In this holiday season, I want to share with you a timely reminder from blogger Derrick De Lise, who publishes the journal Queer Voices and maintains a blog about Christian spirituality called The Inexorable Pilgrim. Yesterday, Derrick posted a valuable essay at Huffington Post reminding all of us that many LGBTQIA+ folks experience exclusion from their family circles at the very time of the year in which we're bombarded by images of happy families gathering around festive tables.
And so depression, a sense of painful isolation, the need to have someone see and care . . . . Derrick writes,
Now that we have survived Thanksgiving, we begin descending into another round of holiday parties and merriment. During this time, we often overlook the very real plight of many in the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, discrimination is still rampant -- whether it is in terms of overt homophobia or transphobia, or in awkward, but not necessarily malicious, ways. Families can be torn apart quickly by rejection of those who have come out, or they can be slowly shredded when significant others are ignored or alienated.
We see innumerable examples of those who are disowned by their family for being queer -- leading to some horrific results. Less obvious, but nonetheless distressing, are the many families that are harmed over time by treating LGBTQIA+ individuals as less than.
As I read this, I think of Patrick Bradley's open letter to his parents, which is making the rounds of blog sites right now. In the letter, he finally tells his parents — 890 days after they announced to him that they would not attend his wedding in 2013, because God and angels and hell — what their cruel treatment did to his life and how they've made him feel. He talks about how their cruel decision had a ripple effect running through his entire family, leaving other family members baffled about what was going on, straining his ties to them as well as to his parents.
I think, too, of another posting that has been making the rounds online, by a Reddit user who calls himself TheSavageNorwegian, who reports what happened when he chose to come out of the closet during his family's Thanksgiving dinner this year. He reports that his family is "Minnesota Nice," and prefers that people not talk openly about such matters, but maintain passive-aggressive silence about touchy issues at family gatherings.
His revelation resulted in his tearful mother informing him that he's bound for hell, and in an uncle composing a letter to him helpfully anthologizing bible verses that, in the mind of the uncle, reinforce the mother's message about hell.
These are real-life stories. They're every bit as real as the story Daniel Pierce captured on video last year when his father and step-mother put him out of their house because he's gay and what will the neighbors think if we don't follow the bible? Though Pope Francis and the Catholic hierarchy may choose to pretend that such stories are unreal and can't happen in any case because the people they supposedly happen to are not real, they're indeed happening.
People's lives are torn apart by family rejection and abuse, solely because those people happen to be LGBT and their family members have been indoctrinated to reject and abuse them if they claim their identities. This tearing apart often occurs precisely when families gather around holiday tables.
For many LGBT folks, holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas evoke memories of heart-breaking exclusion, and those memories can be made all the more difficult when, all around them, they see pictures of happy families smiling at each other as they celebrate. As I observed yesterday, it's not good for folks to be alone, and I've long wondered, as a gay person who happens to be a believer, why churches do so very little to extend the hand of fellowship to LGBT folks during times such as Thanksgiving and Christmas — when they're often unable to find family fellowship at home, in their "real" families.
Maybe I'm simply naive and I expect too much of church.
The iconic Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom from Want" is at the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons for online sharing.