Thursday, May 17, 2007

Family Values

According to a New York Times article, there are only 15 shelter beds available in San Francisco for what local service providers estimate is a population of homeless lesbian and gay youth numbering in the thousands. Studies indicate that these youth are far more likely to have left home because they were abused or neglected by their parents, and that they are far more likely to attempt suicide while on the streets. When they do seek shelter, mainstream providers are ill-trained and equipped to provide adequate support, often ignoring or even aggravating the harassment and discrimination these youth experience.

Years ago, I worked for more than two years at the Open Door Shelter for homeless youth in Chicago, operated by The Night Ministry. Since a number of our staff were lesbian or gay, we were able to provide a more nurturing environment for LGBT youth than many places, but it was challenging dealing with the homophobia of both shelter residents and service providers. Moreover, gay and lesbian adults were often reticent to offer help, for fear of the stereotypes of us as sexual predators or pederasts.

Gay and lesbian youth are far too often thrown out of their homes by parents who reject them, only to be abandoned by the adult lesbian and gay community who see them as a threat to their own hard-won security and acceptance. What is to be done?

Our public and private social service agencies need to develop professional shelter and case management services specific to the needs of lesbian and gay youth. The Church as a place of sanctuary should be in the forefront of advocacy for safe places to serve the needs of these vulnerable young people. Gay and lesbian adults need to be willing to offer mentoring to them, serving as positive role models who provide hope for the future.

More generally, the Church needs to help families to deal with the coming out process to prevent gay and lesbian youth from ending up on the street. Parents need to be held accountable to their responsibilities to their children and given the support they need to fulfill those responsibilities, and children need to be assured that they are loved and accepted as God's beloved. The Church can play a vital, healing, and reconciling role here, if it has the will to do so.

A Church that teaches the normalcy of gay and lesbian people as one variety of mature human flourishing would result in a lot fewer gay and lesbian youth on our streets. Real family values means valuing all the members of your family - including the lesbian and gay members.

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