Pastoral Care of the Queer Person: Questions for the Synod

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Catholic community here.

San Francisco's Archbishop Cordileone was met with strong opposition to his participation in the recent March for Marriage. In response he wrote a letter stating, "Please do not make judgments based on stereotypes, media images, and comments taken out of context. Rather, get to know us first as fellow human beings."

The question must be asked, are we as a Church getting to know our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, or do we make judgments based on stereotypes and media images?

The media often paint an image of the LGBTQ community by showing radical and flamboyant images from gay pride parades, but does that truly reflect the reality of this population?

The research paints a very different image than the media. It's not an image of parties and parades; rather it shows a marginalized population disproportionately experiencing homelessness and abuse. It has become common knowledge among homeless social service providers that as many as 40 percent of the homeless youth population identifies as LGBTQ. According to a Center for American Progress report, "LGBTQ youth continue to be disproportionately represented among homeless youth in our country, and their experiences of homelessness continue to be characterized by violence, discrimination, poor health, and unmet needs."

Many factors contribute to the issue of homelessness for queer youth, but commonly it is precipitated by a lack of support or understanding from their family and communities. Experiencing discrimination in their home, school, religious community, and/or the social systems can have a detrimental effect on them. This lack of social support is a contributing factor for the high risk of physical health issues, mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicide.

Homelessness is difficult for everyone; for queer youth without some support system the strain puts them at especially high risk as many—lacking safe and solid options—end up exchanging sex for money, shelter, and basic needs. They are more likely to be robbed, attacked, sexually assaulted, and to have HIV/AIDS. The resultant instability and stress in their lives mean many queer youth struggle with mental health issues. Often they are dealing with trauma that results in anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Substance abuse becomes common. There is also a higher rate of suicide among queer youth.

What has been stunning to service providers is the data collected during San Francisco's 2013 Homeless Count, which found 29 percent of the overall homeless population in the City identify as LGBTQ. San Francisco may be the "gay mecca," but the overall percentage of queer people living in the city is only 15 percent. It became glaringly obvious that homelessness and poverty among queer people isn't limited to just the youth, that homelessness among the LGBTQ people is a much larger issue than previously understood.

The same-sex marriage movement has been the defining LGBTQ issues of our times, and the media portray this as being the optimal goal in the quest for equality, yet for most queer people marriage is not high on their priority list. It is of little benefit to the disproportionate levels of poor and homeless queer people, and viewed by many as the great red herring of equality. It distracts from important, life-and-death, issues this marginalized population is facing.

In an interview Timothy Cardinal Dolan stated, "We gotta do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. And I admit, we haven't been too good at that. We try our darndest to make sure we're not an anti-anybody." When asked about how that outreach might work he responded, "I don't know. We're still trying. . . We've got to listen to people."