality/transness. Not really. What you need to do is free your mind from the narrow view that says there is only one way to understand Christianity. That there is only one interpretation of Scripture. That there is only one way to read the Bible. That there is only one way to get into Heaven (and that getting into Heaven is the be all end all of the Christian life). Because once you do thatwork; once you really understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus (and what it doesn’t mean) then you will find that there is no reconciliation to be done. Because you’ll find that who you were created to be is good and holy and beautiful.

When I came out as gay….well, even before I came out, when I realized that I was queer and that these feelings that I had weren’t going away. That no amount of praying harder or doing better or believing more stridently was freeing me I was devastated. I knew what my church and family thought of people like me. I knew what they had done to people like me. Kicked us out of homes and colleges. Packed us away to reparative therapy camps. Mistreated and abused us. In the best of cases we were told that “they loved the sinner but hated the sin”. We were tolerated…maybe. But we were never accepted. Never really loved. Oh, they would say that they loved us, but they didn’t. Because love isn’t about words, it’s about actions.

So when I came out as gay I was terrified that it would cost me everything; my family, friends, a job, a church community. And for a while it did. I had friends tell me to stop emailing them, that they didn’t want my lifestyle thrown at them. I was asked not to preach because I would be a bad example. I was alienated from family. I floundered for a long time.

But while I was floundering I was reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. At first it was simply trying to understand those “clobber passages” but the more I read the more I realized that it wasn’t really about those passages. It was about what we believe about what the Bible is. What we believe about who God is. What we believe about the purpose of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

And the thing is? The conservative evangelical view of all of those things? It wasn’t handed down from Jesus like I had always been taught. All of their beliefs: that the Bible is the literal and inerrant Word of God voice dictated to the scribes, that God was vengeful and spiteful but also somehow loving, too, that Jesus was only born to die just so he could save us from our sins: those are all pretty recent understandings. Or, at the very least, they were not what the earliest church believed and taught.

Once you start to shake loose those things, then the particular meaning of a Greek word in Romans 1 suddenly means a whole lot less. Not because you’ve stopped believing in the Bible or that you don’t take it seriously anymore, you just read it differently. You can step away from petty arguments about verses out of context and start to ask the more important (and frankly life-giving) questions: If I believe in a God of love, if I am a follower of Jesus (who was all about bringing about justice), then how shall I live?

How can I honor God and pursue justice with my sexuality? How can I honor God and pursue justice with my life?

I certainly don’t believe that hating and despising my identity and my body; the identity and body that God gave me as a gift, is honoring to God. I certainly don’t believe that a life of justice looks like endless pissing contests over certain Greek and Hebrew words.

So I did the work. I deconstructed and reconstructed my faith. And doing that work allowed me to consider other questions about my life and my identity. It was in those considerations that I finally found language for my gender discomfort and and came out as transgender.

The work of reconciling my trans identity and my faith was already done: I believe God called me to live an abundant life and that living an abundant life means standing in my truth, being all of who I am, and seeking wholeness. For me, transitioning was another step on that journey. Not only that, but as I’ve talked about before, transitioning deepened, strengthened, and enriched my faith in beautiful and profound ways. There was no reconciliation to be done.

No, the stress of coming out as transgender had nothing to do with God and everything to do with society and people. I worried, once again, about losing friends, my family, and my job. And once again I did lose those things for a while. I lost my partner. I had friends drop out of my life. My family struggled. It became much much harder to find work in the church.

The reconciliation between faith and transgender identity that is needed is for cisgender people to get right with God and get some education. The reconciliation is for cisgender people to be reconciled to transgender people by doing justice and stopping oppression. The reconciliation that is needed is not my work to do.

Will you be reconciled to God and to my community? Will you do the work required of you? Will you pursue justice and stop oppression?

Will you choose reconciliation?

Photo Credit: schoebandFlickr via Compfightcc

More Articles