Fall is a busy season of celebrations that we might not buy gifts for the way we do with "big holidays" like Christmas or Easter, but that still serve as meaningful rites of passage or teaching opportunities on how we are called to live Christian lives in the world. How many of you have used the first day of school to talk about the values of friendship and care for others? Halloween is an excellent opportunity for dialogues on sharing. The timing for these days came out of social or cultural movements that may no longer be immediately familiar to our young people but there is still rich meaning to be shared by people of faith finding and using the opportunities in our secular world to teach the values of love and inclusion that grow and unite God's kingdom. We have other opportunities as youth leaders to inspire and support young people by uplifting social and justice movements grounded in a contemporary context. The Fall has plenty of those teachable moments too!
October 11 is the annual holiday celebrated nationally, Coming Out Day, when many people who identify as LGBTQIA+ will “come out” to friends or family about their orientation or identity. According to NationalToday.com, "National Coming Out Day was inspired by the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, 1987. During this period, over a hundred LGBTQ+ identifying individuals gathered in Washington, DC, and decided on creating a national day to celebrate coming out—this began on the 1st anniversary of their historic march."
November 20 this year is the day people across the country will honor Transgender Day of Remembrance. According to GSANetwork.org, "The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is held in November each year to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The Day of Remembrance is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder kicked off the ‘Remembering Our Dead’ web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999."
This is not a blog seeking to influence your personal feelings about LGBTQIA+ inclusion. As a shepherd of children and youth however, I offer a few best practices for youth leaders seeking ways to support students who approach them with questions or disclosures inspired by these important days.
- Don't feel you need to have all the answers. Being willing to listen and hold space for such vulnerability shows love and compassion that can mean a great deal to youth risking not just your rejection, but their place in the church.
- Be familiar with at least one local resource (such as an LGBTQIA+ community or resource center) and a few vetted national websites such as ELCA organizations ReconcilingWorks and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, Presbyterian organizations like More Light Presbyterians, Methodist organizations like Affirm, Episcopal organizations like TransEpiscopal, other affirming Christian resources like the ones on this list, and nonprofits The Trevor Project and GLSEN. Many questions that young people and their families may have can be easily answered with a call or a click when you know the right place to start.
- Maintain a tone that signals safety even when you are not in the midst of a sensitive disclosure. Trans* students highlight gender-neutral God language and referring to youth as "friends" or "neighbors" instead of the binary "boys and girls/ladies and gentlemen" as helpful. Separating groups by birth month or favorite color instead of "boys against girls," having books like Queerfully and Wonderfully Made by Leigh Finke in your classroom, and inviting guest speakers from the LGBTQIA+ community to youth events are all helpful ideas.
The U.S. News reported in June, "Between 2015 and 2019, the percentage of 15- to 17-year-olds who said they identified as ‘non-heterosexual’ rose from 8.3% to 11.7%, according to nationwide surveys by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." If you are not having regular conversations about these topics with your youth, you likely will. Now could be the time to expand the intentional inclusion of your ministry in a way that embodies grace and Christian welcome.