This past week, I went with one of our PFLAG parents to a local Tallahassee high school to talk to their Gay-Straight Alliance about our organization and what it can offer to the parents of these students. This was the first time I'd been asked to speak to an organization of mostly LGBT kids. Often, I'm the gay person asked to speak to the straight social work majors at a university. So this was an entirely different experience for me, and a good one. I was amazed and thrilled to see the classroom filled, and have the chance to share the story of PFLAG and how it is grounded in love. My parent, who tells a great story of overcoming her own prejudices about homosexuality, is a shiny example of what *can* happen with that parent who loves his or her child.
So, the presentation, which lasted about ten to fifteen minutes, was positive, upbeat, hopeful. The kids were attentive, interested, their eyes on the two of us and not their iPhones.
Then it was their turn to share with us. And my heart was heavy listening to them. So many of them are not out to their families. Their parents don't know that they're in this club. One of the girls shared that her mother taunts her for her haircut, and doesn't want her to wear flannel shirts because that will make her look like.... well, what she is. As I took all this in, I found that like with all things with me these days, I wasn't prepared for this. And yet, oddly, I was ready. Because I have lived through these difficult years of human existence called, "Teenager," and thus I know the pain they're experiencing, even if it isn't exactly like the pains I went through at their age.
With the one girl and her obnoxious mother, I didn't answer her, "What do I do?" right away. As Jesus told his disciples in Matthew, "Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time." The context of that piece of advice was for the disciples as they faced persecution; I wasn't facing persecution, but I was faced with a "What do I do?" from a teenager trapped in a horrible situation with her mom. I took a few moments, and reviewed in my head some of the details of what she had presented.
"You're doing everything you need to do right now," I started. I noted that she deals with the hurtful remarks about her hair and clothes by turning them into a joke back at her mother. I told her that was probably the best thing she can do while she's still under this woman's roof.
"Sometimes, the only way you can come out to your parents and develop a real relationship with them is by putting some space between you and them. The important thing is to know yourself, be grounded in yourself, tap into this group of your peers for support, and love yourself."
I asked her if she had a sense of where her mother was coming from on all this.
"Well, she's a Christian..."
This was a theme that ran through some of the stories we were hearing from the kids in the room. And I am always amazed to hear that mom is "Christian" and yet says horrible things about gay people. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be more anti-Christ than that. In all my studies of Scripture, I have yet to find the passage that says, "Belittle and berate your children because it is always best to play out your own fears by tearing down others."
And that's what it comes down to: fear. Whatever is in the mind of this girl's mother, it is grounded not in Love, but in fear. Which led to probably the most difficult thing I had to say to this child.
"You have to love your mother. Know that she isn't in the place where she needs to be with you. Maybe she will be some day."
I later met with my rector, and told him about this encounter with the students at the high school.
"You were doing youth ministry. That's really all it's about. Being the stable, sane, adult anchor."
If that is true, so be it. If my presence could give even one child hope that they, too, will survive being a queer teenager, then so be it.