This past weekend, thousands of people in marches across the United States protested the separation of refugee and immigrant children from their families. Like many other people of conscience who believe everyone is worthy of dignity and respect, I was horrified to the point of tears when I heard the recording Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) played on the House floor of refugee children, some babies, crying for their missing parents.
In response to this draconian practice by our government of separating families, the PBS show NOVA aired a segment called “Separation and the Child’s Brain.” After detailing what areas and systems of a child’s brain are harmed when she is separated from her parent, one of the psychologist’s interviewed, Dr. Robin Deutsch of William James College, said, “…I think the prognosis for most of these children is they’re not going to be okay.” The bond between child and parent is so vital for the wellbeing of the child that even brief separations can damage her level of trust and her ability to form attachments for the rest of her life. That is only one of several negative outcomes, the worst being early death.
When my youngest daughter was five years old, she was diagnosed with cancer. For the first year of treatment, she spent at least 4 months in the hospital, separated from friends and the life she knew, being prodded and poked, and given all sorts of chemotherapy medications that made her sick and weak. When she woke up from anesthesia after lumbar punctures to administer chemotherapy into her spinal column, the first thing she would do is reach for our hands. Like all kids, she would call out to us when she was scared, seeking comfort and assurance she was safe.
My husband and I made sure our daughter was never alone. My mother-in-law came from Tennessee to stay at the hospital over night when I couldn’t because I had another young daughter who needed my attention, as well, and my husband had to work. We went to great lengths to ensure that our daughter, although traumatized by the medical treatments that would save her life, was not further traumatized by a lack of emotional and physical support from her parents.
The bonds we form with our parents stay with us for the rest of our lives. Although my own parents passed away over 4 years ago, during a difficult time of painful health issues, I longed for my mom to be by my side. Whether our relationship with our parents is full of love and trust, or if those relationships are more challenging, there is still an elemental need for connection. So when a friend of mine—I’ll call him Brad—married his long-time boyfriend a few years ago and his family refused to come to the ceremony due to “religious objections,” Brad, a successful businessman, fell into a deep funk, feeling abandoned, dismissed and uncared for. I have several friends who have experienced this same type of rejection from parents who refused to attend their weddings or to acknowledge their partners.
Another friend—“Steve”—has been disowned by his fundamentalist family until he “admits homosexuality is wrong and repents.” Like many other LGBTQ+ people from evangelical Christian homes, Steve was given an ultimatum—renounce a core aspect of himself, or lose his family.
Sadly, parental rejection of LGBTQ+ children is common, especially in the evangelical world where pastors and other leaders tell congregants that attending their child’s wedding would be celebrating homosexuality, that calling their trans child by their chosen name and using pronouns their child is comfortable with would be encouraging “sin.”
It is ironic, and pitiful, that the people who claim to hold “family values” place very little value on the family if its members don’t comply with a rigid set of rules that are often punitive and stifling, which, of course, is the opposite of unconditional love. Those of us who were affiliated with the “ex-gay” movement were part of this toxic strain of Christianity that touted the importance of family while simultaneously tearing them apart. We told parents that the choice was theirs, but their children would be much less likely to leave homosexuality if they, their parents, condoned it.
In a study released earlier this year, John R. Blosnich, of West Virginia University’s Injury Control Research Center and his fellow researchers, using data collected by the University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium from college students aged 18 to 30 years old, found that lesbian and gay youth who considered religion important were 38 percent more likely to experience suicidal ideation than those who said religion was less important. Among lesbians alone who considered religion important, there was a 52 percent increase in suicidal thoughts than those who weren’t religious.
From my experience, I would venture to say that much of the angst young, religious LGBTQ+ people feel is rooted in their strained relationships with their families. This makes me long for the day when families are truly seen as valuable, and its members embraced for their unique differences, not forced to live in self-deceit, or lonely agony. We can do better. We can be better
Read about Yvette’s personal story at “Finding My True Self.” You will be glad you did.