In the Crosshairs, at the Crossroads: Perspectives of LGBTQI Delegates
Series introduction: Given that the fate of LGBTQI people is at the center of the struggle over the future of the UMC, and that LGBTQI people represent less than 2% of the General Conference delegates (1.39%, to be exact), the experience and perspective of this group of delegates is of critical value to church leaders, other delegates, and the wider church. There can be no viable or lasting way forward that is not forged with LGBTQI people. As a small contribution to that path, this series brings you the voices of LGBTQI-identified delegates.
“United Methodist Church: Care for the Children”
Rev. Gregory D. Gross
The Special Called Session of General Conference will be the third GC to which I will serve as a delegate. My hope and prayer for this session is the same as the first: to amplify the voices and experiences of the young people I serve each day so others across the connection may hear from them.
My appointment as a Deacon in Full Connection is to a social service agency which seeks to provide housing, healthcare, and a human connection to those struggling with homelessness and/or poverty in Chicago. In addition to our health outreach programs, we operate a network of five shelters for homeless youth and young adults. In Chicago, more than 11,000 unaccompanied people between the ages of 14 and 24 struggle with homelessness a year.  Many of them face complex challenges, including those rejected because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Young people who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) are more than twice as likely to report being homeless than their non-LGBT peers. 
At our low-threshold, emergency shelter for young adults aged 18-24, over half the guests each night identify as LGBTQ and over 70% are people of color. When we ask them about their experiences and why they have been living on the streets, they tell us about coming out to their families as LGBTQ. Sometimes, they have told their parents that they think they may be queer and questioning their identities. Sometimes, their parents discovered their identity. This leads to their parents telling them, “not under my roof” and kicking them out of their homes. Or their parents threaten them with violence or do beat them in hopes of changing them so the young person flees the home to protect themselves. Whichever the case, the end result is the same: a young person is alone and on the harsh streets of Chicago.
Many people say, “I live in a small, rural community and this doesn’t happen here. We don’t have homeless youth on the streets.” Yeah, you’re right. It’s because when they end up without shelter, they make their ways to the nearest city in hopes of more opportunity or at least a greater chance of blending in. We are caring for your young people.
Now, I’m often asked, “how could a parent do this to their own child?” Well, I’ve asked. The most frequent answers? “My faith tells me being gay isn’t ok.” “My church says it’s a sin.” “I can’t enable this.” “I can’t let you corrupt your siblings with these ways.”
In other words, LGBTQ youth and youth adults end up on the streets because the United Methodist Church teaches that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching! This teaching is hurting our children. At the very least, The UMC is complicit in youth being beaten, threatened, and kicked out of their homes– if not the cause itself. Kids as young as 14 years of age.
What happens once they’re on the streets? Well, we know that 1/3 of youth are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of being on the streets? Sex work becomes a means of survival. When you’re kicked out, many times all that young people have are their selves, their bodies, so it becomes a means of income or a hot meal. Maybe you’ll even be allowed to stay the night in a warm bed.
According to a 2016 US Dept of Health and Human Services report, each month a young person is on the streets the odds of them being victimized increases by 3%. Each month. According to the study, 63% of homeless youth in Chicago have experienced at least one of the following victimizations while homeless: threatened or wounded with a weapon, robbed, beaten up, or sexually assaulted. 
But these aren’t just numbers. These are individuals. Children of God. In my work, I’ve sat with young people who have experienced all of this. I’ve provided support for a young woman who was raped the night before. I’ve sat with a young person who was covered in purple bruises which were the result of having been beaten by their mother. I’ve had to tell a 16 year old who had been living on the streets for the past two years that he was now HIV+. I’ve cared for these youth. I’ve cried for these youth. I now advocate for these youth.
This is why I return to General Conference. This is why I am such a passionate advocate for LGBTQ inclusion. Yes, I am gay myself. But I don’t do this work for myself. Even growing up in rural Ohio, I’ve had it relatively easy when compared to many LGBTQ people, and I know that. Yes, I’ve been threatened and have had death threats because of this advocacy. But as a Christian, it is my duty to care for the least and the last. This means LGBTQ youth. As a Deacon, my calling is to bridge the church and world. This often means bringing the message of Christ to the world. But in this case, it also means bringing the message of the world back to the church. In this case, it means: Church, stop victimizing the children. You are doing real and lasting harm.
Church, care for your children!
- Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. 2016 Estimate of Homeless People in Chicago, 2018
- Morton, M. H., Samuels, G. M., Dworsky, A., & Patel, S. Missed opportunities: LGBTQ youth homelessness in America. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 2018.
- Family and Youth Services Whitbeck, L., Crawford, D., Hautala, D., Welch Lazoritz, M. (2016). Administration for Children and Families Bureau Street Outreach Team: Data Collection Study Final Report.
Rev. Gregory Gross is a clergy delegate from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference to Special General Conference 2019.
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