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Catholic preacher tells parents: ‘Love your trans daughter as I do’

Catholic preacher tells parents: ‘Love your trans daughter as I do’

The death last Sunday morning of Leelah Alcorn in Ohio has again led many to question the impact of religious doctrine upon the lives of LGBTI people.

‘We don’t support that, religiously,’ said Carla Alcorn – Leelah’s mother – when asked by CNN reporter about her daughter’s desire to transition.

In Leelah’s own suicide note, she complained about her parent’s devoutly Christian beliefs preventing them from supporting their transgender child.

At the same time, on the same day that Leelah decided to end her life, another parent of an LGBTI child was demonstrating that being a Christian doesn’t mean rebuffing your transgender child.

Last Sunday was Holy Family Sunday. Held on the first Sunday after Christmas, the day is a celebration of the holy family of Catholic doctrine (Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St Joseph).

To mark the occasion, Deacon Ray Dever of St Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida, wrote a deeply personal piece for the New Ways Ministry Blog about his own family. Specifically, about learning that he had a transgender daughter.

He describes how his daughter revealed that she was trans in the fall of 2013. She was at the beginning of her sophomore year at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and in coming out, became one of three openly trans students at the institution.

‘This happened just a few weeks after the now famous Pope Francis interview that made “Who am I to judge?” part of our vernacular. And with those events, my family found ourselves plunged into all the questions and issues that Catholic families with LGBTQ children face.’

‘Our journey has probably not been very different than the journey of any family with an LGBTQ child. It really began with our daughter descending into a deep depression during high school.

‘We would learn more about depression and mental illness, about suicidal ideations and self-injurious behavior, about therapists and anti-depressant medications than we ever could have imagined or wanted.

‘That journey would eventually lead to questions of gender identity that were intimately connected with her mental health struggles.’

‘When our daughter came out, my wife and I experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parents do in that situation – shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, conflict with what the Church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of our son, fear and worry for what the future would hold for her. There were arguments, sleepless nights, and prayers – lots of prayers.’

‘We slowly came to the realization that we hadn’t lost the person who had been our son. In fact, in many respects we got our child back, as she embraced her gender identity and emerged from the depths of depression.

‘All the creativity, humor, empathy, and intelligence that make her an exceptional person are still there and are shining through stronger than ever. And I’d like to think that the acceptance of her immediate and extended Catholic family have played some part in that positive transformation.’

Dever acknowledged that family support for LGBTI children is ‘often problematic for Catholic families’. He goes on to say how shocked he was to discover – when he visited an LGBTQ Center and spoke with staff there – how many parents reject their children.

‘While I am certainly not qualified or authorized to speak for the Church on LGBTQ issues, I have been commissioned by the Church through ordination to proclaim and to preach the Gospel.

‘And if one thing is crystal clear in the public ministry and teachings of our Lord, it is that everyone is included in His love and mercy and forgiveness, and that we are all called to do the same.

‘As the Church calls us to do first and foremost, follow your conscience, love own another, and especially love your children.’