by Giselle Renarde
Sometimes I have thoughts I probably shouldn't share.
Sometimes I have thoughts I keep to myself because other people would probably think I was a terrible human being if I fessed up.
A few years ago, I started thinking about homelessness among LGBT youths. Statistics are pretty staggering, though don't ask me to cite them because I've got a mind like a sieve. But you've probably seen these stats about the percentage of homeless youths who identify are queer, genderqueer, questioning, trans, gay, bi, lesbian. It's a big chunk.
Then I started thinking about who, here in Toronto, provides shelter and assistance to young people who've been kicked out or left their homes. There are a lot of shelters in this city, but the go-to one that everyone knows about is a Catholic organization.
Now we come to the part I thought maybe I shouldn't say out loud, for fear of sounding anti-Christian or anti-Catholic or whatever. I don't want to come off as a total jerkass. That said, the Catholic church hasn't exactly been friendly to the LGBT population.
So if the biggest youth shelter in my city is a Catholic organization and a huge percentage of homeless youths identify across the LGBTQ spectrum... isn't that problematic? Is it just me?
Last year I discovered that, no, it's not just me! Other people have these thoughts too! The article I read on this topic wasn't Canadian--wasn't even North American. It was an article from Australia, voicing EXACTLY the same concerns I had! I am not alone! What's more, this appears to be a global phenomenon.
I wish I'd bookmarked the article I read, but I'm not that organized. I think it appeared on a gay news site, but I could be wrong. The reporter interviewed staff from Catholic shelters to ask whether they truly felt they could provide a safe and supportive environment to LGBT youths. Of course they could. "What a question! We never tell our clients they'll burn in hell for their wrong-headed groin sins! Never!" (<=these are not direct quotes, or even accurate paraphrasings)
And maybe some shelter workers can do that. Don't ask me! Anything's possible!
I have worked in the shelter system, though. As with any job, a big part of how well or poorly you do it depends on who you are as an individual. But, no matter who you are and what you believe, you're working within a framework. If your institution works within a religious framework with a long tradition of gay hate, is it ever really possible to provide responsible care to queer youths?
Here's a solid example, in case you think I'm just picking on the Catholic church because they chased my grandfather's Jehovah's Witness family out of Quebec (no hard feelings, honest! He converted to atheism shortly thereafter, so we're cool):
A bunch of really amazing high school students here in Ontario organized a bake sale at their school. They sold rainbow chip cupcakes and lots of other rainbow-themed goodies, and they raised money for a very deserving charity that serves LGBT youths. All-round amazing! Good job, students!
But wait... story's not done... because these students attended a Catholic high school... and when the school's principal or a superintendent (can't remember which--sorry) got wind of this, they wouldn't allow the students to donate the money they'd raised to a gay charity. A Catholic board could not support an LGBT charity. Not even when the initiative was coming from inside the school. Not allowed.
I could give you other concrete examples of Ontario's Catholic school boards preventing students from showing support to the LGBT population, even among their own ranks. I could give you examples of boards attempting (with incredible determination) to alter legislation so they could legally prevent students from forming gay-straight alliances in schools (and failing, btw--it helps that our provincial premier is a lesbian). But if I got into the nitty gritty of all these instances, I'd bore you to tears OR make you as angry as I am, and I don't want you to be sad and angry. You're not here to read about Ontario politics.
But it gives you an idea about working within a framework. Even if you're the most queer-friendly person in the world, is it ever truly possible to honour LGBT individuals from inside a religious organization that dishonours us so frequently and so loudly?
You tell me.
Giselle Renarde is a queer Canadian, avid volunteer, and contributor to more than 100 short story anthologies. She's written plenty of juicy books, including Anonymous, Nanny State, and Seven Kisses. Her words have been published by Cleis Press, Simon and Schuster, and Oxford University Press.