Thursday, January 22, 2015

Maybe I Shouldn't...

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.

Here's one:

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.


  1. Giselle:
    There's always problems with counting people who are more or less invisible. The conventional breakdown is that roughly75% of the long term homeless are single men. But here's a link to an article that says in New York City 40% of homeless youth are LGBT I think one of the reasons for disparity is that many youths and LGBT youth would be considered run-aways and not "Homeless" huh? That's my guess at least. But back to your point and it's a sad one, Christians are so proud of the fact that Jesus worked among sinners. I don't think Jesus would be too hesitant to call out the hypocrisy. The Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul declared bankruptcy last week, a result of the massive lawsuits over pedophile priests.

  2. What you say, Giselle, is also apparently true about the Salvation Army here. It's not just Catholics, but hard-core Protestant religious groups as well. I've heard from people who got much-needed help from them in spite of bring LGBTQ identified, but there are more reports of religious discrimination.

    I've heard of organizations of progressive nuns,though, who do real, non-discrimantory work, in spite of the attempts of hierarchies to bat them down, at least to the extent of refusing to put Church doctrine on abortion and gays ahead of providing any needed care. On the other hand, I know personally of people from generally progressive religions like the Quakers who have given great help to gay people while still being firmly and vocally on the "love the sinner hate the sin" side, to the extent of alienating their own children (including one of my close friends.)

    When my mother died two years ago, we decided to make and recommend contributions to a Boston charity she had favored, the Home for Little Wanderers. (An odd-sounding name these days, but it's been around for over a hundred years.) First, though, I checked up on them, and they're up front about having no religious affiliations, and among their various shelter programs they have one specifically for LGBTQ youth.

    I think--hope--that religious discrimination in charities will die out as time goes by and the culture changes. In Boston, again (not to say that this area doesn't have its share of problems) the largest agency for adoptions used to be run by the Catholic Church, which was getting state funds for that purpose, but when that agency refused to alter their policy against gay adoptions the state cut them off.

    1. I'm really glad you mentioned the nuns, Sacchi. I recently read that there are nuns who are opening challenging the Church, putting the real meaning of Christianity into practice on the ground - and REALLY aggravating the bishops!

  3. Oh one more thought, a ray of f'n hope. I'm Roman Catholic by birth, Anglican by choice and now more of a spiritual nomad. In the Episcopal Church (The US branch of the Anglican Communion) the 19th century was about the status of Blacks and Native Americans in the church. In the 20th century, it was about the status of women. The 21st century is about LGBT. it takes about a century for Anglicans but they eventually get it right. I also hung around with born-again Christians for a while, mostly Baptists. I don't hold as much hope there.

    1. I wish I could agree with this presentation of the Anglican Church because it would make me happy, but I don't think it's quite right. Yes, the Anglican Church is far preferable politically to me than the Roman Catholic Church, and its official policies have followed the liberal trends you mention here. But sexism and racism are still problems in practice. See, for example, Julia Ogilvy's Women in Waiting, which includes a chapter by the woman who is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US. There is progress being made, but I wouldn't say the church has exactly gotten things right. And that leaves out the ongoing struggles over LGBT inclusion/basic decency.

  4. This probably sounds harsh but I have absolutely no time for organized religion of any kind. I've been an atheist for years and have seen or heard nothing from religiosos to change my mind. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) individuals face a particular set of challenges, both in becoming homeless as well as when they are trying to avoid homelessness. LGBT persons face social stigma, discrimination, and often rejection by their families which adds to the physical and mental strains/challenges which all homeless persons must struggle with. do their best to provide shelter and care for LGBTQ youth while the Trevor Project helps those contemplating suicide. Both worthy of donations
    Despite the Pope's efforts at inclusiveness I don't have much hope for RC's to change in the near future.

  5. My atheist father used to say, "Religions have a lot to answer for," Amen to that. War, rape and rampant discrimination are among the contributions of the follower of holy teachers whose words are ignored, even as the transgressors wrap themselves in ceremonial robes to show how "godly" they are. What this world needs more of is tolerance. We would be a whole lot better off without judgements pronounced that belittle everyone else's way of life, in favor of one's own...the only right way. Instead, why not agree to differ and live together in peace?

    I'm reminded of the Dave Mason song with the lines, "There ain't no good guys...there ain't no bad guys...there's only you and me and we just disagree."

  6. Interesting quandary, Giselle. So let me ask you - is it better for these kids to be on the street, without shelter or food, or to be cared for in a framework that at best is not comfortable with who they are? I really don't know.

    By the way, anyone who wants to do something concrete - and fun - to help homeless youth can buy a copy of Coming Together For the Holidays, which supports Stand Up for Kids, a non-sectarian charity providing services for homeless teens. I haven't gotten the chance to read the book yet, but it features some great authors (and me, too... ;^)

  7. This is perhaps what (beyond hypocrisy) bugs me most about religions. I took a bit of heat about my intransigence to religion on my 'anger' post last week. Yes, perhaps the kind Catholic services are there, but only if the recipient bends to the rules. The very concept of a 'chosen people' (Not singling out Jewish here, they all do it) has the effect of depersonalizing everyone else.

  8. Giselle, you've made some good points. I'm especially concerned about gov't funds going to organizations run by religions that clearly and openly discriminate. Thinking of goverment approaches to homelessness, though, provincial departments of social services (run by the gov'ts of Canadian provinces) have been quietly matching LGBT youth in need of foster care with LGBT families because they've noticed that this generally works better. (Who would have guessed?) Several years ago, my spouse & I took in several teenagers (one at a time) who had been referred to us. One of them, an MTF trans youth (named "Charlie" by his aboriginal family, but who preferred the name "Brandy"), was on probation. Unfortunately, she tended to sneak out of our house at night to turn tricks when I needed my sleep (& my spouse was away for 2 months). I tried to make sure she went to school, which was one of the conditions of her stayng with us. Later, we found a photo of her with a strange man in her bedroom in our house -- disturbing. Several years ago, she disappeared from the streets, which was more disturbing. I wish we could have helped her more, but I suspect we met her too late.

  9. I don't think you're a terrible person at all for saying this, Giselle. I think it's a really important contradiction to point out, and as Jean says, it's of significant concern that government funds go to charities that discriminate. Lisabet, I really appreciate the reminder about For the Holidays—I hadn't registered which charity was being supported.

    I'm not sure what else to say about it except that sad and angry seems like the appropriate response.


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