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The LGBTQ+ Reach: June 22-28, 2023

Father’s Day

Father’s Day, celebrated on the third Sunday of June each year, is a day many focus on honoring their dads and grandpas — paying them visits, giving them phone calls, taking them out to dinner, or otherwise showing appreciation for them.

For many, however, the day is a reminder of deep trauma and loss, prompting some to avoid social media altogether for the day.

Though stories of parental abuse, loss, and revisited trauma on Father’s Day are not limited to LGBTQ+ folks, for them parental trauma is far more prevalent, even if no longer the norm; over the weekend I read an alarming number of heartbreaking posts recalling parental abuse and abandonment.

PROUD PARENTS of this writer march in the 2015 Capital Pride Parade. (From left: Debbi, Mike, and Brian Reach. Photo: TJ Flavell)

To be clear, I’m really lucky. My parents have always shown unconditional love that never faltered. They march in Pride parades, volunteer with me, and when they lived up here regularly came to LGBTQ+ social events with me. Unlike experiences more typical to queer people, my father did not take more time than my mother to adjust — he was enthusiastic about finally being able to support me out loud (they’d known for years, waiting for me to tell them).

My Paw-Paw called the cat an early boyfriend and I had his “great-grandson” — his first acknowledgement I was gay. Every time we speak he reminds me that his father always told him “don’t judge people by their preferences; judge them by their actions.”

Even with my luck, I had an extremely hard time coming out. I waited until I was safely away at college before the subject came up with my parents (they finally intervened, told me they already knew, and loved me as-is).
Today, most LGBTQ+ youth still experience devastating familial grief, and the outcomes are hard to ignore.

According to The Trevor Project, only 38 percent of queer youth find their home to be affirming for them, and a full 41 percent have considered suicide — with 14 percent reporting a suicide attempt, including one in five trans youth — within the past year. LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to die by suicide, and at least one LGBTQ+ youth (age 13-24) attempts suicide every 45 seconds.

The same data shows that one third of LGBTQ+ youth still experience family rejection, while one third hide it to adulthood. Only one third are accepted. Twenty-nine percent report being kicked out, running away, or experiencing homelessness. Ten percent are sent to conversion therapy (which does nothing to change identity, but doubles the suicide rate).

The abusive experiences delivered by the hands of a parent to LGBTQ+ friends of mine include attempted murder, starvation, sexual and physical abuse, mental abuse, homelessness… being forced into shock therapy, locked in rooms or basements, sent to religious camps, institutionalized, or fully abandoned.

It is truly shocking that parental love can be overridden at all, especially by beliefs that aren’t based on observation, but cynical and inaccurate translations of ancient texts by religious charlatans, using the fear of hell to control people (and their tithing) with hateful self-righteousness.

Progress Stalled

If you think the numbers above are alarming, remember that family rejection and intense homophobia was nearly universal as recently as the early 1990s, with families abandoning their sons in hospitals as they slowly died from AIDS. Prior to 2003, homosexuality was illegal in Virginia and 13 other states. Today you can still be fired, evicted, denied public accommodations, and harassed — legally — for being LGBTQ+ in 23 states.

The ACLU is tracking 491 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across 46 states in 2023, most of which passed or are currently advancing. In Virginia a single Senate seat advantage kept 12 bills targeting queer folk from becoming law.

To The Fatherless

Many of the finest people I know — including a number of gay and trans fathers (nearly half of queer women and 20 percent of queer men under 50 are raising a child) — had objectively terrible or absent father figures or parents. They survived, grew, and became themselves without the stability of a warm and loving home.

In my experience, the kindest, most genuinely empathetic people are those who have experienced harm. Similarly, the most dedicated and fabulous parents are often the ones hell-bent on doing better than their own.

To those for whom this applies: I celebrate your strength and perseverance, the kindness you show others, and appreciate that you developed that on your own. You’re better equipped to listen to and comfort and support hurting people, and understand the profound impact of kindness (or a lack thereof).

Hold your heads up high. You are whole.

A Quick Primary Mention

Two candidates lost their primaries after being quite weak, if not downright problematic, on LGBTQ+ issues. Congratulations to Saddam Azlan Salim and Steve Descano for fighting, and winning, the good fight.

Thank you, allies, for voting.