As the parent of a bisexual, gender-queer child, I feel called to provide education and safe spaces for people to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community. Understanding the “alphabet” can be a huge step: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and any other identity (+) under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. As a Youth Missioner for the Diocese of North Carolina, I wanted to offer courses for people to learn more and work towards allyship and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ youth. I decided to create 3 courses: 1) for parents, 2) for adults that work with youth, and 3) for youth – those in and out of the LGBTQIA+ community.
I began with a course for parents in the spring of 2021, and it was very successful. There were even two grandparents enrolled who wanted to support their grandchildren, which was so beautiful. The second course, held in August 2021, was for adults who work with youth, even if they did not have any identified LGBTQIA+ youth in their parish. A third course, for youth, is in the works.
Tools for Youth Leaders & Volunteers
My motivation for all of these classes was to provide accurate and up-to-date information that was theologically sound, so that our LGBTQIA+ youth feel affirmed and welcomed in our churches. We say “All Are Welcome” but often do not follow through in ways that support this value. I wanted the adults who may work with LGBTQIA+ youth to know about creating safe spaces and how to show that God loves all of us, just as we are and where we are. LGBTQIA+ youth are dealing with “normal” teen issues while also battling stereotypes, acrimony, and a lot of religious intolerance. I wanted to provide tools for youth leaders and volunteers to confront the negativity with more loving narratives and practices.
The course for adults who work with LGBTQIA+ youth consisted of three weekly sessions. There was pre-work for each of the sessions with articles to read and videos to watch. Then we came together for discussion and activities. We talked in small and large groups to provide time and space for lots of conversation and questions.
I curated the materials from the many courses, webinars, books, and movies that I had consumed on my journey to support my child. I am grateful to Q Christian Fellowship, The Trevor Project, The Diversity and Resiliency Institute of El Paso, PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), The Safe Zone Project, and “You Are Loved,” a deep dive conversation with the Rev. Matt Welsch and Rev. Lauren Kay at the FORMA 2020 online conference for the wealth of solid information and resources they provided me on my journey.
- The first session was an introduction to LGBTQIA+ vocabulary and terms, understanding gender and identity, and the Queer Umbrella and Genderbreadperson from the Safe Zone Project. We also spent time getting to know one another and creating a group covenant. It was important for everyone to feel comfortable talking about these topics, so the covenant was reiterated each week.
- The second session was about community. We discussed how our Baptismal Covenant calls us to do this work, how we live those promises out in ministry, how to create welcoming spaces with our policies and language, and what to do if/when a youth comes out to you. We spent a lot of time discussing what our physical spaces say to LGBTQIA+ youth (artwork, representation, restrooms, gendered accommodations). We also learned about mental health issues for LGBTQIA+ youth.
- The last session was an evening of joy and Spirit. We had a panel of four LGBTQIA+ young adults who had been active youth in their parishes and the diocese. They shared their faith journeys, how they had been supported by adults, and the challenges they faced. They also offered suggestions for working with LGBTQIA+ youth. Then they graciously answered questions. One panelist encouraged awkward, uncomfortable questions so everyone could learn more!
The stories and experiences of these LBGTQIA+ young adults were both inspiring and heartbreaking. I learned that we could have done much more to respect them and their identities. I learned that their convictions run deep and their faith even deeper. I learned more about my straight, cis-gender privilege and how I need to use that to lift up marginalized youth. That work has already begun, and I look forward to seeing the fruit that this course, and the work of many other caring and committed people, produces.