It was announced last month that former Vice President and long-time LGBTQ advocate Joe Biden is launching a campaign to promote family acceptance of LGBTQ youth. The Biden Foundation, with the help of Grammy Award-winning singer Cyndi Lauper and former NFL player Wade Davis, kicked off the campaign with a promotional video that stresses the importance of a young person’s family being accepting of his or her sexuality.
LGBTQ youth are among the most at-risk populations for homelessness, depression, self-harm and suicide. In the video, Lauper, who has been an ally for years, says that many young people have been kicked out or no longer feel safe living at home due to rejection from their parents and other family members. Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of LGBTQ Equality for the Biden Foundation, says, “While we must continue working to pass laws and implement policies that protect LGBTQ youth across the spectrum of their lives, laws and policies are not enough. We must also change the culture. We know that personal stories are the single best tool we have to change hearts and minds to move us toward a culture of acceptance — not rejection.”
Accepting and loving our children just the way they are sent to us is perhaps the most valuable gift we can give them. Love and protection within a child’s home should be an unequivocal right. Rejection by the very people who created them can be impossible for some youth to overcome. I have seen the effects of this rejection first-hand, and for many, it is a lifelong burden that never grows easier to bear. Recent studies show that LGBTQ youths who are rejected by their families are not only devastated emotionally, but are over eight times more likely to commit suicide than those whose families accept them. Eight times! This is simply unacceptable. Not one more child should die because of who they are and who they love.
Love must be stronger than fear and rejection. John Pavlovitz, a Christian pastor and writer, has written a wonderful, thought-provoking essay called “If I Have Gay Children (Four Promises from a Christian Pastor and Parent).”
Pavlovitz’s third promise to his children is this: “If I have gay children, I’ll love them. I don’t mean some token, distant, tolerant love that stays at a safe arm’s length. It will be an extravagant, open-hearted, unapologetic, lavish, embarrassing-them-in-the-school-cafeteria, kissing-them-in-public kind of love. I won’t love them despite their sexuality, and I won’t love them because of it. I will love them for the same reasons I already do; simply because they’re sweet and funny and caring and smart and kind and stubborn and flawed and original and beautiful – and mine.”
We have the power to accept our children for who they are, no matter what that might look like. Words hurt — they must be chosen with care. If your child comes out to you, tell him you love him unconditionally. Be cognizant of how much courage it took for him or her to have this discussion with you. Your response is guaranteed to shape how she sees herself for the rest of her days. If you find it difficult to be supportive, reach out to a group, such as Mama Dragons, to help you sort through your emotions and get to a place where you can be an advocate for your child. There will be challenges, and there is no one better-suited to help your child navigate them than you.
The key to understanding anything that we don’t know about is talking with someone who does. Get to know someone in the LGBTQ community. Be kind and respectful and keep an open mind. You will soon discover that he or she is a lot like you. Like us, our friends in the LGBTQ community have jobs and families, hopes and dreams. They laugh and cry and sing and pray as we all do. Chances are they have already overcome many obstacles and perhaps a lot of hatred. Don’t let that hatred continue with you! Learn a lesson from those who love differently than you might — be inspired to live your own truth, to be more accepting, and to become an ally and advocate for the vulnerable people around you.
It has been said that the best way to teach people is to tell them a story. If you have a personal story to tell about either acceptance or rejection, please share it with the #AsYouAre campaign by clicking this link.
Davis, a former Tennessee Titans cornerback who came out in 2012 and is now helping the Biden Foundation with this initiative, believes that sharing stories about family acceptance can help to inspire others to be more accepting as well. Even stories of rejection have the power to effect change — they can vividly demonstrate to others how unkind words and negative actions can inflict wounds that cut to the core. No parent should want to do that to their own flesh and blood.
Studies show that approximately 50 percent of young people who come out to their parents experience some degree of family rejection. Each of us must refuse to be part of that statistic. Every child is a gift and should be protected and defended by their parents. A child should never have to endure ridicule and rejection from the people who should love them the hardest. Kudos to the Biden Foundation for working to change our culture for the better.
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.