As important as it is to fight to make sure there is safe housing for homeless LGBT youth, we also must address what causes them to become homeless in the first place. Far too many of our youths are driven from their homes by parents and families who believe that their being LGBT makes them evil and sinful. For this reason we believe we have an obligation to educate others about the harm being caused to homeless LGBT youths by religious-based bigotry and homophobia, and encourage people to reach out to the leaders of their faith traditions on behalf of our youths.
Below is a letter to Pope Francis from AFC Executive Director Carl Siciliano on behalf of homeless LGBT youths. It was published as a full-page ad in the New York Times on Sunday April 13th, 2014, thanks to the generosity of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
By Carl Siciliano
As millions celebrate Easter, I need to ask my fellow Christians to wake up to the terrible fact that far too many LGBT youth are being abused and rejected in Christian homes.
Many conservative Christians are increasingly preoccupied with fighting against the equal treatment of LGBT people in our society. And no one suffers more harm from this fight and the intolerant climate it creates than the LGBT children of too many of these Christians. As the director of the Ali Forney Center, the nation's largest organization providing housing and support to homeless LGBT youths, I see the reality of this harm in the faces of the thousands of desperate and frightened teens who turn to us for help after being driven from their homes and reduced to homelessness.
The stories these youth tell us about the religion-based abuse they endure from their parents are heartbreaking and deeply disturbing.
I think about the 15-year-old boy from rural Delaware whose father, a minister in the Church of the Nazarene, attacked him when told his son was gay, tried to strangle him, and then immediately banished him from their home. Or the 17-year-old girl whose Pentecostal parents drove her out into the back woods of New Jersey and tossed her out of the car. I think of the 16-year-old boy from Connecticut whose Catholic mother, upon learning he was gay, called a priest who made him lay on the floor and attempted to "drive the demons out of him.” Or the boy from New Hampshire whose Baptist parents told him that God is so disgusted by homosexuals that he "vomits them out.”
Again and again we hear young people tell us tales of torment and abuse in their homes. Told that they are disgusting, that they are sinners, that they are abominations. Made to hate themselves. Made to wish that they were dead.
In recent weeks I have filmed several of the young people who receive care at the Ali Forney Center talking about the religious abuse and family rejection they endured in their Christian homes. The stories they tell of physical and verbal abuse and the destructive toll taken on their young selves are very hard to hear, but it is important that we listen.
A recent study by the Family Acceptance Project on the impact of family rejection of LGBT youth found that parents who identify as "strongly religious" were significantly more likely to reject their children. According to research by the Center for American Progress, there are an estimated 300,000 homeless LGBT youth in our country, and the leading cause of their homelessness is family rejection.
It doesn't have to be like this. Jesus Christ never spoke a word of condemnation against homosexuals. Churches don't have any need to condemn LGBT people, or fight against our equal treatment in our country. A growing number of church communities have chosen to be affirming and supportive of LGBT people. I have the joy of experiencing this directly in the numerous church groups who send volunteers to cook in our shelters and collect clothing and even Christmas gifts for our young people.
A healthy society prioritizes the safety of children. Decent people do not stand by in silence when children are being abused. We need to recognize that the condemnation of LGBT people in churches leads to the abuse and rejection of LGBT children in far too many Christian homes. As Christians, commanded to love one another, we need to demand that this climate of rejection stops. We need to educate our communities and our religious leaders about the terrible harm being done to LGBT youth in the name of God.
I ask you to pray for the hundreds of thousands of LGBT youths suffering the terror and degradation of homelessness on the streets of our nation. And I ask you to pray for the even greater number of LGBT teens battling despair and hopelessness as they suffer abuse and rejection in their homes.
For resources for families with LGBT youth, click here.