Last week, a viral video depicted Daniel Ashley Pierce, a young man who recorded his family's violent reaction to his having come out as gay -- yelling about the Bible, physically assaulting him and kicking him out of the house. Daniel's boyfriend posted the video online, and people around the world were horrified by what they saw.
In less than a day, kind-hearted people on the internet donated over $50,000 to Daniel for living expenses. That's a beautiful gesture, and it warms my heart so see that kind of outpouring of generosity. But it's also important to realize that Daniel is only one of the many, many kids in situations like this, and we can't give $50,000 to all of them. Even if we could, money can't replace love, security or self-worth.
We have to stop this from happening. Unfortunately, much of the problem is religious in nature, and a lot of LGBT-affirming folks aren't sure how to combat that. (As shocking as this may be, arguments about God and the Bible aren't very effective in these situations.)
Here are five practical, effective things you can do to make a difference for LGBT kids growing up in conservative religious homes.
1. Donate to organizations that can change minds in religious communities. When many people think of donating to LGBT causes, they think of political organizations fighting for legal equality. But that's only one side of the coin. There are a number of organizations working specifically to end religion-based homophobia and transphobia, and they need your support too. The Gay Christian Network, which I work for, is one of these organizations (and one I'm very proud of, having handled countless situations like this over the last 13 years), but there are many others. I've listed a bunch of them at the bottom of this post.
2. Donate to local youth shelters and organizations providing services to LGBT youth. Changing minds is important, but young people also need support in the here and now. LGBT youth make up a disproportionate number of homeless youth, and even those who aren't homeless need support networks. LGBT youth without support are much more likely to turn to self-destructive coping mechanisms. Brandon Shire has a good list of organizations around the world, but you may also want to search the web to see what's close to you.
3. Support local affirming churches and religious institutions. Many churches are afraid to take the step of being openly affirming of LGBT people, because they're worried about losing donations and members. But local churches have the ability to do a lot of the key work from both #1 and #2 above. Your encouragement and support is crucial, socially as well as financially.
4. Talk to your pastor or religious leader, and encourage your friends and family members to talk to theirs. Tell them how important this is to you, and engage in dialogue with them about the treatment of LGBT people. You'd be surprised by how many pastors I've heard from who are privately supportive but are afraid to say anything because they don't think their congregations are ready for it. They need to know you're out there, and that you care. On the other hand, if your religious leader isn't there yet, you can help educate them.
5. When you hear people make anti-LGBT comments, don't just dismiss them as bigots. Educate them. I know it's hard; sometimes people say or do things that make it hard to see them as anything other than monsters. But as a young man, I used to say some of those hateful things myself, and at the time, I honestly believed I was being loving. So much of what passes for hate is actually ignorance, and the best antidote to ignorance is a patient, compassionate teacher. Listen carefully to understand what they believe so that you can gently correct their misconceptions. I've been doing this stuff long enough to know that it really works.
If you don't know what to say, give them your favorite blog posts or books on the subject -- something appropriate to their level -- and offer to discuss them. I've been part of helping to create a few resources aimed at Christians, including my book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, and a documentary called Through My Eyes, both of which have been very effective in conservative Christian contexts. But again, there are lots and lots of resources out there. If something has been particularly helpful to you, offer it to them for their feedback, and stay in conversation.
A video like Daniel's breaks our hearts because we don't want to believe things like this happen. But they do happen, and the best thing we can do is to let that heartbreak move us to action. We can change the world; we just have to open our eyes, acknowledge the problem and work together to fix it, not just for Daniel, but for everyone who suffers in silence.
Don't be discouraged. Take heart -- and take action.
P.S. Here's the list of LGBT-affirming religious charities I promised. I'm sure I've left many out, so add your own suggestions in the comments, and let's work together for a better future for all of us.
- The Gay Christian Network (This is where I work, so I vouch for it personally. I'm also happy to answer any questions about how we use our funds and what we do.)
- Affirm United (United Church of Canada)
- Affirmation (Mormon)
- Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
- Believe Out Loud
- Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests
- Canyonwalker Connections
- DignityUSA (Roman Catholic)
- Evangelicals Concerned
- The Evangelical Network
- Fellowship of Reconciling Pentecostals International
- Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance
- Institute for Welcoming Resources
- IntegrityUSA (Episcopal)
- Keshet (Jewish)
- The Marin Foundation
- More Light Presbyterians
- Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist)
- ReconcilingWorks (Lutheran)
- The Reformation Project
- Room for All (Reformed Church in America)
- SDA Kinship (Seventh-Day Adventists)
- UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns (United Church of Christ)
- Welcoming Community Network (Community of Christ)