LGBT Youth Consult

Religion and LGBTQ identities


 

JB is a 15-year-old female who presents to your office for a wellness check. Mom is concerned because she has seemed more depressed and withdrawn over the past few months. During the confidential portion of your visit, JB discloses that, while she has had boyfriends in the past, she is realizing that she is romantically and sexually attracted to females. Many members of her religious faith, which she is strongly connected to, believe that homosexuality is a sin. She has been secretly researching therapies to help her “not be gay” and asks you for advice.

Adolescence is a time of rapid growth and development. Two important developmental tasks of adolescence are to establish key aspects of identity and identify meaningful moral standards, values, and belief systems.1 For some LGBTQ adolescents, these tasks can become more complicated when the value system or religious faith in which they were raised views homosexuality or gender nonconformity as a sin.

Boy praying in church Design Pics/Thinkstock
As a provider, I recognize that spirituality and faith are important pieces of many people’s identities, yet I often feel ill equipped to discuss these issues openly with patients. For many of my sexual and gender minority patients and families, I find myself searching for tools to help navigate the relationship between spirituality/faith and identity. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of resources to help gender minority youth and family members handle some of these complex topics of spirituality/faith. Below are some suggestions for key messages to communicate to patients and families when these questions arise, as well as resources for patients and families.2-5
  • Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is normal, just different.
  • LGBT people exist in almost every faith group across the country.
  • Many religious groups have wrestled with homosexuality, gender identity, and religion and decided to be more welcoming to LGBT communities.
  • Within most faiths, there are many interpretations of religious texts, such as the Bible and the Koran, on all issues, including homosexuality.
  • While every religion has different teachings, almost all religions advocate love and compassion.
  • Clergy and other faith leaders can be a source of support. However, every faith community is different and may not always be supportive. Safely investigate your individual community’s approach. You have the right to question and explore your faith, sexuality, and/or gender identity and reconcile these in a way that is true to you.
  • Remember this is your journey. You get to decide the path and the pace.
  • Recognize that this may involve working for change within your community or it may mean leaving it.
  • Referral for “conversion” or “reparative therapy” is never indicated. Such therapy is not effective and may be harmful to LGBTQ individuals by increasing internalized stigma, distress, and depression.
Dr. Gayathri Chelvakumar
An increasing number of states and cities are outlawing conversion therapy. Most major professional medical organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry oppose conversion therapy.

Dr. Chelvakumar is an attending physician in the division of adolescent medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Ohio State University, both in Columbus. She has no relevant financial disclosures. Email her at pdnews@frontlinemedcom.com.

Spirituality resources

References

1. Raising teens: A synthesis or research and a foundation for action. (Boston: Center for Health Communication, Harvard School of Public Health, 2001).

2. Faith in Our Families: Parents, Families and Friends Talk About Religion and Homosexuality (Washington, D.C.: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, 1997)

3. Pediatrics. 2013 Jul;132(1):198-203.

4. The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2011)

5. Coming Home: To Faith, to Spirit, to Self. Pamphlet by the Human Rights Campaign.

   Comments ()

Recommended for You

News & Commentary

Quizzes from MD-IQ

Research Summaries from ClinicalEdge