Catholic parents of LGBT people have been some of the most passionate and effective voices for equality and inclusion in both the church and society, Their natural love for their children motivates them to try to make the world a better place for them, and so they are often tireless in their efforts. Similarly, they know that understanding or accepting a child’s sexual or gender identity can be challenging for many Catholic parents who are just learning of these realities for the first time.
So, it is fitting that two Catholic parents were honored this past weekend with a top award at the PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) convention in Washington, DC. Linda Karle-Nelson and Thomas Nelson, a married couple from the Detroit area, received PFLAG’s highest honor, the Betty DeGeneres Award (named for lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ mother) for their work not only in helping to spread the word of LGBT acceptance and family togetherness, but particularly for their advocacy and ministry within the Catholic community.
“PFLAG president Jody Huckaby said more famous and visible people were nominated for the honor — only the second time it has been given since Betty DeGeneres received the first award two years ago. But Huckaby said the Nelsons were deserving because they’re seeking to change minds while staying members of the Catholic Church.
“ ‘They are a tremendous example of parental love and affirmation. And then talking about it, and talking about it in one of the most challenging areas — the faith community,’ Huckaby said. ‘Our work in faith communities is the most important work we’re doing — because it’s not easy.’ ”
The Nelsons, who married as widowers in 2006, each have a gay son from marriages to their first spouses. They met at a PFLAG meeting and fell in love, serving as living proof that it’s a lie that LGBT advocacy doesn’t help promote heterosexual relationships and marriages! Though they work with PFLAG groups, the main bulk of their Catholic work has been as part of Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT children. Linda served as the organization’s board president, and Tom has served on the board. Both have been active in the organization’s variety of activities.
They will be hosting a Fortunate Families gathering at Detroit’s Christ the King Catholic parish on Saturday, November 9th, 2013, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You can find more information and register for this free event by clicking here. Registration deadline is November 4th.
The Detroit Free Press quoted reactions about the award from the couple’s two gay sons:
“John Karle, 44, who is gay, said his mother’s and stepfather’s activism amazes him, and inspired him to join a gay-rights protest in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
“ ‘She is such a strong and persistent voice in support, and particularly support for gay kids in schools, and in churches with their families,’ said Karle, a publicist for St. Martin’s Press and churchgoing Catholic who will be at the ceremony. ‘It inspires me. I just can’t sit back and do nothing if she’s outside marching out front of the archdiocese’s office.’ ”
“Tom Nelson’s son, Mark, who is gay, as well as three of Nelson’s five daughters, also will attend.
“ ‘I’m proud of them,’ Mark Nelson, who lives in metro Detroit.”
Tom Nelson recently published An Ordinary Catholic: A View from the Pew, a memoir on his evolution in faith and reflections on a new vision of equality and justice for the Catholic Church.
The Nelsons were featured in a previous Bondings 2.0 post when they organized a demonstration at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s headquarters to protest Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s suggestion that Catholics who support marriage equality should not receive communion.
New Ways Ministry salutes these prophetic leaders, and we are deeply grateful for their ministry and witness! May they continue to aid and inspire other Catholic parents to do likewise.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry