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ON PALM SUNDAY, LETTER IN THE NEW YORK TIMES CALLS FOR
POPE FRANCIS TO END HARM TO LGBT YOUTH
Roman Catholic Executive Director of NYC’s Ali Forney Center Invites Pope Francis to See Real Impact of Teachings and Meet Homeless LGBT Youth
New York, NY, April 13, 2014 – Faith in America, an organization that educates the public about the immense harm caused by religion-based stigma and hostility, and Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, an organization serving homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in New York City, today delivered a letter to Pope Francis and published the content of the letter in a full page ad in The New York Times.
The letter asks Pope Francis to stop church teaching labeling being gay as “intrinsically disordered” and categorizing “homosexual conduct” as a sin, citing statistics and numerous stories about LGBT young people who have faced violence, parental rejection, homelessness and other devastating losses because of the teachings. The letter, published on Palm Sunday, comes before Pope Francis holds a global meeting of bishops in October 2014 to focus on “Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”
The full letter is available here: www.faithinamerica.org/2014/04/10/a-plea-to-pope-francis/
Faith In America launched a Change.org petition where supporters can also send a message to Pope Francis.
Siciliano, a Roman Catholic who lived in two Benedictine monasteries and has spent over 30 years serving the homeless, also invited Pope Francis to the Ali Forney Center to meet LGBT young people who were abandoned and had their lives devastated because of their parent’s religious beliefs influenced by the Church’s harsh stands and teachings against being gay. In 2012, Siciliano invited Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, to meet LGBT youth at the Ali Forney Center. Dolan, however, replied to the letter and did not accept the invitation to meet some of his young constituents.
In today’s letter, Siciliano writes:
I write to you on behalf of the homeless LGBT youths I serve. I ask you to take urgent action to protect them from the devastating consequences of religious rejection, which is the most common reason LGBT youths are driven from their homes. At the heart of the problem is that the church still teaches that homosexuality is a sin. My hope is that if you come to understand how this teaching tears families apart and causes the suffering of innocent youths, you will end this cruel teaching and prevent your bishops from fighting against the acceptance of LGBT people as equal members of society.
I hope that you will open your eyes and heart to the suffering of our youths. As LGBT youths are finding the courage to speak the truths of their hearts at younger ages, epidemic numbers are being rejected by their families, and driven to homelessness. The number of youths enduring this cruel fate is staggering; last year at least 200,000 LGBT youths experienced homelessness in the United States. LGBT youths make up 40% of the homeless youth population in this country, despite comprising only about 5% of the overall youth population.
Siciliano also lists examples of devastating consequences by such teachings:
A teaching’s wisdom and efficacy must be judged in part by its outcome. The teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin has a poisonous outcome, bearing fruit in many Christian parents who abandon their LGBT children to homelessness and destitution. How could a good seed yield such a bitter harvest?
For me this tragedy has many human faces. I think of Justin, whose mother summoned her priest who held him to the ground and tried to drive the devil out of the 16 year old boy. Or Terry, who was sent to a catholic religion class where the instructor set him aside as someone “possessed by demons”. I think of Maria, whose family drove her to a forest far from her home and tossed her from the car, because being a lesbian made her “evil”. I think of the boy whose name I never learned whose father was so disgusted by homosexuality that he threw his son out of his home and said he would kill him and bury him in the backyard if he tried to return.
“When we see young people being harmed we have a moral obligation to respond,” said Siciliano. “As a Catholic, I feel that I need to let my faith leaders know the harm I see my young people suffering because of the damaging influence of the Church’s teachings. I hope that youth who were born LGBT and are now struggling with religious rejection will see adults from every faith tradition taking a stand to protect them.”
The ad in The New York Times was paid for by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings. Mr. Gold has been an outspoken advocate for vulnerable youth for over a decade and has published a book, Youth In Crisis, about growing up gay in America.
Critics might wrongfully assume that we are attacking religion when in fact we are merely appealing to religious values of universal human dignity and asking Pope Francis to extend a hand and an embrace to all of his followers, including LGBT youth,” said Brent Childers, Executive Director of Faith in America. “Pope Francis has the opportunity to lead faith communities around the world in gifting parents of LGBT youth with an unconditional spiritual embrace, a gift which most surely will bring peace to these lives and these families.
According to a 2010 study by Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project of the State University of San Francisco:
Family accepting behaviors towards LGBT youth during adolescence protect against suicide, depression and substance abuse.
LGBT young adults who reported high levels of family acceptance during adolescence had significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support and general health, compared to peers with low levels of family acceptance.
LGBT young adults who reported low levels of family acceptance during adolescence were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance.
High religious involvement in families was strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBT children.
Anti-LGBT Teachings of the Catholic Church and LGBT Youth
PREVALENCE OF HOMELESS LGBT YOUTH:
Recent studies indicate that up to 40% of the homeless youths in the USA identify as LGBTQ. Estimates of how many homeless LGBT youth experience homelessness each year vary from approximately 200,000 to 500,000.
TEACHINGS ARE OUT OF TOUCH WITH WHERE MOST CATHOLICS ARE TODAY:
A majority of Catholics no longer view homosexuality as sinful. A 2013 poll showed 53 percent of Catholics do not believe it is sinful compared to 33 percent who do. More info: http://www.people-press.org/2013/06/06/section-3-religious-belief-and-views-of-homosexuality/
A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that a majority of Catholics (58 percent of White Catholics) support legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples. A similar majority of Americans (58 percent) view the Catholic Church as unfriendly to LGBT people: http://publicreligion.org/research/2014/02/2014-lgbt-survey/
HIGH RELIGIOUS INVOLVEMENT IS ASSOCIATED WITH LOW ACCEPTANCE RATES OF LGBT YOUTH:
High religious involvement in families is strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBT children. LGBT young adults who reported low levels of family acceptance during adolescence are over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance. LGBT young adults who reported high levels of family acceptance during adolescence had significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support and general health, compared to peers with low levels of family acceptance.
PARENTAL REJECTION LEADS TO INCREASE IN SUICIDE ATTEMPTS AMONG LGBT YOUTH:
According to a 2009 Pediatrics study, gay youth who reported higher levels of family rejection in adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their gay peers who did not experience family rejection. They were also 5.9 times as likely to have experienced depression and 3.4 times as likely to have used illicit drugs.
The American Psychological Association recognizes the unique emotional and psychological harm that religious teaching can cause LGBT individuals. Psychologists are urged to consider the rejecting and hurtful religious experiences that their lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients may have had. More info: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/guidelines.aspx?item=5
ANTI-GAY RELIGIOUS TEACHINGS OFTEN NEGATIVELY INFLUENCE THE TREATMENT OF LGBT YOUTH BY PARENTS AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS:
Anti-gay religious teaching can cause mental health professionals to have prejudice and negative feelings toward LGBT youth who are seeking their help. More info: http://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/18/LGBTFieldGuide_WEB_LINKED_VER.pdf
Religious teaching that suggests LGBT individuals are separated from God, or sinful, is detrimental these individuals and their families.
Source: “Family Members’ Uses of Religion in Post–Coming-Out Conflicts With Their Gay Relative”, American Psychological Association; Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 2014, Vol. 6, No. 1, 33–43
CURRENT TEACHINGS CREATE CONFLICT FOR LGBT YOUTH:
Traditional church teaching on homosexuality creates conflict within the lives of LGBT youth, turns them away from religious affiliation and makes them feel unwelcomed by religious institutions. A recent PEW poll showed almost half of LGBT Americans describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no religious affiliation, compared to only about 20 percent of the general population. More info: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2013/06/SDT_LGBT-Americans_06-2013.pdf
A GROWING NUMBER OF CHURCHES AND CHURCH NETWORKS ARE AFFIRMING OF LGBT PEOPLE:
They include The Episcopal Church, The Evangelical Anglican Church In America (EACA), The Presbyterian Church USA, Integrity Canada, Changing Attitude, Proud Anglicans of Canada, Alliance of Baptists, Baptists Peace Fellowship, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, United Ecumenical Catholic Church Australia, Christ Catholic Church, American Catholic Church, Catholic Apostolic Church in North America, Dignity USA, Ecumenical Catholic Communion, Evangelical Catholic Church, Independent Catholic Christian Church, Liberal Catholic Church, The National Catholic Church of America, Reformed Catholic Church, United Catholic Church, Orthodox-Catholic Church, Welcoming Roman Catholic Churches, The Evangelical Network (TEN), International Christian Community Churches, Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, GALA: Gay and Lesbian Acceptance, Welcoming Community Network, GLAD Alliance, Integrity, Independent Greek Orthodox Church of the United States, Lutherans Concerned/North America, Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, Metropolitan Community Churches, Global Alliance of Apostolic Pentecostals, Affirming Pentecostal International, Reconciling Pentecostals International, Covenant Network of Presbyterians, More Light Presbyterian, Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns, Unitarian Universalist Association, Room for All, Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble, United Church of Christ, UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, Institute for Welcoming Resources, Conservative Judaism , Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism, Jewish Renewal, Humanistic Judaism, Welcoming Synagogues