It was over a heaping plate of eggs, sausage, and toast that one of my high school youth came out to me after worship one Sunday many years ago now.
“I have a girlfriend,” she said.
“That’s wonderful! What’s her name?” I asked.
After sharing a few details, she said, “I haven’t told my parents yet. I’m not sure what they’ll say.”
I replied, “Well, if you want any support, I’m here to help.”
Skip ahead a few years, and I was serving a different church.
“I’d prefer for people to use they/them pronouns for me,” another youth told me over a tray of fried chicken and crinkle french fries. “I am gender non-conforming.”
“Cool,” I said. “I can help make that happen.”
“My dad’s not a fan,” they shared.
I told them, “I’m sorry to hear that. Let me know what I can do to support you.”
As faith formation directors, youth ministers, pastors, and volunteers, you may have found yourself having similar conversations with the youth you have served over the years. The truth is, our jobs are absolutely crucial to youth of faith who are exploring gender identity and sexual orientation. The Trevor Project estimates that 1.8 million queen youth seriously attempt suicide every year. Did you know, though, that a study on conversion therapy from San Francisco State University found that queer youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide when pressured to change by a parent and three times as likely to attempt suicide when pressured to change by religious leaders?! I would say our jobs are more important than ever when it comes to ministry with LGBTQIA+ youth.
Enter Beloved Arise. I discovered them during the pandemic on Instagram, where they had started a page to “celebrate and empower queer youth of faith.” Originally, their audience was to Christian youth only, but as they grew, they have become an interfaith organization that affirms queer youth of all religious backgrounds. You can find them on Instagram at Beloved Arise, or check out their website at belovedarise.org. There, you will find loads of resources, including a video entitled, “4 Tips for Coming Out to Your Christian Parents,” and several free downloads, including, “God is for You,” “Journey Together,” “QYF,” and “Fourteen Days of Love.”
In addition, Beloved Arise has been working on creating a network of youth groups across the country that are affirming of LGBTQIA+ youth. If your church is Open & Affirming, I highly encourage you to fill out the inquiry form at the bottom of belovedarise.org/youthgroup. When queer youth of faith are looking for a place to belong, your church might be the closest one to them, and it could save their life.
This is one of my favorite parts about the Association of United Church Educators - people networking across the country with important resources for ministry. I’d love to know what you’re recommending right now. Feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows? It might save a life.
Rev. Kim Nagy serves as the Vice Chair on the national AUCE Board of Directors and the Associate Minister for Faith Formation at the Church of the Redeemer UCC in Westlake, OH.