More and more congregations are undertaking intentional, prayerful processes of discernment and action toward becoming inclusive, affirming, and justice-practicing congregations for LGBTQ people (there are about 100 churches now in the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists). While many churches have supported the struggle for marriage equality, opened pathways for ordination to LGBTQ people, and become welcoming communities to LGBTQ people, some congregations struggle to discern how to best live out their commitment to the affirmation of LGBTQ people beyond hanging a rainbow flag and extending a message of welcome.
What follows are are three areas of LGBTQ care and justice that I believe are critical for congregations striving to further live out their commitments to the support of LGBTQ lives:
1. Support for homeless LGBTQ youth. Despite widespread cultural shifts toward inclusion and justice for LGBTQ people in our society, LGBTQ youth often face severe judgment, abuse and rejection in their own homes. Here is the startling statistic that so few churches I speak to seem to know: while between 5 percent and 7 percent of the general population of youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ, the percentage of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ is closer to 40 percent. This is epidemic.
While a great deal of money and political machinery and even faith group support led to the success we’ve experienced in the marriage equality movement, no such wealth of funds and political machinery exist to address the concern of LGBTQ youth homelessness. This is an especially important, live-saving area of LGBTQ care and justice that congregations can meaningfully address in their own communities. To get your congregation up-to-date about this concern, take a look at the recent Rolling Stone article on the subject. For a larger look at the social scientific picture, consult the 2013 report, “Seeking Shelter: The Experiences and Unmet Needs of LGBT Homeless Youth.”
If this seems like an area of potentially meaningful ministry to your congregation in living out your commitment to the wellbeing of LGBTQ people, I offer a few suggestions for getting started in this important work of care and justice in this Huffington Post article.
2. Care for the LGBTQ aging population. Compounded by the confluence of ageist attitudes and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the wider culture, LGBTQ elders encounter even many concerns of injustice and lack of adequate support at the intersection of their age and their sexual orientation and gender identity.
For example, while about 80 percent of long-term care in the United States is provided by family members and two-thirds of the elderly who receive long-term care in their homes rely on family members to provide this care, the LGBTQ elderly are more likely to be single, childless, and estranged from biological family members in their old age. Even when accessing care in a hospital, nursing home, or assisted living facility, LGBTQ older adults are sometimes in precarious positions in which they may decide to “go back into the closet” in order to avoid discrimination based upon their LGBTQ identity from fellow residents or staff. (See the 2010 report titled, “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults,” and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.)
Many LGBTQ older adults will increasingly rely upon informal support networks and “chosen families” to support their wellbeing into old age. If your community doesn’t already have one, beginning a group to cultivate conversation, planning, and peer support for LGBTQ elders may become a very practical ministry of care that your congregation can provide for your LGBTQ neighbors. Even more, engaging in advocacy in your community for the rights, protections, and wellbeing of the LGBTQ elderly in your midst could go a long way toward changing the structures of injustice that continue to exist, deleteriously affecting the psychological, economic, social and physical wellbeing of LGBTQ elders.
3. Justice for transgender people. If the recent so-called “bathroom bill” (or HB2) in North Carolina, alongside the transgender public accommodations protection bill that is currently being hotly debated even in a liberal state like Massachusetts, isn’t indication enough, there’s a mountain of evidence that we still lag greatly behind in protecting the rights and wellbeing of our transgender siblings. And it’s not just about bathrooms, either. While this is an important question for our churches and communities to address, there are far more serious threats to the health, safety, and well-being of transgender people in our communities.
For example, in 2014, while hate-motivated violence against LGBT people decreased 32 percent from the previous year, hate-motivated violence against transgender people, specifically, actually increased 13 percent during that same period. Despite the erroneous rhetoric surrounding the “bathroom bill” concerning transgender people perpetrating violence in restrooms, trans women are among the most targeted individuals for hate crime violence in the United States. Trans people also enjoy far fewer legal protections in employment non-discrimination and equal opportunity policies than their lesbian, gay, and bisexual peers across the United States (See the National Center for Transgender Equality’s discrimination survey for a more complete picture).
We need to be clear about the ways that our religious and political rhetoric concerning transgender lives fuels this discrimination and violence against our trans siblings and take up the mantles of both prophet and pastor to advocate for justice for our transgender friends and neighbors, as well as cultivating communities of care in which trans people can feel at home and embraced in a community of love and support.