Friday evening, I had the opportunity to attend a film screening of the latest documentary, titled “Families are Forever,” put out by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP). This initiative, through San Francisco State University, outreaches to families with LGBTQ youth who are religious or ethnic, in order to preserve the family unit and foster acceptance and love of families toward LGBTQ identified individuals. For anyone wanting more information on the project, this is their official website, a statement by The Cesar Chavez Institute through which the project was done, and the project’s research as published in this journal and this journal.
I acknowledge, but do not wish to focus on, the technical and research aspect of the project. Those so interested can read about the research as linked to above. The one thing I will comment on is use of the “LGB” acronym in this research, and thereby the exclusion of the T: transgender. The articles in both published journals each start out by using the acronym “LGBT.” But as the study and article proceeds, the acronym explicitly becomes “LGB.” In fact, people identifying as trans have, statistically speaking, some of the highest rates of homelessness: one-fifth of respondents identifying as trans in this survey had been homeless at one time.
I came into the film screening with two questions about the project, which I asked in the Q&A session following the presentation:
1. What, in this research, defines a family?
2. Does this project address the needs of those who left their respective religious communities, and repairing relationships between the family and the individual?
The project’s director did answer these questions, albeit in a manner I found to be indirect and dismissive. However, addressing them could benefit the project in assisting more LGBTQ and religious identified youth, as doing so dismantles the project’s prioritization of marriage and active membership in the church. In reality, the structure of families and the experiences of LGBTQ and religious identified youth vary.
What defines a family is crucial in when we discuss “family,” as the term is recycled throughout the study and project. Is family defined as a group of people headed by heterosexually married biological parents? Are single and widowed parents included? What about families headed by other family members, like grandparents or aunts and uncles? And, is family defined as having blood relatives? The different structures of family affect one’s experience within it. While I was assured that the project studied “many different types of family,” the research did not clarify this question for me. Knowing what I know about the LDS church and its enforcement of normative family structures, the possibility of relying upon other forms of family than the normative and traditional ones seemed slim. However, the variance in family experience should be accounted for, as the different heads of a family constitute a LGBTQ identified youth’s experience. Moreover, should family be defined as blood relatives who put others in situations such as homelessness? While this does not address the needs of LGBTQ identified homeless, maybe there’s something wrong with how we, as a society, are defining family. A crucial difference between blood relatives, who may disagree with us, and family, people who love and accept is, should be made. After all,
A reality for some LGBTQ and religious identified individuals is that they end up leaving the church they were raised in, whether forced to or voluntary, and remain content to not be attending church. I see this situation an important one to include in the FAP. Many will question why no longer religiously-involved LGBTQ identified individuals even matter in movement such as this. If they are no longer attending Church, why should this affect them? Despite the inactivity or religious relocation of these individuals, their families may remain faithful and religious, which can cause friction in a relationship. The fact of the matter is that religion can be more than just sitting in a chapel. Religion becomes a way of life for many individuals and families. From these beliefs sprout customs, a culture, a navigation of how to live one’s life. As seen in the documentary “Families are Forever,” the Montgomerys had a life envisioned for their son before he came out to them. The religious culture within families rings true for Mormons, and for many other religions. And these traditions remain in tact with families, independent of a LGBTQ identified individual’s activity within an organized body of religion. I, personally, am still asked to pray and participate in prayer at family gatherings and meals. I, daily, deal with how was I socialized and how the conditions it mandates on my activities now. Simply quitting attending church does not free oneself from religion’s effects. And should LGBTQ youth want to leave their church, I would hope this project addresses, embraces, respects, and works with that. And should they want to stay in their church, I would hope this project addresses, embraces, respects, and works with that. I don’t think there’s one way to live as a religious and LGBTQ identified individual – we have many different experiences. And they should not be placed on a hierarchy, with one lived experience prioritized over another.
I applaud the work that FAP is doing, as the homelessness and rejection of LGBTQ youth is a pertinent issue in our society. However, I desire for the FAP to be accountable for the variance in experiences of the religious LGBTQ community, and to not prescribe one way of living to the entire body. This privileging of family structure and activity within religious spaces does more to promote assimilation into traditional family structures and religious spaces, overlooking other experiences. And maybe those other issues are what need to be accepted, by everyone.