Before ministering to LGBT Catholics we must first identify the most common preconceived ideas we have in our minds about LGBT people, because this ideas shape how we apply and communicate church doctrine. Secondly, we need to determine whether these preconceived ideas are myth or reality. If they are myth, we must set them aside.
Myth #1: You can spot a gay person by the way they dress or act
Many people think that if a man wears pink or if he’s too emotional or if a woman wears pants all the time or likes to play sports; then they must be gay. Likewise, we think that if a girl is too girly or a man too manly, then there is no way they can be gay. This is nothing but a myth, a preconceived idea that helps you create a judgment about a person. This needs to be unlearned because it prevents you from actually getting to know the person in front of you, whether gay or straight.
Myth #2: Being gay is a mental illness, or psychiatric condition
Being gay is not a mental illness, or psychiatric condition. While it was thought for a long time that being gay was some kind of mental condition, scientific research has shown that a person’s sexual orientation, whether gay, bisexual, or straight; is at least partially determined by genetics. This means that your heterosexuality is not something you consciously chose at some point in time, or after some “experimentation”, it was experienced as a given, just like a sexual orientation to a person of the same sex is experienced as a given as well.
Our Catholic Church recognizes that being gay is a complex topic and one in which we must consider the research of the biological and behavioral sciences.
In the 1997 Pastoral Letter issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children”, the USCCB states this clearly:
“There seems to be no single cause of a homosexual orientation.1 A common opinion of experts is that there are multiple factors — genetic, hormonal, psychological — that may give rise to it.“
Whenever speaking about this topic, we must consider the findings of the biological sciences and we must remember that, a sexual orientation, whether gay or straight, is a normal variation in the spectrum of human sexuality.
Myth #3: HIV/AIDS is an LGBTQ disease
No, HIV/AIDS is not exclusively an LGBTQ disease. Therefore, if you are heterosexual, you are not immune to AIDS/HIV.
Myth #4: Lesbians really just need the “right man” to set them “straight.” Gay men do not really just need the “right woman.”
To paraphrase the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
The Church teaches that sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) is a deep-seated dimension of one’s personality and recognizes its relative stability in a person.
1.Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children (1997)
2.Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination (2006)
What does this mean? It means that your heterosexuality, as well as a gay person’s homosexuality , is a deep-seated dimension of yourselves. It is not something superficial. It is not like the type of food you like or your favorite color or deciding what time you will wake up every morning. It is not like developing good habits. It is deeper than that.
At the same time, your heterosexuality, just like a gay person’s homosexuality, has relative stability. This means that if you are heterosexual person, you will be heterosexual your whole life. You will not wake up tomorrow being homosexual, just like a homosexual person will not wake up tomorrow being heterosexual. Sexual orientation is relatively stable. The Church teaches and recognizes this relative stability in sexual orientation.
What about people we encounter who claim they changed their sexual orientation?
It is important to listen to the great variety of stories of LGBT people. This includes the stories of bisexual people. Bisexuality, like any other sexual orientation, is a normal variation in the spectrum of sexual orientation. A bisexual person is able to develop an emotional, physical, spiritual, romantic connection with either men or women. Therefore, a bisexual person who may have been attracted to someone of the same sex before can naturally be attracted to someone of the opposite sex later in time (or vice versa). The stories of “change” that we often hear, may be stories told by people who are somewhere else in the spectrum.
Another source of these stories tends to be LGBT and/or heterosexual people who were previously engaged in a lifestyle of drugs, porn, or other excessive behaviors. Once they decide to stop those excessive behaviors they claim to have changed their sexual orientation. Again, a person’s sexual orientation has a relative stability in a person, therefore in these stories the change we see is a change of lifestyle from excessive behaviors to one of moderation and modesty (which of course has merits of its own).
To learn more about the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” and to understand what is myth and what is reality, read # 9 in this list.
Myth# 5: Gay men are pedophiles and child molesters
No, gay men are not, by virtue of their sexual orientation, pedophiles nor child molesters.
Now, let’s make one thing clear. Child molestation, that is the improper sexual conduct with minors (who by virtue of being minors cannot legally consent to any sexual activity), is an act of the worst kind, one that is punishable by criminal law and one that we are called to prevent in our church environments, in our homes and in our families.
Most child molesters are people who are known and trusted by the child’s family and the children themselves. Furthermore, most child molesters are straight, often married, family members.
Not too long ago I taught a class for young adult ministry leaders and I asked them: “Raise your hand if you know of anyone in your immediate or extended family who has improperly touched a child.” A whopping 1/3 of the people present raised their hands. Then I asked: “how many of them were straight married men?” 90% kept their hands up. And by the way, all of the people who raised their hands were women. It is not that the men present in the room didn’t have any child molesters in their extended family, it’s just that they were not aware of situations of abuse within their families.
As a child, I remember my mom telling me: “be careful with this, and this, and this family member,” “never let them touch your private parts.” Women are particularly aware of child molestation because we are constantly having to protect ourselves and our kids. Some men are also aware because they engage in these difficult conversations or because they have suffered from it. But you’d be surprised by how many people never engage in this conversation with their families. These are conversations we all need to have for prevention, but also for awareness.
One last comment about pedophiles and child molestation. As Catholics, we are quite familiar with this because we have seen it happen in our Church as well: a small amount of pedophile priests cast a shadow on the large number of good priests, and we are called to never let this happen again. For this reason, if you are a minister or volunteer you are required to take VIRTUS training (or something similar)… AND If you have taken this training, then you know that child molesters do not molest children because they are gay or straight, nor because they are married or celibate.
Myth #6 People become gay because they were abused.
LGBTQ people are not LGBTQ because they were abused. Now before I continue, please realize that these are complex topics that cannot be fully discussed in a few short paragraphs; however, there are a couple things we should consider.
First of all, in order to claim that one thing causes another, one must have a statistically significant correlation between the cause and the alleged result, and there is no such a thing here. What this means is that, if this myth was real, if there was a real causal connection between abuse and homosexuality, then ALL, or at least a statistically significant number of people who have ever been abused, would be gay. Yet, that is not the case. For most people who have ever been abused, their sexual orientation remains the same: if they were heterosexual before, they grow up to become mothers and fathers in heterosexual relationships. Nothing changes. Because there is no statistically significant correlation between abuse and sexual orientation, we cannot claim one thing causes the other.
However; it is true that people who abuse others tend to target vulnerable people. LGBT Kids are prime targets of pedophiles for several reasons. Abusers tend to target children who seem more vulnerable or who do not have good relationships or communication with their parents because it’s easier to manipulate them so they will feel guilty and they will not speak up. The LGBT community is particularly vulnerable to these abuses and we are called to recognize this and protect all children.
Myth #7: LGBTQ people are trying to brainwash everyone to be gay
If there is anyone who knows one cannot be brainwashed to change one’s sexual orientation, it is the LGBT community. LGBT people are not trying to brainwash anyone, they are just trying to make others aware of their struggles in a society that too often dismisses what they have to say.
Myth #8 : LGBTQ people, by virtue of their sexual orientation, are unhealthy/unfit parents.
We often hear people say that LGBT people are unhealthy/unfit parents and that if they raise that kid the kid will grow up to be gay. This is a myth. Kids who are LGBT are most often raised by straight parents, and it is not the parent’s fault that the kid is LGBT. It is not anyone’s fault and the American Bishops have stated this beautifully in their Pastoral Letter “Always our Children” which you are welcome to google, and read, and pray over.
Whether someone is an unhealthy/unfit parent depends on many other aspects of life and values. There are unhealthy/ unfit parents in both the heterosexual and homosexual communities, just like there are healthy/fit parents in both communities as well.
- Myth# 9: LGBTQ people are promiscuous and their “homosexual lifestyle” is evil
Let’s break this down a little bit.
When we hear people use the phrase “homosexual lifestyle,” they are usually referring to one of two things: either they are talking about a lifestyle of promiscuity combined with pornography, drinking, crazy partying, and things of that sort; or they’re talking about two people of the same sex who are in a faithful, committed relationship with one another and who have decided to spend a lifetime together and get civilly married. These are two very different things.
If we are talking about people who are civilly married and committed to each other, then the worst they’re doing is that they are not following Church Doctrine on Chastity (assuming they are sexually active), which so many straight people do not do as well. As I mentioned earlier this blog is not about marriage, but If you want a longer discussion on chastity and the beauty of it, you can watch the video on Church Doctrine and Pastoral Care.
Now if we are talking about a promiscuous, crazy lifestyle there are a couple of things we need to take into consideration.
Number 1: we need to acknowledge our own sins. People with crazy, promiscuous lifestyles come in all colors and sexual orientations: gay, straight, etc. if I go to a straight night club I will see people drinking, grinding on each other, looking for someone to have casual sex with. If I made a conclusion that all straight people are that way, I would be wrong. If I made a conclusion that all of the straight people at this club on this night are doing these things, I would be wrong. If I made a conclusion that straight people who are doing this do it all the time, I would be wrong. This lifestyle exists in both the gay and the straight world and we need to acknowledge our own community’s sins.
Number 2: why is it that this is so highlighted in the LGBT community? Well, first because that is what is most visible. Modesty is not visible. Because modest LGBTQ people just as modest straight people are not as visible, but unlike their straight counterparts, modest LGBT people are even less visible because they tend to be very private about their lives.
There is however, a study done by the San Francisco State University in which they researched the incidence of risky behaviors such as suicide attempts, depression, drug consumption, and HIV infection in the LGBT community. This study found that there is one thing that is directly correlated with a higher incidence of these behavior: family rejection. LGBT people who experience high levels of family rejection (and by extension, of societal rejection) are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases; than those LGBT people who experience low levels of family rejection. ( You can find a link to this study in the “Resources” section).
So, just by being loving and Jesus-like to our LGBT brothers and sisters, we can make a big difference.
Myth# 10: LGBT people are anti-religion
As someone who has met many wonderful LGBT Catholics, and as an LGBT Catholic myself, I can firmly say this is not quite accurate. Yes, historically, there has been a divide between religious communities and the LGBT community. Any LGBT Catholic can tell you that it is as hard to come out gay in the Catholic Community as it is to come out Catholic in the gay community. However, much of this divide is the result of a lack of dialogue. And that’s why this blog is an attempt to bridge that gap.
Reality #1: LGBT people are like you and me
This is 100% true. They have dreams, aspirations, virtues and God-given gifts, just like everyone else.
Reality #2: Gay people have a spiritual longing to get close to God and grow spiritually.
This is true. LGBT people also have that longing, but it is often hard for them to a find a religious community that will accept them and give them a true sense of belonging. Yet, the hunger is still there. Who will feed the hungry?
Reality #3: Even today, LGBT people have to face more challenges, suffer undue abuse and discrimination at the family and social level.
100% True. Still today. Let us pray for the killed and wounded in Orlando. Let us pray for the homeless youth whose great majority is LGBT kids who have been kicked out of their homes and often become targets and victims of human trafficking. Let us pray. Let us act.
4. Reality#4: LGBT people can be profoundly affected by family and societal rejection that causes high level of suicide attempts and other difficulties
True. The statistics are painful. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 15-24. LGB youth are almost four times as likely to try to commit suicide as a heterosexual youth, and 40% of transgender youth have tried to commit suicide at some point.
For intervention and suicide prevention material, visit the resources section of this page.