Discovering Sanctuary in Parking Lot A
We had teamed up with our friend Jamie (the one in the tutu) at California Youth Connection/Youth Training Project to host a tailgate party at the Oakland A’s first-ever Pride night.
For all of us, this was our first experience of tailgating – let alone hosting it! We weren’t sure if we were doing this right. We weren’t sure who would show up, if anyone. We really thought we’d bought way too many hot dogs.
But gradually youth started to trickle in, members of several Bay Area youth organizations who had received Jamie’s invitation to gather with us before the game to support youth Pride. And then, before we knew it, we were surrounded by dozens of supporters.
As we watched the crowd growing in numbers and enthusiasm – blowing bubbles, sipping Italian sodas, making posters, sporting rainbow wigs and accessories, and eating almost every last one of those hot dogs – we realized that we had created a community with far deeper significance. Most folks who showed up that evening didn’t know each other before, but they were connected by their desire to show support for LGBTQ youth, particularly foster youth.
All statistics around foster youth are disturbing, but they are particularly distressing around youth who identify as LGBTQ. Many of these youth end up in the foster system because their family of origin abandoned them once they came out. And once they enter foster care, they may find the same bias, discrimination, and rejection in their foster placements.
Family Builders, an agency that recruits foster and adoptive families here in the Bay Area, says this on their website: “LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, and are more likely than other foster youth to be placed in group homes and other congregate care facilities. Many have been the victims of violence and all have been the victims of verbal abuse. Between 25% and 40% of homeless and runaway youth identify as LGBTQ. They are at a higher risk of substance abuse than other youth in foster care.”
In the past few months, we have heard many stories from current or former foster youth who have lived out these statistics: those who ran away from or were kicked out of long-term foster placements because they came out, or those who were afraid to be truthful about who they are because they were afraid of being rejected yet again.
There is nothing easy about being in foster care. But the experience is exponentially more challenging for LGBTQ youth.
What we discovered in that parking lot last week was that we had inadvertently created a sanctuary, a circle of safe space. It only lasted a couple hours, but we realized that Braid has to continue to find ways of creating circles where all foster youth, but especially LGBTQ youth, know that they are valued and the beloved of God. It is our prayer to continue to do that as we move forward in this ministry.
This week San Francisco and our country are awash in rainbows, celebrating Pride Week and the Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage nationwide. This week The Episcopal Church gathers for its triennial national convention, where it will likely approve liturgy for same-sex marriage. These are moments of celebration, to be sure, and they represent major steps forward in making our city and our society and our church welcoming of everyone, regardless of sexuality.
However, we have been reminded by our friends who are members of the LGBTQ community, and particularly by the gathering in the parking lot at the Oakland Coliseum, that despite these victories there is much work to be done in order to build sanctuaries for these youth. We wish it was as simple as setting up a barbecue grill in a parking lot or marching in a parade or passing legislation. But the truth is that many LGBTQ people in this world never find that safe space, particularly when they are young, particularly when they don’t have the support of their family or a place to call home.
We hope that you will pray for these youth and do your part in building circles in your community where all of God’s children can be safe.