Detroit Parents Receive National Award for LGBT Equality Work in Catholic Church

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.

Linda Karle-Nelson and Tom Nelson

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.

The Detroit Free Press reported on the background of the award and why this couple was chosen:

“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 Pewa 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




9 replies
  1. Lyle Becker
    Lyle Becker says:

    What an inspiration this couple is! Bravo, and thank you to them, and to New Ways Ministry, for helping all of us in the Catholic pews be “armed” with the correct words to say when we can often be tongue-tied in the face of the “do-no-wrong, know-it-all” hierarchy. (as we were taught growing up) Thank you. Blessings on your very important work. Michele & Lyle Becker, Green Bay

  2. Anton
    Anton says:

    Bravo to this couple and all parents. May their voices be loud, clear and often, because they are most important. “Are you still my mother/father?” is the important question parents hear from their LGBTQ children. “Mother Church” seems to have replied with a vociferous “NO!!!” It needs to listen to the words of Jesus from the cross to his disciple John. No excuses!!

  3. Joseph Gentilini
    Joseph Gentilini says:

    Congratulations on this award. 39 years ago my mother told me that she was sorry she ever became pregnant with me – I was a gay son she could not accept. Thank God, through the efforts of a cloistered nun, my mother reconciled with me 13 years later and my spouse (Leo) was invited to all family gatherings. She grew to love Leo (who wouldn’t!). My story is in my new book, “Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey To Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship.”

    Times are changing and I’m thrilled that society and church are beginning to show their support. I truly believe that the contemplative witness of gay persons living their lives openly is changing the church.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Linda Karle-Nelson and Tom Nelson, parents of gay children and leaders of Fortunate Families, also focused on the conscience dimension of the statement, saying it was “an invitation” and a “Jesus response” of welcoming all to Communion. […]

  2. […] their ongoing series about Catholic parents of LGBT issues. The video features the stories of  Thomas Nelson and Javier and Martha Plasencia, who describe their experiences of loving and accepting their gay […]

  3. […] contrast, Karle-Nelson and her husband, Tom, were awarded by PFLAG for their pastoral efforts within the church through Fortunate Families. They have led protests at […]

  4. […] Linda Karle-Nelson and Thomas Nelson, Catholic parents, are presented with PFLAG’s highest honor for LGBT family outreach and advocacy. 1% […]

  5. […] of some of these meetings.  Of a gathering in the Detroit, Michigan, metropolitan area, convener Linda Karle-Nelson described how that gathering revealed how much change has happened for parents over the last […]

  6. […] Detroit Parents Receive National Award for LGBT Equality Work in Catholic Church (Article) […]

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