My name is Rich Harrington and I am a Program Manager for Faith in America. If you have a spare moment, I would like to share a bit about my personal journey and the reasons I am so passionate for our work.
I grew up blessed--and lucky. I was raised in a progressive form of Catholicism and my grandmother led the way as the matriarch of our family. Like many young men in New England, I grew up in a large Catholic family of Irish and Canadian-French descent and attended Sunday mass every week. But I knew from a young age that I wasn't like what I thought was every other New England Catholic boy—I was gay.
My church never taught me that being gay led to condemnation. I did, however, feel the cold realization that being gay led to be being “immoral”—the true beginning of my journey on the road of “Catholic guilt.” I was 12 when I started to realize something about me was different. Like many other young, closeted gay teenagers, I thought my life was over. I remember making a pact with God that if I wasn't “changed” by the time I turned 21 years old, I would end my life.
At the age of 16--one month before I was scheduled to be confirmed in the eyes God, my family, and my community--a teacher brought me into a hallway during the middle of catechism class and said to “stop acting like a faggot.” This phrase was shouted at me by my teacher—a self-described family man responsible for a classroom of young students. Unable to cope with the impossible pressure to remain closeted and still pursue my faith, I left. Luckily, I had a family network that rallied around me and confronted the church and our priest directly—ultimately leading to his dismissal.
Now 24 years old and happily out, I recently accepted a position with Faith in America, a non-profit working to end religious based-prejudice under the visionary leadership of Mitchell Gold. We are working directly with medical professionals, religious leaders, elected officials, and LGBT and allied organizations to change the narrative around sexual orientation within religion and end the practice of teaching children it's a sin to be gay.
In three weeks, we are traveling to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona to directly challenge Southern Baptist Church leadership and present them with the hard medical data showing LGBT children who grow up in religiously condemning households are 8 times more likely to try and end their lives. Through an aggressive media and grassroots campaign, we are bringing light to the issues facing some of our community's most vulnerable.
We need everyone working together to ensure that no child--not a single soul--ends his or her life because religion teaches homosexuality as a sin in the eyes of God.