PFLAG executive: Most LGBTQ people see the Catholic Church as “unfriendly.” What is our response?

Views Jean-Marie Navetta / September 30, 2022 Print this:
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I have always considered my life to be blessed. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been challenges. My life is much like that of any LGBTQ person: barriers exist wherever we go. Even in 2022, when we’re more visible than ever, our community lacks basic protections from discrimination in more than half of the United States.

And while acceptance has increased in many ways, the attacks on people like me have escalated, too. Sadly, these attacks come often in the name of Jesus Christ.

But when I say my life is blessed, I mean this: Unlike so many people I know in the LGBTQ community, the idea that God loves me less—or not at all—because I happen to be queer has never crossed my mind. 

In no uncertain terms, this is a blessing. Stories of alienation from the faith communities in which many of us were raised are painfully common. Worse, too many of us have experienced the weaponization of our religion so often that there’s a term for it: spiritual violence.

I know that I’m an exception to the rule. While roughly half of LGBTQ people identify as people of faith (with about 1.3 million identifying as Roman Catholic), a significant portion of us do not participate in the faith communities in which we were raised. A 2017 report found that 82.1 percent of LGBTQ people have a perception that the Catholic Church is “unfriendly” towards people like them. (A 2013 survey found that 79 percent of respondents held similar views.)

I have thought about what it is that makes my experience different from others like me. My Catholic education was heavily influenced by the post-Vatican II world. We were the generation raised with stories of Jesus welcoming people, often seeking out the most marginalized, the most judged (like Zacchaeus) and welcoming them. I was taught by women religious who modeled what building community should look like. 

But none of this makes me unique among queer Catholics, or even those in my generation. Lots of us had similar experiences growing up.

A 2017 report found that 82.1 percent of LGBTQ people have a perception that the Catholic Church is “unfriendly” towards people like them. (A 2013 survey found that 79 percent of respondents held similar views.)

What did make my experience different was the acceptance of my family for the fact that I happen to be a member of the LGBTQ community. 

Not once was there a suggestion that something was wrong with me. Never did anyone say that I was living a life counter to God’s plan. No one treated my relationships as though they were less than those of my straight family members. And there was certainly no argument that I should try to be anything else other than what I am. (Was there joy that I happened to marry a woman who is also Catholic? Yes.)

My experiences of exclusion have been jarring: when, during Mass, a priest offered up prayers to protect the sanctity of marriage from those who would destroy it, ostensibly LGBTQ people; when I was told by a leader at a Catholic university that perhaps it wasn’t the place for me because of my “lifestyle”; when I met the Catholic parent of a gay man who told me that any parent who accepts their LGBTQ child “is no real Catholic.”

In spite of all of my very blessed interactions, it’s these that always stand out to me. This is not because they damaged me in any long-term way. My belief that I am who I am because of (and not in spite of) God is firm. It is because these episodes are a reminder of what too many of us are still grappling with when we come out in many Catholic families.

Parents have every reason to embrace, validate and even defend their child’s identity as a member of the LGBTQ community. Year after year, research demonstrates that youth who are accepted by their parents thrive—and isn’t this part of what we are charged with as those who believe in Christ? Shouldn’t we help others live, be happy, discover community and see their value?

Consider this: A 2009 study in Pediatrics determined that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults rejected by their parents are eight times more likely to report suicide attempts and six times more likely to experience “high levels” of depression. In 2022, the Trevor Project’s research revealed that only 37 percent of LGBTQ youth said that their home is LGBTQ-affirming (For trans and nonbinary youth, that number dropped to fewer than one in three individuals.)

Then there is this: “Having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent.”

If this isn’t the mission that we Catholics are called to take on, then what is? The mission is to see facts and act accordingly, to recognize that the conflicted messages we often get from our church should never lead us to exclude, marginalize and even cast out our LGBTQ loved ones. (It is worth mentioning that, according to recent data, 28 percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness or “housing instability,” and 40 percent of that group described being evicted from their homes for their identity.)

The lives of LGBTQ Catholics don’t magically change because of what’s said in Rome, or even what’s said from the pulpits in our parishes. Real change happens when those around us, those professing to follow Jesus’ example of inclusion, compassion and kindness, change their own behaviors.

There are steps forward that are fully consistent with Catholic teaching that do support LGBTQ young people. When asked what is helpful for adults to do, LGBTQ youth told researchers at The Trevor Project that everyday things like being welcoming to friends and partners, talking respectfully about LGBTQ identities, using the right names and pronouns and simply educating yourself on LGBTQ issues all create affirming environments that help strengthen and protect youth from those who won’t validate who they are. 

The lives of LGBTQ Catholics don’t magically change because of what’s said in Rome, or even what’s said from pulpits in our parishes. Real change happens when those around us, those professing to follow Jesus’ example of inclusion, compassion and kindness, change their own behaviors.

For me, it wasn’t waiting for Pope Francis to say that God doesn’t disown any of his children that helped me thrive. It started when I came out and my mother (who was in religious life) never told me I had to be different. It started when she began talking to others in her parish about her validation for her queer daughter. I was validated when she asked me to send her a rainbow-flag pin to wear to Mass so other parents knew they could talk to her. 

I shouldn’t be alone in these experiences. I deserve this blessed life no more than anyone else in my community. It is a gift. And as long as I’m able to talk about this, I believe that I have to have these conversations over and over, because this gift should be given to all of us.

This, I believe, is what Jesus intended. 

Jean-Marie Navetta

Jean-Marie Navetta is the Director of Learning & Inclusion for PFLAG National, where she develops educational programs to invite, educate and engage new allies for LGBTQ equality.

All articles by Jean-Marie Navetta

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1 Comment
  1. Maybe the Catholic church could start by not firing those who are LGBTQ who teach in the Catholic schools