Follow Father Robert on Facebook, and you will find a man that desperately wants the world to be a kinder, gentler, and more just place. His desire to lift others and let all people know that God loves them is evidenced by his posts on Facebook. Here are two examples.
Father Robert is an Apostolic Catholic priest and a passionate supporter of the LGBTQ-IA community. He first became aware of the mistreatment of the gay community in 1969 during the Stonewall riots. He would not think much about it again until the late 70’s when he worked as a high school social worker. A distraught young man entered his office, closed the door, and began to cry.
Father Robert asked, “What is your problem?”
The student responded, “I am gay.”
Father Robert was confused and asked again, “No, really, what is your problem?”
And the student replied, “I just told you, I am gay.”
Father Robert told the student, “That’s not a problem! It’s ok.”
Afterward, Father Robert contemplated what the student shared with him. He thought to himself, we are not going to do this. We are not going to treat people this way. This is not what Jesus had envisioned or taught.
Father Robert felt called to action and created support groups to listen and encourage this student and others like him.
In the late ’80s, during the AIDS epidemic, Father Robert became further involved with the gay community. Nursing homes and care facilities would not accept residents with AIDS or HIV. The disease was new, and very little was known about how it was contracted or treated. Fear and lack of knowledge prevented many from receiving the care they needed.
The director of Muskegon Community Mental Health asked Father Robert if he would open a foster care home for some of the men with HIV/AIDS. He did, and as soon as the doors were open, three men arrived. Shortly after, the house was filled to capacity and remained that way for about two years. There was little that could be done medically for the men that resided at the foster home. Instead, love, compassion, comfort, and support were given in abundance as each man traveled to the end of his life. For most, the final journey lasted only one to five months.
Compassionate care at the end of life is not too much to ask. Is it? Homosexuality, AIDS/HIV were controversial enough in the 80’s that only two foster care homes for men with AIDS/HIV existed in the state of Michigan. People were outraged that Father Robert’s foster care home existed. The media frequently dropped in for impromptu and uninvited interviews exposing the location of the house. The garage was firebombed, cars parked outside the house were damaged, and rocks were thrown through the windows. To keep the residents safe, Father Robert moved the residents to a different place.
Father Robert continued holding support groups for the LGBT community after the foster care home closed. But, in 2014, Father Robert read about the suicide of a transgender woman named Leelah Alcorn, and his commitment once again deepened. He was utterly devastated. He thought, this poor child. My God, now we have people killing themselves because they are not allowed to be who they are. Jesus would not want this.
Leelah was born male, but from the age of four felt that she was a female. She longed to find a way to transition to the body that matched how she felt. However, this would never happen. Leelah’s family held conservative Christian beliefs, and being gay or transgender was not seen as acceptable. Leelah was sent to conversion therapy in an attempt to help her overcome her gender identity.
Leelah grew more depressed after conversion therapy. Her hopelessness led her to write a suicide note on her Tumblr account and schedule it to post a few hours after her death. She walked several miles from her parents’ home and then walked in front of a semi traveling on I-71.
Since Leelah’s death, conversion therapy has been severely scrutinized. Many believe that the treatment does not work and only leaves the participant with feelings of more profound shame, lack of self-worth, and causes depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Conversion therapy has since been banned in many states and communities.
Father Robert was determined to open a center where everyone would be welcome and feel safe. It took him over a year to find a location that he could rent. He viewed eleven available properties in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights to be told that they were no longer available when the landlord found out what Father Robert intended to do with the property.
Finally, Father Robert found the perfect space in Muskegon Heights. The center offered various support groups for the LGBTQ-IA community and their families and anti-bullying and suicide prevention courses, AA and NA. The center experienced some success, but the location was an issue for many people. Muskegon Heights is a mostly black community, and many white people feared going there. And, many of the black participants feared being seen entering the building.
Father Robert was back to the drawing board. He found a new location in North Muskegon, and all was going well. However, once the community learned what was being done in the building, the landlord ended the three-year lease at 11 months, stating, we don’t have those problems.
Another location was found in Muskegon. It was opened with a broader concept and included a used clothing store where people could get used clothes for free. The center hosted Halloween and Christmas parties for the community. Everything was going great until the churches got involved. Once again, Father Robert found his dream of offering a safe place for the LGBTQ-IA community and other at-risk persons smashed.
Father Robert has not given up. He has moved to a rural community north of Muskegon and will start a community center in Shelby. His plans are on hold right now over social distancing concerns and his own recovery from COVID-19. Father Robert was diagnosed with the illness on June 1st. While he has recovered, he continues to have fatigue, breathing problems, and internal damage that will never heal.
Father Robert shared many thoughts about the LGBTQ-IA community, organized religion, Christianity, COVID-19.
Father Robert believes the following related specifically to LGBTQ-IA.
Father Robert shares the following related to Christianity.
Father Robert’s concerns about COVID-19
Thank you, Father Robert, for sharing your passion and deep care for the LGBTQ-IA community. Your commitment to choose love and compassion over fear and judgment is evident in all you do. I will end this post with the final thought you shared. If there were only one verse in the Bible, this would be a good one to live by.
John 15:12, “This I command you, that you love one another.
A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.
Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.
A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/
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