Fortunate Families barred from exhibiting at World Meeting of Families

Fortunate Families, a Catholic organization dedicated to supporting the parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children, has been rejected as an exhibitor at the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) in Philadelphia this September.

In a letter dated May 22, Mary Beth Yount, director of content and programming for the WMOF, informed the organization that they would not be permitted to advertise at the meeting. The reason? According to Yount, "the FF website and associated links claim that the organization is meeting parents where they are at but then proceeds to indicate that if parents give any sense of disapproval of behavior at all (or even ambivalence), they are harming their children and even setting them up for greater risk of suicide."

Yount's letter, which was addressed to Deb Word, a board member of Fortunate Families, acknowledges that the organization submitted "repeated applications ... around exhibiting" and that the WMOF failed to offer them a "timely response."

In a lengthy reply to Yount, Word shared the troubling statistics surrounding LGBT youth. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. Of these LGBT homeless youth, 58.7 percent have been sexually victimized. They also have more than double the rate of suicide (62 percent) than heterosexual homeless youth (29 percent).

Word further explained that Bishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta recently celebrated Mass with Fortunate Families during a retreat and wrote about the group in the diocesan newspaper. In addition, Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn., agreed to the creation of a support group for parents of gays and lesbians in his diocese, which Word serves on.

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Yount's response to Word was terse: "Thank you for your follow-up. We appreciate your perspective but we must stand by the decision related to your exhibitor application."

Though Fortunate Families has had their application rejected, another Catholic organization, known as Courage, will be allowed to exhibit at WMOF.

They key difference between Fortunate Families and Courage? The latter organization insists that gays and lesbians remain celibate in conformity with official Catholic teaching. They also provide no ministry to those who identify as transgender.

According to its mission statement, Fortunate Families "serves as a resource and networking ministry with Catholic parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children."

"We promote and facilitate personal, meaningful, and respectful conversation, especially within our parishes and with our pastors and bishops," the statement continues. "We stress the significance of our personal stories as a source of grace within our families and as a witness for justice in our civic and faith communities."

The World Meeting of Families is held every three years and is sponsored by the Holy See's Pontifical Council for the Family. According to the WMOF website, the event "is the world's largest Catholic gathering of families. ... The theme of the World Meeting of Families -- Philadelphia 2015 is 'Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,' emphasizing the impact of the love and life of families on our society."

The meeting will be held in Philadelphia in conjunction with Pope Francis' visit to the U.S.

With the meeting only four months away, the rejection of Fortunate Families' application suggests that WMOF's understanding of "family" may be much narrower than many Catholic LGBT advocates had hoped.

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