Being raised in a Catholic household, I struggled to balance my queerness, my religion, and my relationship with my family. Parents can help their kids avoid this issue. Here are ways you can create a safe space for your LGBTQ+ children within your religion and boost your relationship at the same time.

By Ugonna-Ora Owoh
June 09, 2021
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One of the hardest parts of my life was when I realized that my own religion describes my existence as a sin. For many gay teens who come from a religious home, "struggle" is something synonymous amongst them. They struggle with their identity, with themselves, with the religion that gives them a different perspective on life. They struggle to tell friends about who they are and they-most significantly-struggle to tell their religious parents.

An illustration of a child and a parent in front of a stained glass window in a church.
Credit: Illustration: Kailey Whitman.

As a teen who was still discovering myself and realizing the complications of my identity and how the church describes my act of love, I was often depressed; I searched for books on how to balance both my queerness and religion because to me they were contradicting and exhausting. I cried and kept the secret, my sexuality, to myself to avoid upcoming complications and conversations. I prayed to God to take my queerness away and make me straight; these prayers were influenced by the family I have: a strict Catholic family willing to do anything for their version of Christ.

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text which contains dogmas and teachings of the Church, names 'homosexual acts' as 'intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,' and names 'homosexual tendencies' as 'objectively disordered,'" explains the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on their site. While they go on to explain the Church does not consider homosexual orientation to be a sin, they say it is definitely spoken about in a negative way. While some say the Catholic Church is becoming more tolerant of the LGBTQ+ community overall, "the actual experience of LGBTQ parishioners can vary widely across dioceses and parishes," says the HRC.

When I was discovering my sexual identity, I had friends who had come out who I could talk to-unfortunately, we were able to commiserate over our parents' decision to place religious beliefs over their children's needs. But coming out to a religious family doesn't have to be this way, parents can support their kids and maintain their religious practice.

"People assume that queerness and religion are opposites," says Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown, an associate Chaplain at King's College London, but that's not the case. "In fact, in the history of religions, particularly within Christianity, there have been queer people from the very beginning of the Church's life."

As a religious parent, processing your child's sexual identity might feel like mental gymnastics but unconditional support can make all the difference for your child. As someone who faced this struggle to come out to my parents, here is what I would want other families to know and how I wish mine would have acted when I came out.

Create a Welcoming Environment for Hard Conversations

It is in our nature as human beings to avoid difficult conversations whether we're ready or not. In difficult conversations, we often project our fears, terms, and disapproval. Kids don't always understand this growing up but as a parent, you have the responsibility to teach them to see all conversations as approachable and discussed if not solved. As your children grow and mature, they will be able to understand what are hard and easy conversations. Make them see you as their absolute comforter in times of problems so when they are struggling with their sexuality, they will come to you.

Don't Make It About Yourself

When your child comes out, don't make it about yourself or about what the community will say-that's selfish and love isn't selfish. If you have a problem with gay people, you are telling your child you have a problem with them and their existence. Find a way to accept and love your child without placing your misguided bigotry on them in the name of religion. You will hurt them and lose them if you do.

Give Yourself Time To Come in Terms With This

You were probably not expecting your child to be gay. You assumed they would grow up, love the opposite gender, perhaps get married, have a family and live a heteronormative lifestyle. Of course, they may still experience some of these life events, but they will do so in a different picture now. For your child to have the courage to come out to you, they have trusted you with these life decisions; don't take that for granted. Instead use that opportunity to understand them and their future, even if it's difficult.

Protect Your Child From the Opinions of Others

If your child is gay, you can't change that and neither can the neighbors. People may talk about your business but ignore it. Shield your child from harmful phrases often used in the church like, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," "The Bible says homosexuality is a sin," or "You are choosing this lifestyle." Not only is queerness not a sin, but many interpretations of the Bible indicate that homosexuality was never mentioned in the Bible until 1946.

Let your child know your affirming words are the only thing they should care about. Remind them that you have their back. And don't be a parent who cares about family name or reputation over your child's needs.

"LGBTQ+ teens have mental health problems, including suicide risk, at significantly higher rates than other teens. Sexual or gender identity is not the reason for higher risk, it is rejection by their families and communities," explains Emily Edlynn, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children and adolescents. "Parental rejection, even subtle, has been linked to higher rates of suicide attempts in LGBTQ+ youth. Family acceptance, on the other hand, can help buffer the negative mental health effects of social and cultural experiences of rejection, including bullying from peers and adults. When parents speak up against harmful statements from others, they show their teen that they will do their part to support, accept, and protect them."

Be Open To Learning More

There is nothing as satisfying as learning something new or contributing to a conversation in curious ways. It's okay as a religious parent to read and ask questions. It's also okay to visit a therapist to help out with advice on raising your gay child. Try to understand your child by learning about them in unbiased ways. This includes having a better understanding of the people they date and the need to have LGBTQ+ inclusive conversations around sexual health and consensual relationships. Puritanical thinking won't work here.

This also opens opportunities to learn more about your religion and how the LGBTQ+ community fits in. For example, it's interesting to recognize people like the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8, Saint Euphrosyne, and Saint Mary of Egypt in the 4th century-people who lived their queer lives and were canonized by the church.

"In terms of scripture, there is no biblical reason for the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people from the Church," says Rev. Robinson-Brown. "Therefore churches that refuse to embrace queer people are doing so from a place of homophobia not biblical authority."

Conversion Therapy Does Not Work

No amount of prayer can turn a gay child straight; your child has already suffered so much carrying the burden of their sexuality in the name of religion and has possibly been bullied and humiliated for it by peers. Conversion therapy is abusive, nothing good will come out of it.

A Reverend Weighs In

"If you find your children difficult to understand because they have 'come out' or you feel they might be queer, then it is up to the parent to research, read, and understand what that means. I would recommend the book God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines," says Rev. Robinson-Brown. "Parents are to be loving to their children because their children are a gift from God regardless of their sexuality. Love, care, and support should be permanent and not just dependent on your child being the person you want them to be."