Most of us know what LGBT means. But what are the extra letters at the end of the acronym?

A non-profit organization will conduct outreach outside the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix next week to speak on behalf of LGBT kids who they say are often marginalized because of “religious-based prejudice.”

Faith in America was established in 2006 to advocate for the LGBT community.

“We’re very aware of the fact that a lot of LGBT kids have a lot of trouble growing up in their homes if their parents’ religious beliefs are that their children are a sinner because of their homosexuality,” said the group’s co-founder, Mitchell Gold.

Faith in America recently launched its “Save yOur Kids” initiative, which was developed to “address religious-based practices that condemn our teens and youth, creating hostile environments both at church and home,” according to a statement from the group. 

That initiative will be at the forefront of conversations for Faith in America as it tries to reach attendeesat the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, which will be held at the Phoenix Convention Center June 13-14. 

Gold said Faith in America did a previous outreach at a meeting with Southern Baptist Convention leaders in Phoenix several years ago, but nothing really came of it.

Gold stressed that this year’s outreach is “not a confrontation,” and that the group’s efforts extend to various denominations.

“They’ll never know unless people educate them about it,” Gold said. “We believe that Southern Baptists as well as other denominations are well-meaning, good people but don’t really understand the harm that’s being caused to innocent, vulnerable kids.”

Faith in America hopes to meet with Southern Baptist Convention officials but said nothing has been confirmed.

The Southern Baptist Convention said in a statement that Faith in America had reached out to the organization but church leaders suggested instead a meeting in Nashville after the Phoenix meeting, citing the Valley meeting’s “full schedule.”

In a prepared statement, Russell Moore, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the church has “stood for the dignity of all human persons for decades,” but that the denomination will “not ignore the teachings of Jesus himself.”

“To minimize or adjust a Christian sexual ethic would be to abandon the very message Jesus handed to us, and we have no authority to do this,” Moore said. “As Baptists, we want to be the first to be known by our love and compassion to those in the world around us, but we also must hold fast to the ‘faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 1:3).”

The Southern Baptist Convention said pro-LGBT groups have protested at several of their annual meetings in the past, including in 2011, the last time the conference was held in Phoenix.

Religious bullying concerns

Among those who will be joining Faith in America’s effort is the mother of a gay teen who killed himself.

Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly recorded him in an intimate act with another man and streamed the footage online.

Clementi’s mother, Jane Clementi, is joining Faith in America’s outreach in Phoenix next week. She and her husband founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation after their son’s death in an effort to end bullying.

Jane Clementi said she is a woman of faith but said evangelical preaching that prompts believers to condemn the LGBT lifestyle can reap harmful, even deadly, effects for youth. 

“It’s very personal because I know what it feels like to have lost a child and I do not want anyone else to ever have to live through that experience,” she said. “I see God as this loving father, this loving parent, and nothing I could ever do would ever separate me from God and his unconditional love for me. I can’t imagine he would ever want me to walk away from my child.”

Both Gold and Clementi said that’s exactly what some LGBT kids of religious parents say has happened to them.

LGBT kids from “religiously condemning homes” are 14 times more likely to be homeless and eight times more likely to try to kill themselves, according to statistics from Faith in America.

Clementi said it should be the opposite, and that people of faith should open their arms to LGBT youth. 

“The body of Christ needs to be a refuge that wounded people can go to to be better and be healed as opposed to being shot,” Clementi said. 

The Southern Baptist Convention said the denomination does not condone any type of bullying or marginalization.

“Southern Baptists are on record opposing bullying of any kind, including those who struggle with sexual identity issues,” said Executive Committee representative Roger Oldham in a written statement. “We believe all people bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. We also believe God’s image in us has been marred by sin and is only restored when we enter a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Lord.”

In a statement, the Southern Baptist Convention encouraged meeting attendees to cordially respond to Faith in America advocates.

Correcting misunderstandings

Dr. Jack Drescher is a New York-based psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is on Faith in America’s Medical Advisory Board for its “Save yOur Kids” initiative.

He will be traveling to Phoenix during the convention as well, discussing the science of human sexuality with meeting attendees — particularly homosexuality and transgender issues.

He said his goal is to educate those who attend the conference and “correct some misunderstandings” about the LGBT community, adding that “people don’t choose to be gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender.”

Drescher insists he’s not out to condemn their beliefs. 

“As a medical professional, I’m not in a position to argue religion,” he said. “I’m not there to tell people what to believe and what not to believe.”

Drescher said he’s optimistic that at least some people at the meeting will be receptive to the organization’s message because the Southern Baptist Convention has admitted to and apologized for mistreatment of marginalized groups before. 

A 1995 resolution by the Southern Baptist Convention issued a formal apology to African-Americans for “condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.”

In the resolution, the church also stated that “Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans.”

The Southern Baptist Convention said that a resolution titled “On Biblical Sexuality and the Freedom From Conscience” from their annual meeting last year shows their commitment to love and respect all humans.

The resolution states that they “reiterate our love for our neighbors who identify as transgender, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches, and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership” and “applaud and encourage our brothers and sisters who struggle with gender identity or same sex attraction, but who have chosen holiness and God’s design instead.”

The resolution reaffirms the church’s belief that marriage is “between one man and one woman” and says that the church stands in solidarity with those whose “personal freedoms are threatened because their consciences will not allow them to recognize, promote, or participate in activities associated with unbiblical marriage.”

Gold said the Faith in America team will be in the public area near the Phoenix Convention Center, handing out four-page pamphlets about the group’s mission and answering any questions attendees may have.

He added that Faith in America has purchased advertising space on several billboards in the downtown Phoenix area. 

Clementi said she hopes to have one-on-one conversations with people and hopes that sharing her son’s story will “plant the seeds of change” within the religious community.

“We need to stop destroying and killing and stealing other people’s lives,” Clementi said. “We need to continue to support life and give life. We need to help them reach the fullest potential of their life, and I think that’s what Scripture is.”


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