The False Promise of Continued Safe Space for Youth

(A note before we begin: I am purposely not naming any of the organizations that I am talking about for various reasons, but mainly because I want to talk about experiences, not point fingers.)

I grew up in a Christian household and as a result I was a kid and a teenager with some conflicting beliefs.

  1. God loves you, no matter what.
  2. But not x or y or z people. They are not to be talked about. We can’t talk about it.

Maybe it’s just me, but secrecy surrounding our faults seems to be the norm, especially in religious communities.  This has always seemed odd because most of the stories we are told as kids are about Jesus’ refusal to be silenced about his love for the outcasts of the community.

With this foundation in mind, I entered the world of high school youth group. At fifteen years old, I decided to intentionally be open and honest about all of the pieces of my identity as a person—including the LGBT parts. Over this time, I have seen the immense confusion that  people within this community have had with the “love all/silence some” policy that seems to silently exist within the Church.

I came out as bisexual first. For my entire life, I had been told that I wasn’t allowed to love fully, openly, or maybe even at all. And I wanted to talk about it. As I voiced these thoughts, I was met with some surprising responses, despite the fact that I had never heard anyone else bring these topics or questions up. While I was well-meaningly lectured about homosexuality by several people, the majority of my conversations were really honest and created more conversation about how our identities and our beliefs interact. They cared, deeply, and while a lot of people weren’t sure what to think or what to say, they always expressed that they were there for me and wanted to be a part of my life, even if a part of my life was rather strange to them.

I was sixteen when I came out as a transgender guy, and this was around the same time that I started to feel like I was a problem. I found myself spending less time conversing and more time arguing for respect regarding my name and pronoun usage, spending a lot of exhausting hours defending myself as a person. Certainly part of this was due to a lack of information about what it means to be transgender, but I got the feeling that it was also because suddenly my body (and what I did or did not do with it) became even more of a battleground for people to wrap their minds around.

However, despite the arguments and discomfort, I continued to build strong relationships with the leaders of my various youth groups who wanted to know why I felt this way and who wanted to talk about my feelings about Christianity in relation to my experience as a member of the LGBT community. It was a rocky period of time but there was still the core feeling of being cared about.

When I turned 18, things took a complete 180.

I showed up for a youth retreat during what would be my last time around this particular group. I had registered as male, after asking about what could or would happen (and was reassured that I would be treated similarly to how I had been treated before). Notably, this discussion of safety had happened over the past year, with someone who would not be present at that particular program. When I arrived, I was met with outright hostility after being told that my housing had been switched to a girl's dorm, without warning. I was then denied any assistance in leaving (which I could not do without a car ride). All my attempts to reach out to the leaders I had built relationships with in the past were met with silence.

After a weekend filled with jabs at my authenticity, being told that I was a liar and that I was not welcome back until I had the paperwork and the body to match, I felt completely ostracized and silenced. I felt done. I felt like all of my hard work was for nothing. I had spent three years finding some semblance of sort-of-safe-space with this group of people, creating honest relationships with youth leaders, and it was all over. It’s been over a year now and still no one replies to my attempts at communicating.

This experience isn’t uncommon, and the more I talk about it, the more I’m hearing people say “me too!”, and I find it concerning that there is only a temporary welcome for LGBT youth, and an ice-cold wall for the same individuals as adults.

What changes about the God who unconditionally loves us when we grow up?