In a recent essay for Faith on View Daily, a Catholic pediatric therapist wrote eloquently on the need to care for LGBTQ+ youth.
Julie Nichols explained how her background as a pediatric specialty therapist and a convert to Catholicism have helped her understand that affirming the identities of LGBTQ+ young people is a life issue.
“While I remain faithful to my church I feel that it is time to speak out in favor of affirming the identities of LGBTQIA+ youth,” Nichols wrote. “My eyes started opening two years ago when I encountered suicidal LBGTQ youth from conservative Christian homes whose suicidal ideations occurred at higher rates than their non-religious/progressive Christian peers.”
Since then, her journey towards understanding experiences of trans and queer youth has continued. The current political climate, in particular recent legislation that aims to block access to gender-affirming care for young transgender people, further galvanized Nichols to speak out.
She drew on her professional background, particularly her work with neurodiverse and disabled children, to gain a better understanding of LGBTQ+ people’s experiences. People’s lives are rarely organized by binaries, she realized, but more often according to spectra.
“The LGBTQ spectrum is not a disability spectrum but indeed a true spectrum of psychology, not a ‘gay agenda’ or a ‘personal choice’ as so many who don’t know claim over the medical consensus of professionals,” Nichols wrote.
She said that acceptance of LGBTQ+ children’s differences is crucial to their very survival, especially in religious settings:
“When one parent fully supports their LBGTQ children, the suicide rate dramatically drops. The suicide rate in LBGTQ youth from conservative religious families and churches is twice as high as it is for those from non-religious/more progressive religious homes and churches.”
Nichols has come to see that accepting LGBTQ+ children as they are, without trying to change them into someone heterosexual or cisgender, is fundamentally a life issue.
She acknowledged that she has struggled to fit together her faith and her perspective on LGBTQ+ issues, but credited Pope Francis’ attitude of inclusion for helping her discernment:
“My Catholic faith… helped me place the sanctity of life, the dignity of the human person, and unconditional love above any doctrinal struggles I had. Pope Francis tells Catholic parents of LGBTQ children to support and love their children unconditionally and not reject them.”
She urged her readers to look at the “good fruit” borne by acceptance of LGBTQ+ people and to make Christian churches more inclusive spaces:
“Fully accepting and including transgender/gender dysphoric children would be no different than fully including and accepting children with disabilities and/or neurodiversity like Autism. Being LGBTQ+ is not a disability, but it is part of being on a spectrum intrinsic to being human. LBGTQ kids need unconditional love and support, especially from other Christians, for their dignity, the sanctity of their lives, and suicide prevention. Love and support from other Christians is seen as love and acceptance from God.”
By sharing her own journey to greater understanding and allyship, Nichols models openness to learning and to listening. Her essay is a compassionate call to make the church a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ youth to grow into the people God created them to be.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, August 27, 2022