For parents struggling with how to react when their child comes out as transgender, Catholic Deacon Ray Dever has three words of advice: Love your children.
In a touching blog published on the LGBT Catholic site, New Ways Ministry, Dever described his own experience having a child reveal her transgender identity while studying at Georgetown University. This happened shortly after Pope Francis made the groundbreaking remark "Who am I to judge?" in regards to the LGBT community and plunged his family "into all the questions and issues that Catholic families with LGBTQ children face."
Suddenly the enduring notion of "the Catholic family" -- discussed at length at the Vatican's October Synod on the Family -- took on a new meaning for the deacon. But for Dever, there was never a question of whether he would continue loving and cherishing his daughter, even as the path forward offered plenty of challenges.
When our daughter came out, my wife and I experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parents do in that situation – shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, conflict with what the Church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of our son, fear and worry for what the future would hold for her. There were arguments, sleepless nights, and prayers – lots of prayers.
Ultimately, Dever and his wife were comforted to witness their child's blossoming as she returned from a deep depression she had suffered with throughout high school.
"All the creativity, humor, empathy, and intelligence that make her an exceptional person are still there and are shining through stronger than ever," Dever wrote. "And I’d like to think that the acceptance of her immediate and extended Catholic family have played some part in that positive transformation."
In the midst of a church culture often antagonistic toward the LGBT community, New Ways Executive Director Francis DeBernardo applauded Dever for his unwavering love, which DeBernardo said echoes that of God "as a loving parent."
"His testimony goes a long way to show that new perspectives are needed in the discussion of family and sexuality which was opened up at the Vatican synod in 2014," DeBernardo said in an email to HuffPost.
"How can the Catholic Church discern how the Spirit is moving if it doesn't hear firsthand from the people that are directly affected by institutional policies and practices? Deacon Dever's essay shows that there is important evidence and valuable perspectives that the Church has not even examined."
Dever acknowledged that he is "the exception," as many religious parents have rejected their LGBT children -- sometimes with tragic consequences. As far as the Catholic faith is concerned, though, Dever wrote that if one thing is "crystal clear...it is that everyone is included in His love and mercy and forgiveness, and that we are all called to do the same."
Dever offered these final words of advice:
For those Catholic families with LGBTQ children that are struggling with what they should do, I would suggest that they look to the Holy Family. Look to the love embodied in the Incarnation, a love like no other, and embrace your children. As the Church calls us to do first and foremost, follow your conscience, love own [sic] another, and especially love your children.