Catholic Therapist Writes About Personal Journey to Being an Ally for LGBTQ+ Youth

Julie Nichols

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

12 replies
  1. Tom Cieslinski
    Tom Cieslinski says:

    Great essay. Children esp LGBTQ+ humans need families and church faith communities where there’s safe spaces. Not threats to safety but a trusting enriching support safety net. In Child Protective Services, I saw many youth enter substitute group homes in order to find safety. Youth thrive when safe and supported.
    Tom Cieslinski MSW

    Reply
  2. Brother Clifford
    Brother Clifford says:

    Greetings. Awesome. Daily happily receive the ENEWSLETTERS from Joseph House. Thank you Julie Nichols for your daily serving the youth, especially in the LGBTQ+ communities. Would appreciate hearing from you, as I am deeply interested in this type of information and entering into myself. My daily prayers flow to you and those whom you serve.
    Blessings and PEACE, Clifford,o.u.m.

    Reply
  3. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    As a dad with a transgender adult kid, words cannot express my gratitude for this post!

    The author touches on so many issues that need to be understood and appreciated by families, the church, and society at large.

    Reading this post made me feel like our family is not alone, there is hope! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Julie Nichols
      Julie Nichols says:

      Duane, I’m so glad this was helpful. I am a member of Dignity as well in San Antonio. I have two LBGTQ children of four.–Julie Nichols

      Reply
        • Julie Nichols
          Julie Nichols says:

          Good Morning, Duane. More material is coming out soon, including a video from the largest ecumenical LBGTQ Christian ministry in the world called Freedhearts and an article from Outreach. I will share it with you.

          Reply
  4. Julie Nichols
    Julie Nichols says:

    Thank you, Tom Cieslinski, Brother Clifford, John Hilgeman, and Duane Sherry. This is the author of the primary article, Julie Nichols. Thank you for your heartwarming comments. I too am a parent of 2 LBGTQ adult children, not just a practitioner. Brother Clifford, I am sending you a message to your religious order at Joseph House.

    Other large faith publishers are publishing commentaries on my idea that affirming the lives and human dignity of LBGTQIA+ youth/young people is pro-life.  This is following mainstream collective science and research over decades, not a rogue doctor outside the worldwide consensus. This is why I was able to say, “I am wrong as a parent and practitioner, and the medical consensus is right, especially over what we’ve been through with two of our own LBGTQ young adults.” Knowing how conservative I’ve been on the LBGTQ issue for all of my adult life, it was unconditional love for my children and patients that brought me to this point. Their lives and human dignity mattered more to me than anything else. 

    Patheos, the largest faith news publisher in the world, took me on as a professional writer. New Ways Catholic Ministry LBGTQIA+ ministry just published this commentary while the new Outreach LBGTQIA Catholic ministry is writing a commentary on this idea as well.  The largest LBGTQIA Christian ministry in the world called Freedhearts is broadcasting a podcast on my life and human dignity path to affirmation instead of debating sexuality doctrine, as this has been the affirmation path for 50 years.  Last, the lead for LBGTQIA ministries at Saddleback Church in California is starting a podcast series with me on affirming through life and human dignity path.  This is all an extension of my therapy practice.

    In the past, the path to affirmation has been deconstructing the Scripture and saying that homosexual acts are or aren’t sins.  Since there is so much debate in the Christian world over contraception, divorce and remarriage, and a number of other sexual doctrines, etc….., this argument does not save lives, but a sanctity of human life and human dignity approach does! I am very conservative in my personal interior life, but forcing doctrine to the point of damaging and killing people, especially youth, isn’t pro-life or humane. Very little of LBGTQ issues has anything to do with sexual acts but the right-to-life and humanity. When we start debating those, we debate their right to exist as human beings.  This is why Pope Francis has come out in defense of parents supporting their gay kids and not rejecting them. Knowing the life and humanity issues as a parent and practitioner, I take take it all the way to full affirmation as an individual.

    Young lives and hearts may be exponentially saved, and that is hopefully something people rejoice about.

    Much Love—Julie Nichols

    Reply
  5. Julie Nichols
    Julie Nichols says:

    Brother Clifford, please post a link to your religious order. There are a handful of “Joseph Houses.” God Bless—Julie Nichols

    Reply

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