As part of its efforts to end the harm caused to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families when religion-based bigotry is used to justify condemnation, discrimination and even violence, the nonprofit Faith in America will release a short film this week entitled Not a Sin in anticipation of this month’s Papal visit to the U.S. and the upcoming Presidential primaries.
The film shares the heartbreaking stories of three LGBT teens who became homeless after being rejected by their families because their families’ religious beliefs would not permit them to accept their children’s sexual orientation. The film is the vision of Mitchell Gold, chair-man and cofounder of renowned home furnishings brand Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, who founded Faith in America in 2005 and who has made it his mission to advocate for “getting homosexuality off the sin list” of religious organizations that consider same-sex orientation a sin.
“When you listen to the wonderful young people in the film, you can’t help but think how their lives would be so much better if they had the love and support of their families,” Gold said. “If religious organizations would stop telling their congregants that homosexuality is a sin, many young people would not be forced to leave their homes. And there is precedent for religious organizations making such a change: It has happened in regard to slavery and to women, to name two of the most well-known. Just this past week the Pope changed the rules about divorce!”
In creating the film, Faith in America collaborated with New York City’s Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. The film features three young people – Manny, Amaya and Lola – who became home- less at ages 16, 14 and 17, respectively. They talk frankly about something many of us have never experienced…and can’t even imagine causing our children to experience: what it’s like to be a vulnerable teen, alone in the world with no emotional, spiritual or financial support. And they show how much the shelter, love and acceptance the Ali Forney Center provides impacts their young lives.
Carl Siciliano, founder and Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, is a Catholic and a former monk. His goal, he says, is not to attack religion, but rather to ask that people of faith protect LGBT youth from harm. The film, he explains, “is about a terrible problem – that of LGBT teens being rejected by religious parents and caregivers, and driven to homelessness in the streets. It calls for people of faith to recognize how religious teachings that condemn homosexuality create an environment in which countless LGBT teens are being terribly harmed. This film appeals to the love and compassion at the heart of religious belief to inspire a change in teachings so that young people will be safer.”
In his work, Siciliano sees firsthand how religious teachings that make a young LGBT person feel broken cause much harm.
“Anti-gay religious families are much more likely to reject their LGBT children. LGBT youths who have been rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those from accepting families. Rejection causes many LGBT youth to suffer deep depression and abuse drugs and alcohol. The overall LGBT population is about 5-7 percent…yet 40 percent of homeless kids are LGBT. And one of the most painful statistics: 40 percent of transgender youth between 16 and 24 attempt suicide.”
“There are so many tragic situations in our world that are difficult or impossible to fix,” said Gold. “Discrimination against LGBT youth is not one of them. It can be fixed with knowledge, understanding and compassion. LGBT people often suffer a marginalized life because their families and religious institutions teach that ‘homosexuality is a sin.’ Those exact words may not be used, but that’s the meaning behind each particular denomination’s condemnation of LGBT people. They may say it’s ok to be gay as long as you don’t act on it. Or the sin is the behavior. Regardless, LGBT people who live out their truths are too often not only condemned emotionally, but also find themselves at great physical risk.”
Gold added, “As you watch Not a Sin, we hope you will open your hearts and minds. That you will not be complicit in causing the harm. Think about what it would be like to be Manny…not having a loving father in your life, losing your supportive and accepting mother at 16 and then learning no one in your family wants you because you are a ‘fag.’ Also reflect on Lola, who as a very young teen shared her truth with her grandmother, only to be subjected to vicious verbal abuse and harsh condemnation. Imagine being Amaya in a small, cold Midwestern town…born a girl, but feeling like a boy inside. And your confusion is exacerbated by a family that not only doesn’t understand you, but also condemns your very being.”
The solution, Gold and Siciliano concur, is somewhat simple: recognize how harmful these religious teachings are and stop.
“Find it in your heart and mind to re-examine your understanding of your scripture. More and more people are seeing that, upon closer study, it really doesn’t say what someone might have tried to lead you to believe,” said Siciliano.
Gold asks that you join him, Faith in America, Carl Siciliano and the Ali Forney Center and many more in saying enough is enough.
“People using the Bible to cause grievous harm has been wrong in the past, and it is wrong today,” he said
He suggested three key ways people can help: 1.) Watch the film and share it, insuring its powerful message of ending the harm gets heard, especially by those who need to hear it most. 2.) Make your voices heard by signing Faith in America’s petition on change.org, asking religious leaders and those who teach that same-sex orientation is a sin to stop. 3.) Learn more and offer your support by visiting FaithinAmerica.org and AliForneyCenter.org.