By Tom Nelson and Linda Karle-Nelson
When we discovered our calling in life was to minister to others through our Catholic faith, it took a specific focus on inclusivity for LGBTQ people. That’s why in 2014, we started Fortunate Families Detroit, now known as Families With Dignity. We are pleased to be affiliated with Dignity USA. We established the ministry with the express purpose of supporting family and friends of LGBTQ people by providing a venue for LGBTQ Catholics to share their personal stories with other Church members and work to establish Catholic LGBTQ support groups in our parishes and educational institutions. Our goal was to garner more acceptance and support for LGBTQ people.
Since its creation, our organization has brought together families and straight allies of the LGBTQ community to support dignity and respect for all LGBTQ people. Families With Dignity expressly calls for change in Church teachings about LGBTQ people and for full support of the LGBTQ community. Fortunate Families Inc., the national organization, disagrees with our approach.
It is painful to leave our place within the national organization, particularly because we know so many faithful Catholics who support members of the LGBTQ community. Our faith teaches us that we are all God’s beloved children and that He loves us all, no matter our gender identity or sexual orientation. That’s why it’s so important that we come together to ensure that everyone is protected from discrimination. We may have different beliefs, but what’s most important is focusing on what we have in common — taking pride in our work, providing for ourselves and our families, and a place in our communities.
We want our Church to demonstrate this love and support for LGBTQ people and their families. One way to do that is by ensuring that LGBTQ Americans nationwide are protected from discrimination. Through our own experiences, we learned how important it was that this support was available.
We have nine children who we raised in the Roman Catholic faith. Two of our sons are gay, and one of our daughters married a transgender man. Years ago, we believed that it was not okay to be LGBTQ, and our children heard that at the dinner table conversations and internalized it. One of our sons, fearing rejection, tried to take his own life rather than come out to us. It’s devastating to know that he was in such agony, and we are grateful that he was eventually able to share his true self with us.
After learning this, there was a period of reflection, self-education and praying for an informed conscience. Now in our 80s and 90s, we look back on our lives and our one regret is recognizing how our words could have been hurtful to our family and the LGBTQ community at large. We love our gay sons as much as we love all of our children; they are perfect just the way they were made.
We’ve been Catholics and Michiganders our entire lives, and it’s frustrating that LGBTQ people here in the state we love remain vulnerable to discrimination. At this stage in our lives, there’s only one thing that matters: love. We’ve been learning how to be loving and who to love, and that means everyone.
We call on all Catholics to stand with us to seek protections for the LGBTQ community and reach out as individuals. Be that voice of God’s welcome, acceptance and inclusion. Other Catholic churches are making strides, and we believe our church and our government leaders can, too.
It is the responsibility of Congress and time to pass clear, comprehensive, and secure federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states. Senators must represent ALL of their constituents and support a federal law guaranteeing protections from anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The Supreme Court recently affirmed that LGBTQ Americans are protected in the workplace, a huge step forward – but critical gaps in protections remain, leaving many LGBTQ Americans vulnerable in areas of life like housing, public accommodation, education and health care. Today, in most states, including Michigan, an LGBTQ person could still be kicked out of a restaurant, evicted, or denied service at a store, just for being who they are. That’s not right.
Congress must act now.
Tom Nelson and Linda Karle-Nelson are retired Detroit residents and Roman Catholics. They can be reached via email at [email protected].