Religions and LGBT youth: A lost generation?

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A 2009 hate-crimes law extending federal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people was seen as a crucial victory for the gay rights movement. But few believe the law will end anti-gay attacks and discrimination — especially when it comes to young people, who remain the most vulnerable LGBT population, as statistics show.

The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that about 1.6 million unaccompanied young people join the ranks of the homeless each year, and that 20 to 40 percent of these young people identify as LGBT. Many of these young people say they left home because of disagreements with their families, including religious disputes erupting from their sexual identity.

A widely broadcast “exorcism” of a gay teenager by a group of Connecticut church elders in 2009 highlighted the struggle of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (or in transition) youth within some faith groups.

Faith groups opposed to homosexuality say that episode does not reflect the usual approach to deterring or changing homosexual orientation in young people, while faith groups tolerant of homosexuality say young people should be accepted no matter what their sexual orientation. Other religious communities note that they support social services for youth whatever their issues.

Yet many scholars, pastors and other religious people say religious communities — whether opposed to homosexuality or tolerant — are not doing enough to help these teenagers. Rather, denominations have focused more on the issues of gay pastors, gay marriage and gay members than on the LGBT youth in their midst. This, they say, makes LGBT youth among the most vulnerable because of their relative immaturity and lack of resources specifically for them among faith groups.





  • YouthResource

    YouthResource, a project of Advocates for Youth, is a website by and for LGBT youth.

Articles and publications

National sources

Christian organizations

  • Center for Progressive Christianity

    The Center for Progressive Christianity is an organization that seeks to incorporate the marginalized, including LGBT people, in mainline denominations. It is based in Gig Harbor, Wash.

  • Fortunate Families

    Fortunate Families is an organization for Catholic families with LGBT sons and daughters. It is primarily for parents but has resources for getting youth to talk about their sexuality with their parents. It is based in Rochester, N.Y.

  • Gay Christian Network

    The Gay Christian Network is a ministry to LGBT Christians. It is based in Raleigh, N.C. Justin Lee is executive director.

  • Integrity USA

    Integrity USA is a nonprofit organization and the major national network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Episcopalians and supports gay ordination. It is a leading grass-roots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church and equal access to its rites. Contact operations manager David Cupps.

  • Kaleidoscope

    Kaleidoscope is an LGBT youth support and advocacy group of the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests. It has a page of youth resources, including a blog, Coming Out Strong, specifically for young LGBT people.

    Contact: 614-294-5437.
  • Soulforce

    Soulforce is a national activist group working on behalf of LGBTQ Christians. Soulforce was founded by the Rev. Mel White, a former speechwriter for conservative television evangelist Pat Robertson, and White’s partner, Gary Nixon. The group is based in Abilene, Texas.

  • Progressive Christians Uniting

    Progressive Christians Uniting began in 1996 at Claremont School of Theology as a Southern California ecumenical organization of progressive Christians in mainline Protestant churches committed to a renewal of social witness of the Christian church.

Hindu organizations

  • Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association

    The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association is an organization for LGBT Hindus and Viashnavas both in the U.S. and around the world. Contact through the form on its website.

Jewish organizations

  • JQY

    JQY is a nonprofit organization supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families in the Orthodox community. It is based in New York. Contact through the website.

    Contact: 551-579-4673.
  • Keshet

    Keshet is a Boston-based nonprofit that works for the full inclusion of LGBT Jews. It produced the documentary Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School and a companion curriculum and operates a “Safe Schools & Supportive Communities” program that targets young people. Keshet also maintains offices in Denver and San Francisco. Idit Klein is executive director.

Mormon organizations

Interfaith organizations

  • Faith in America

    Faith in America battles religious-based prejudice against LGBT people. It is not a religious organization but works with people of all faiths. It is based in Hudson, N.C. Contact through the website.

  • HeartStrong

    HeartStrong is a nonsectarian organization that supports LGBT students in religious schools and institutions. It is based in Seattle. Marc Adams is the founder and executive director.


  • Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry

    The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., supports LGBT seminarians and the schools and churches that hire them. The center provides the media with information about several experts, including its executive director, Bernard Schlager.

  • Colage

    Colage is an organization of children, youth and adults with one or more LGBT parent. It is based in Seattle, Wash. Paul Perry is the interim executive director.

  • Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

    The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is an organization that works to combat LGBT prejudice and bullying in schools. It conducts and compiles research about LGBT youth in U.S. schools. Contact Andy Marra.

  • National LGBTQ Task Force

    The National LGBTQ Task Force organizes and operates the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, a group of leaders from LGBTQ-welcoming faith organizations, and runs the Institute for Welcoming Resources, which works with eight major denominations. It maintains offices in Massachusetts, New York, Minneapolis, Florida and Washington, D.C. Contact Mark Daley.

    Contact: 202-393-5177.
  • Human Rights Campaign

    The Human Rights Campaign is the country’s largest civil rights organization working for sexual equality. Its Religion & Faith Program supports programming efforts in many different groups and also offers its own resources and event support for religious LGBT advocacy.

    Contact: 202-628-4160.


  • Marc Adams

    Marc Adams is the executive director of HeartStrong, an organization that supports LGBT youth in religious schools and institutions. He can discuss fundamentalist Christianity and abuse related to people of all sexual orientations, religious schools and LGBT youth, “ex-gay” issues and ministries and coming-out issues. He is the author of The Preacher’s Son, a memoir about growing up gay in a Christian community. He gives workshops on bullying of LGBT youth in religious schools.

  • Chap Clark

    Chap Clark is a professor of youth, family and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and directs the seminary’s youth ministry programs. Clark immersed himself in the life of a public high school in Los Angeles County, working as a substitute teacher and conducting ethnographic research there, and convened discussion groups with teenagers around the country for his book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers (Baker Academic, 2004). He is an expert on youth, how they relate to religion and their religious development.

  • Denise Eger

    Denise Eger is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Calif. She is a well-known activist, most specifically with organizations devoted to fighting AIDS as well as on LGBT issues. The synagogue’s religious school has LGBT students and children of LGBT parents, and the rabbi runs a teen support group at the synagogue twice a month. The congregation has also coordinated with other local synagogues and schools on youth issues.

  • Harry Knox

    The Rev. Harry Knox is president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national community of religious and spiritual people, denominations and organizations from all faith traditions dedicated to achieving reproductive justice. The coalition includes initiatives directed at African-American and Hispanic congregations. Knox was previously a member of the religion council of the Religion & Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign, where he helped develop a weekly preaching resource for congregations seeking to welcome and affirm LGBT people. He is a national advocate for LGBT inclusion and equality. Contact through RCRC communications director Michael Mitchell.

  • Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook

    Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, an educator, historian of religion, and practical theologian. She is currently professor of practical theology and religious education at Claremont School of Theology, and professor of Anglican Studies at Bloy House, the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont. She is the editor of Disorganized Religion: The Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults (Cowley Publications, 1998). She can discuss LGBT youth and religious education, the ways LGBT youth connect sexuality and faith, and coming-out issues.

  • Cindi Love

    The Rev. Cindi Love is the founder of FamLo, a faith-based nonprofit that works for social justice for the marginalized, including LGBT people. She is the author of Would Jesus Discriminate?: The 21st Century Question and can discuss the issues and conflicts faced by teenagers coming out in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian communities. She is also a member of the religion council of the Religion & Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign.

  • Irene Monroe

    The Rev. Irene Monroe is a syndicated columnist and the coordinator of the African American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. She has written about the black church’s failure to embrace young LGBT people. She lives in Cambridge, Mass. Contact through her website.

  • Alex Sanchez

    Alex Sanchez is a Florida-based author of several novels about being young, gay and Christian, including The God Box and Rainbow Boys.

  • Erin Swenson

    Erin Swenson, a who lives in the Atlanta area and was ordained in 1973 as Eric Karl Swenson by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in 1996 openly changed gender while working as a pastor. She is a licensed marriage therapist in Atlanta, Ga., where she works with individuals and families on gender identity issues.

  • Leanne McCall Tigert

    Leanne McCall Tigert is a United Church of Christ minister and pastoral psychotherapist. She is co-editor of Coming Out Young and Faithful and lives in Concord, N.H.

  • Rebecca Voelkel

    The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel is a United Church of Christ minister and serves on the religion council of the Religion & Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign. She is also program director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources.

  • Melissa M. Wilcox

    Melissa M. Wilcox is an associate professor of religion at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., and director of the Gender Studies Program. Her writing and research focus on the interplay of Christianity, homosexuality and identity. She is the author of Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity & Community.

  • Miguel A. De La Torre

    Miguel A. De La Torre teaches social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, where he directs the school’s Justice and Peace Institute. Issues he can discuss include religion’s effects on class/race/gender oppression, Santeria, Cuba and liberation theology. His numerous books include, as co-editor, Rethinking Latino(a) Religion and Identity and Handbook of Latina/o Theologies.

    He is a member of the religion council of the Religion & Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign.

  • Mark Jordan

    Mark Jordan is a professor of Christian thought at Harvard University’s Divinity School and is an expert on issues of homosexuality in Catholic life, especially in the priesthood. He is the author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism, 2002) and Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality (2011). He calls on the church to recognize its many gay Catholics among the leadership and the faithful. He also posits that the culture of Catholicism and gay culture have much in common and that male desire has been a central fact of the priesthood. Contact via Michael Naughton in communications.

    He has said that many of the studies and much of the research conducted on LGBT youth plays down or even ignores their religious beliefs, which are important to many of the subjects.

  • Mark Yarhouse

    Mark Yarhouse is a psychology professor at Regent University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia Beach, Va., where he is the director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. He has written widely about same-sex attraction and church counseling, including “ex-gay” ministries, and about transgender identity. He is currently involved in a study of pastors and their response to people in their congregations who are questioning their sexual identity.

    He can talk to reporters about the conflict young people experience between religious and sexual identities, ways in which that conflict might be resolved, and the role of the mental health professional in facilitating that potential resolution. He can address some of the professional ethical issues that arise when working with minors on these and related sexual and religious identity issues.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Scott L. Thumma

    Scott L. Thumma is a sociology of religion professor at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, where he also directs the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. He studies megachurches, nondenominational Christianity and congregational trends.

  • Queer Christian Fellowship

    The Queer Christian Fellowship is part of the The Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • Laurie Green

    Rabbi Laurie Green is the rabbi at Congregation Bet Mishpachah, a congregation for LGBT Jews and others in Washington, D.C.

  • John L. Selders Jr.

    John L. Selders Jr. is an ordained minister and bishop in the United Church of Christ and is the organizing pastor of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, Conn.

    He has served on the religion council of the Religion & Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign.

In the South

  • Matt Comer

    Matt Comer is the editor of Q-Notes, an online watchdog magazine for the LGBT community in the Carolinas. His coming-out story is featured in Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America (2008). There is a video of his testimony about being young, gay and Christian on YouTube.

  • Paul M. Turner

    The Rev. Paul M. Turner is pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, an LGBT-focused church in metro Atlanta. The church actively supports and participates in local Youth Pride events.

  • Durrell Watkins

    The Rev. Durrell Watkins is senior pastor at Sunshine Cathedral, a Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that is predominantly lesbian and gay. The church has a social service unit called SunServe with a support group for LGBT youth.

  • Mary Lou Wallner

    Mary Lou Wallner is the co-founder, with her husband, Bob, of Teach Ministries, an organization that works to educate Christian congregations about the dangers of homophobia. The Wallners founded the organization after the suicide of their daughter, a lesbian. They live in North Little Rock, Ark.

  • Yadi Martinez

    Yadi Martinez is youth minister at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. The church was formerly a Metropolitan Community Church, is now affiliated with the United Church of Christ and has a large number of LGBT members.

    Contact: 214-351-1901.
  • Glendale Baptist Church

    Glendale Baptist Church is an LGBT-welcoming and affirming congregation in Nashville, Tenn. It has an active youth group.

  • Congregation Etz Chaim

    Congregation Etz Chaim in Wilton Manors, Fla., is an LGBT-specific synagogue. Email through the website.

    Contact: 954-564-9232.
  • Bull Run Unitarian Universalist Church

    Bull Run Unitarian Universalist Church is located in Old Town Manassas, Va. They have hosted an annual gay prom since 2009.

In the Midwest

  • Melissa B. Simon

    Rabbi Melissa B. Simon is director of lifelong learning at Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis. She was previously a rabbinical intern at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, an LGBT-specific synagogue, where she led some of the congregation’s services for LGBT people. She is an advocate for LGBT rights.

  • Café Pride

    Café Pride is a social coffeehouse for LGBT youth sponsored by a group of area churches in suburban Chicago. Contact Alex Wirth, a pastoral resident for Lake View Presbyterian Church, one of the sponsor churches.

  • Cindy Enger

    Rabbi Cindy Enger is the rabbi at Congregation Or Chadash, an LGBT-specific synagogue in Chicago.

In the West

  • Bruce Bastian

    Bruce Bastian is the founder of the B.W. Bastian Foundation, based in Orem, Utah, which works to support LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS. Bastian’s story of growing up gay and Mormon was featured in the book Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America (2008).

  • Theresa Novak

    The Rev. Theresa Novak is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, Utah, which has a drop-in center for LGBT youth.

  • Camille Shira Angel

    Rabbi Camille Shira Angel is the rabbi of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a LGBT-specific synagogue in San Francisco. It has extensive teen programming, including organizing teen activism for LGBT rights.

    Contact: 415-861-6932.
  • Lisa Edwards

    Rabbi Lisa Edwards is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim, a LGBT-specific synagogue in Los Angeles.

  • Anna Runion

    Anna Runion is the minister for youth and social justice at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif. The church is a member of the Center for Progressive Christianity and openly welcomes and affirms people of all genders and sexual persuasions and has a relationship with the Gay-Straight Alliance chapter at a local high school.


  • Karen Oliveto

    Bishop Karen Oliveto leads the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church. She’s the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop.

  • Roland Stringfellow

    The Rev. Roland Stringfellow is an African-American Christian minister based in Oakland, Calif. He serves as director of ministerial outreach with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry on the campus of Pacific School of Religion and is also the coordinator of its African-American Roundtable. He conducts outreach and discussion about LGBT equality and the church.

  • Pamela Lee Cranston

    The Rev. Pamela Lee Cranston is a priest and vicar at St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Oakland, Calif., where one-third of the congregation is LGBT. In 2008, church members rallied in support of a “gay prom” in nearby Hayward.

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