conversations on the fringe


Youth Ministry

What We Are Reading

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

“This may be one of the most challenging books (to my own toxic masculinity) that I’ve ever read. I still have so much inner work to do.”

                                                                                                       – Founder of CotF Chris Schaffner

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s not okay to hit the girl you like. And it’s not okay to hit the girl you love.

The world around you tells women that they should always nod politely no matter what they’re feeling inside. Don’t ever take a polite nod for an answer. Wait for her to yell it: “Yes!”

Not everyone gets sex when they want it. Not everyone gets love when they want it. Things is true for men and women. A relationship is not your reward for being a nice guy, no matter what the movies tell you.

Birth control is your job, too.

Don’t ever use an insult for a woman that you wouldn’t use for a man. Say “jerk” or “shithead” or “asshole”. Don’t say “bitch” or “whore” or “slut”. If you say “asshole”, you’re criticizing her parking skills. If you say “bitch”, you’re criticizing her gender.

Here are some phrases you will need to know. Practice them in the mirror until they come as easy as songs you know by heart: “Do you want to?” “That’s not funny, man.” “Does that feel good?” “I like you, but I think we’re both a little drunk. Here’s my number. Let’s get together another time.”

Fringe Podcast Ep. 3: Bryce Foster // Recovery Anithero


Episode #3: Bryce Foster // Recovery Antihero

Bryce Foster is one of those unique people you can’t ever forget and he’s quickly become one of my closest friends and we are partners in crime doing harm reduction work in the midst of an opioid pandemic. His story is inspiring and hysterical. He’s a pretty smart and a lot irreverent. Also, he’s tried it all and eventually discovered a path that works for him. Listen in while he shares his story. You just might learn something.

Fringe Podcast Ep. 2: Harm Reduction

Episode #2: Harm Reduction

We are at the 2018 Harm Reduction Conference in New Orleans. Between the awesome workshops and stuffing beignets into our mouths, we sat down with four beautiful, badass, love warriors from the harm reduction field. We talked about LGBTQIA+ youth, homelessness and housing, serious mental illness homeless outreach and jumping fences to love on the most marginalized. We can’t wait for you to listen.

Our merry band of ragamuffins include:

Loren Phillips: Outreach Worker with a large mental health organization in Chicago

Christopher Powers: Psychotherapist and harm reduction counselor in San Francisco

Kimber Brightheart, LCSW: Independent contractor at the Midwest Harm Reduction Institute, founder of Queerplay, and harm reduction therapist in private practice

Valery Shuman, ATR-BC, LCPC: Senior Director at Heartland Alliance Health, Heartland Center for Systems Change, and Midwest Harm Reduction Institute

And me, Chris Schaffner: Founder of Conversations on the Fringe, DOPP Grant Coordinator, JOLT Harm Reduction Center Program Manager

Fringe Podcast Ep. 1: Rape Culture

Episode #1: Rape Culture

An interview with Melissa Dessert, LCPC who has extensive experience working to combat the impact of rape culture on college campuses. Melissa has been helping victims of sexual assault since the late 80s and is a local expert on trauma. Also in this podcast is Trudy Schaffner, a social worker and mother of 3 teenage girls. Both lend their vast knowledge and experience to this really difficult and complex issue.


Chicago Priest Burns Rainbow Banner:

On Sept. 14, Father Paul Kalchik, a priest at Resurrection Catholic Church in the neighborhood of Avondale in Chicago took a church banner that displayed a rainbow and a cross, cut it into pieces, and burned it in the Easter Vigil fire pit in front of a few congregation members.

In an interview last week, Fr. Kalchik asked: “What have we done wrong other than destroying a piece of propaganda that was used to put out a message other than what the church is about? …The people of this parish have been pretty resilient and put up with a lot of B.S… And it was just by accident that this banner that was made to celebrate all things gay…did not get destroyed when I first got here.”

Fr. Kalchik stated that the sexual abuse within the church is “definitely a gay thing,” and one of his parishioners explained that: “the flag that he burnt was… meant for evil things…It brought prey to predators.”

On Friday, Sept. 21, the priest was removed from the parish, and Cardinal Cupich stated in a letter: “For some weeks now, I have become increasingly concerned about a number of issues at Resurrection Parish. It has become clear to me that Fr. Kalchik must take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support so his needs can be assessed.”

However, Archdiocese spokesperson Anne Maselli explained in an email on Saturday that: “He is taking some time away from the parish. This has been in the works for some time and is not directly due to the flag burning.”

Whoever Welcomes One Such Child…

In the Revised Common Lectionary this past Sunday, we saw Jesus take a little child into his arms.  And as he embraced this child (one who was considered to be on the margins of society), he told his disciples: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to love and welcome all of our neighbors and to particularly stand up for and with those who are being marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted. Our Christian faith calls us to see all people as beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image and as beloved children of God, and to proclaim that those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community are worthy and deserving of God’s love and full inclusion in faith communities, just as anyone else.

Fr. Kalchik’s hateful act of burning the rainbow banner and his words connecting pedophilia and sexual abuse with the LGBTQIA+ community not only denies the Imago Dei of many within the human family, but it has also been traumatizing and has posed a real danger to the LGBTQIA+ community. As several Chicago area clergy and religious leaders have stated in our open letter to Cardinal Cupich (posted below): “By making this claim and taking these actions, Fr. Kalchik is further endangering LGBTQIA+ people and their families and in using his authority as a Catholic Priest, giving permission for others to treat LGBTQIA+ people with hatred and violence.”

Since Fr. Kalchik burned the banner, a strong statement from Cardinal Cupich or the archdiocese has not been made that acknowledges the trauma this act has caused or the dangers it imposes.  Nor has a strong statement been released that denounces Fr. Kalchik’s harmful words and false claims about the LGBTQIA+ community.

Thus, on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 8:00am, several Chicago-area faith leaders delivered a letter to Cardinal Cupich with over 180 signatures from Chicago-area faith leaders (of many traditions), laypersons, and seminary faculty, administrators, and students. The letter asks Cardinal Cupich to make a strong public statement acknowledging the trauma caused and denouncing Fr. Kalchik’s hateful actions and words, to conduct a full investigation of these actions, and to offer full transparency about Fr. Kalchik’s process and future.

Join Us In Our #BurnCandlesNotRainbows Campaign:

As of Wednesday, Sept. 26 at noon, there has still not been a response from Cardinal Cupich or the Archdiocese of Chicago. This silence further causes deep hurt and harm. Therefore, we are asking other clergies, religious leaders, and members of faith communities and institutions to join us in signing this letter. (You do NOT need to be from the Chicago-area.) You can find the letter with signatures and a link where you can add your name and title here.

Please share widely!

We also invite faith leaders and faith communities this weekend to join us in showing support and God’s love for our LGBTQIA+ siblings by wearing rainbow vestments and displaying rainbow flags or symbols.

Please post photos of these symbols and messages on social media with the hashtags:


Let’s show our LGBTQIA+ siblings that God’s love is for all, and that love wins!


See full letter below:

Dear Cardinal Cupich,

We write as religious leaders and people of faith in Chicago. As your colleagues in ministry, we represent congregations and organizations from across the city.

We come from different denominations and religious traditions, and yet, we trust that we share in common a belief in the Imago Dei – that we are each created in the image of God, that we are each beloved and worthy of God’s love and deserving of inclusion in communities of faith.

We also believe that positions of religious and spiritual leadership come with a responsibility to lead and care for our communities out of a deep sense of self awareness and compassion, a commitment to do no harm. We are called, as spiritual leaders to own our own stories – even our stories of deep pain and trauma so that we do not inflict abuse or pain on those who look to us for pastoral care and spiritual guidance.

On Friday, September 14, 2018, Father Paul Kalchik of Resurrection Catholic Church gathered with a small group of parishioners. They cut a rainbow banner that included a cross on it into pieces and then burned it. In comments reported by the Chicago Sun Times,  regarding his actions Fr. Kalchik “claims the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the church is ‘definitely a gay thing.’”  In addition, Fr. Kalchik was quoted in the same article as saying, “The people of this parish have been pretty resilient and put up with a lot of B.S…And it was just by accident that this banner that was made to celebrate all things gay … did not get destroyed when I first got here.”

Fr. Kalchik’s actions have caused great harm. They have traumatized some of us personally, members of our congregations and organizations, and countless others in our city and beyond by falsely claiming that the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the Catholic Church is “definitely a gay thing.” By making this claim and taking these actions, Fr. Kalchik is further endangering LGBTQIA+ people and their families and in using his authority as a Catholic Priest, giving permission for others to treat LGBTQIA+ people with hatred and violence.

We write to request a full investigation of these actions and for full transparency from the Diocese concerning Fr. Kalchik’s process and future. As people of faith we have deep compassion for the ways in which he has been wounded, and pray that he will experience personal healing and restoration. However, when someone with religious authority acts out of their own trauma to abuse others we must take action, and we ask for confirmation that Fr. Kalchik has been removed from ministry. We also request that you issue a statement that strongly asserts the dignity and worth of all people, including LGBTQIA+ people and their families, and denounces any connection between LGBTQIA+ people and pedophiles and sexual abusers.

Cardinal Cupich, at this time in our history and in our country, a strong statement is needed from someone in your position in the Catholic Church.  Otherwise, the Catholic Church is complicit in giving people a license to hate and harm. Thus far, you have remained silent on Fr. Kalchik’s false and harmful statements about LGBTQIA+ people and we are eager to hear from you.


Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.

Reposted with permission from

Model Policy On Suicide Prevention For LGBTQIA+ Youth

A new study examines trans youth to see who is most at risk for suicide.

I was recently told a story of a 14-year-old CHILD that was kicked out of their home, by their mother, for being trans. She wants to transition from male to female (M2F) and instead of trying to understand, mom promptly kicked her out of the only home she’s ever known.

What does a young teen do in a situation like this? Where are they to go? How do they find sustainable food sources? How do they even consider getting back and forth to school? Where can they get a shower? Hygiene products? Support? Friendship? A hug? Love?

Most end up feeling helpless and hopeless. None of them chose this path. The dysphoria from feeling like you’re in the wrong body, with the wrong body parts is nothing they invented in their own minds.

Compound that with the rejection from family, friends, and the belief that God cannot stand to be in their presence (this is the message trans youth receive from most evangelical churches in America today), it’s no wonder suicide becomes an option for many of the precious children.

How can we reduce the risk these kids face in ending their own life? What role does the church play in creating these hopeless scenarios and what role could the church play in providing hope instead?

The link below is a suicide prevention policy from the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth. They created a model policy for schools that I think churches and youth ministries can adapt for their own use.

Click to access District-Policy.pdf

If you are, or you know of an LGBTQIA+ youth that is contemplating suicide, call 1-866-488-7386 right now. Trained crisis workers are waiting to talk to you.

Your life matters!

What Is Very Biblical About Separating Families At Our Border?

So let’s talk about that Bible verse that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted to justify the separation of families at the border…

1. Romans Is About All About Love:

First, Sessions took Romans 13:1-3 out of context. If Sessions read the epistle of Romans in its entirety, he would have seen that love is the center of what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Roman Church.  In chapter 12, just one chapter before the verses Sessions quoted, Paul writes: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13)

Then, in chapter 13, just a few verses after those Sessions quoted, Paul writes: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

Additionally, Sessions’ point that Paul makes a “clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes” is just wrong.  Paul was actually serving time in a Roman prison when he wrote several of his letters found in our New Testament because he – himself – was a “law-breaker.” He was eventually executed for disobeying the laws of the government.

2. Romans 13:1-3 Has Been/Is Being Misquoted to Justify Evil:

Romans 13:1-3 has been historically used by oppressors in power to justify evil.  It was actually used by slave owners and by Nazis to tell those they were oppressing to submit to authority – no matter what – in order to justify the evils they were doing.

Many laws that have been put in place by the “State” (throughout history and that continue to be enforced today, both across the world and in our very own country) are oppressive, inhumane, unjust, and evil. Jesus would never tell people to submit to the human-made authority of such injustice and evil, and I believe Paul wouldn’t want us to, either.

Jesus must be weeping as he watches our national leaders and other Christians continue to use the Bible to justify such cruelty and hate.  

3. Jesus’ Lordship:  

Many Christians throughout history and across the world actually celebrate and uphold the theological belief that Jesus is Lord.  In Ancient Palestine, this notion of Christ’s Lordship was a radical and political statement. To claim Jesus’ Lordship was to challenge the Roman Empire (and the oppressive “laws of the government”).  To profess that Jesus is Lord was to state that Caesar was NOT Lord. In other words, Jesus is Lord over all human authority figures and governmental systems.  To claim that Jesus is Lord was basically saying: “I will submit to Jesus and not to any human authority or governmental system that does not uphold Jesus’ law.”  As mentioned above: Paul urged his readers in Romans 13: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

(Many of the early Christians did publicly proclaim Jesus’ Lordship, thus breaking the law and therefore were persecuted for their actions.)

During the rise of anti-Semitism and Nazi-Germany, many churches and Christian leaders responded to other churches and Christian leaders that supported/submitted to the Nazis by reemphasizing Christ’s Lordship. They did this again as a means to oppose such oppressive worldly governmental systems and to remind Christians that it is Jesus Christ – and no other worldly leader – who has authority. It is the Kingdom of God – and no otherworldly government – that reigns over the heavens and the earth.

Separating children from their families is NOT “very biblical.” (Actually, it’s not biblical at all). Rather, it is downright cruel and pure evil!

What IS very biblical:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” – Mark 9:37

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.’ All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” – Deuteronomy 27:19

What IS very biblical:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” – Zechariah 7:9-10

“Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” – Jeremiah 22:3

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:35,40

What IS very biblical:

Jesus’ parents – Mary and Joseph – were immigrants seeking refuge in a foreign land in order to protect their child (the baby Jesus) and their family… To take children at our border away from their parents as they seek refuge for the safety of their families is to take the baby Jesus away from his parents as they sought refuge for the safety of their family.

“Just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

Victimization Of Young People Who Sell Sex

New research on young people who engage in commercial sex work looks at how young people understand their own experiences and explores how they meet felt needs, such as finding a way to make money or meet essential needs in the face of limited employment opportunities, meeting familial obligations, and accessing resources for survival (such as housing), that young people are often trying to solve through selling sex. Research highlighting the voices of young people who sell sex illustrates young people’s’ concerns from their point of view. I understand why the church struggles with how to address these kinds of issues but it can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines. The church must get their hands dirty if it still desires to bring hope to vulnerable people on the margins. If it doesn’t, then it simply needs to stop adding to the problem and stay out of the way.

There is a large amount of epidemiological literature documenting higher levels of HIV prevalence and risk factors for transmission among young people who sell sex. Homelessness and involvement in street economies are frequently associated with higher levels of risk and HIV infection among young people who sell sex. Biomedical research emphasising individual behavior sometimes does not fully address the role of structural and institutional violence in the lives of young people who sell sex, nor does it explore linkages with HIV vulnerability.

The literature also shows that the ways young people sell sex can differ from older sex workers. They are often displaced to more marginalized working and living conditions than older sex workers. Exchanging sex for money, goods, or a place to stay occurs in many different types of relationship and can be a livelihood strategy for persons both over and under 18 years of age. Not all young people who sell sex, including those under 18, necessarily identify what they do as work or exploitation.

Young people express a variety of feelings and understandings about selling sex. Some young people say that selling or trading sex allowed them to meet familial responsibilities and obligations or provided them with the means to establish lives independent from their parents. For others, it helped them to meet their basic needs and find community. Some young people find selling sex harmful or violating, some felt it was degrading to them, disliked being with strangers, or disliked the stigma and unsafe conditions. Young people who have been forced or coerced to sell sex experience severe human rights violations.

Young people who sell sex should be understood within their specific social and economic contexts. There is often a mismatch between economic needs and opportunities to meet these needs in the context of severe global economic inequalities, familial disruption or abandonment, and limited access to resources. Economic hardship has been shown to be particularly profound for LGBT young people, as they experience additional stigma and high levels of discrimination from support services and in employment.

Alternative economic opportunities to selling sex for many young people, including those who are under 18, are overwhelmingly irregular, informal, and sometimes very unsafe activities that carry their own risks. These include activities such as begging, street vending, unregulated factory work, or other criminalized activities such as selling drugs. While many young people sell sex for physical and economic survival, some young people also sell sex to access an improved lifestyle beyond basic subsistence, including consumer or luxury items and aspire to express autonomy and individualism through consumer goods.

Research shows that young people who sell sex have greater vulnerability to violence, have heightened sexual risk behaviors such as lower levels of condom use, and often have a higher number of sexual partners. A number of studies show that drug use often intersects with the sale of sex, exposing young people to additional legal and health risks. Young people may experience force or coercion during their involvement in selling sex. This is of particular concern, as decreases in autonomy have been shown to increase vulnerability to HIV and other sexual and reproductive health problems. Young people may also lack adequate negotiation skills, making it more difficult for them to negotiate condom use in personal or commercial exchanges. Gendered power dynamics that compromise young women’s negotiating abilities in relation to men can further produce gendered vulnerabilities to HIV infection.

Numerous laws and policies shape young people’s’ vulnerability to HIV infection and access to healthcare and HIV services. Young people often experience compounding forms of institutional violence and exclusion that victimizes them two to three fold. Young people are made vulnerable when they cannot access support or assistance because they fear arrest, detention, discrimination, or encounter policies that deny them access to services. This, in turn, has been shown to exacerbate violence in their personal and work spheres. While support systems are supposed to help young people, they are too often set up to create harms or not meet the needs of the people they serve.

Persons under 18 who sell sex often encounter mandatory reporting legislation and policies when trying to access services, which require social service or healthcare providers to report them to police. Mandatory reporting legislation creates a disincentive for service providers to help young people, sometimes denying them services outright, and makes young people hesitant to seek support out of fear of being detained or arrested. Age of consent legislation and parental consent requirements for access to sexual health examinations, harm reduction commodities, HIV testing, and abortion services, also create barriers to accessing services, as most young people do not want to disclose their activities to their parents. In Asia and the Pacific region, adolescents aged 15–19 years are more likely than persons over 20 to have unmet needs for contraception and are more vulnerable to unplanned pregnancy. Additionally, fewer young women who sell sex have ever had an HIV test compared to their older counterparts.

Young people who sell sex are often turned away from services and do not want to seek out help because of poor treatment from service providers, often owing to stigma and discrimination based on their age and behaviors. Young people are denied assistance because of their involvement with selling sex and/or drug use, their sexual orientation or identity, gender expression, or HIV status. As one report explains, “girls are denied help from the police, hospitals, shelters, and addiction treatment programs because they are in the sex trade, because they are trans or queer, because they are young, homeless, and because they use drugs.”

Young transgender, gender non-conforming, and other LGBT people who sell sex face endemic levels of discrimination and stigma which may condition their entry into selling sex and denies them the support they need to keep themselves safe and healthy.

Young people can be criminalized and arrested under laws concerning ‘prostitution’, drug use, and homosexuality or other forms of sexual behavior. This has negative effects on the human rights of persons over and under 18 years of age. The United States does not have a provision that persons under 18 should not be criminalized and treated as victims. This leaves them vulnerable to arrest. The criminalization of sex work affects young people by reducing control over working conditions and fostering a reluctance to seek services for fear of arrest. An arrest can sometimes be used as a strategy to direct persons under 18 who sell sex into the judicial system and detain them for their own ‘protection’, such as in secure care or Safe Harbor legislation.

Similarly, laws against drug use or same-sex sexual activities can also lead to arrest. Laws prohibiting ‘prostitution’ or trafficking can also compromise young peoples’ support networks that are comprised of other people who sell sex who are both over and under 18 years of age. Young people who sell sex have extensive peer networks including individuals both above and below the age of majority and rely on peers for knowledge and support. Laws criminalizing third parties can sometimes deprive young people who sell sex from community support.

Young people who sell sex experience very high levels of violence from state authorities, including in detention, in the custody of police, as well as in healthcare settings. Studies show that significant proportions of street youth who sell sex have been arrested or have had encounters with law enforcement. Studies suggest that police harassment and abuse of young people who sell sex is systematic and widespread, and experiences of physical and sexual assault, rape, and extortion have been well-documented. This raises questions for policymakers about the appropriateness of law enforcement as the primary response to young people who sell sex, particularly as forced detention or forced rehabilitation remains a standard practice in a number of country contexts and closed environments are themselves associated with increased risk for HIV.

Young people are denied assistance because of their involvement with selling sex and/or drug use, their sexual orientation or identity, gender expression, or HIV status. The voices of young people who have formerly or currently sell sex are nearly inaudible in the literature overall. Thus, understandings about ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ in research and international law have developed without the involvement of young people with experiences of selling sex. Young people express a range of complex feelings about selling sex and voice many struggles, experiences of violence, and other difficulties, yet also express notions of resilience and resistance in the context of their lives. One 21-year-old male explained, “there [are] only two positive things that I found [from survival sex work], the fact that it helps you survive and the second thing is that I felt that it made me stronger because it’s like I’m able to go through these tough situations … It shows how much I am willing and determined to keep living and surviving.” In addressing young people and HIV/ AIDS prevention, researchers propose a holistic approach to understanding young people’s’ involvement in selling sex. This approach looks at a range of motivations, including sexual initiative owing to love or pleasure, decisions made for economic or financial reasons, concerns about basic physical and economic survival, and forced or coerced sex.

Young people’s narratives suggest that there are often many overlapping factors that shape their experiences of selling sex. Even young people in exploitative situations report complex feelings toward the person exploiting them, who may also be a source of love and support. Some young people explain that they were able to resolve situations where they experienced coercion and sometimes continued to trade sex under different conditions. Taking seriously the perspectives of young people who sell sex does not set aside moral or ethical obligations to protect vulnerable young people. However, compassionate and effective responses to young people who sell sex, including those under the age of 18, requires an understanding of their needs and motivations as well as the social and economic dynamics of their lives.


chrisChris Schaffner is a counselor and veteran youth worker. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.


Throughout my 25 years as a mother I have been blessed to have the home where kids wanted to come and to be the woman that people called Mama C. They knew that to enter my kitchen was to enter a safe place where anything could be discussed, and I would listen, reserving all of the judgement and none of the love.

In teenage years I truly became known as the home for wayward teens. There were a few years running that I always had a “stray” teen living with me. And while I loved to be the soft place to land my heart would always be broken for the reasons why.

With the one exception of a teen pregnancy, the teens that lived with me had been asked to leave home when they came out to their families. With each of them, the reasons for this forced exodus from their home was explained as religious reasons. The parents simply could not have that type of sin living underneath their roof.

Now I am a bible believing, Jesus loving woman.

But I also believe that my Jesus loved a good battle with the Pharisees. He admonished people to live the “spirit of the law” and not the “letter”. When pushed to say which of the commandments is the greatest, He answered with the famous: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all of your might; and to love your neighbor as yourself.

I want to ask these parents the equally famous question: Who is your neighbor?
Can you truly say you are following scripture if you do not love your neighbor? Is not your very own flesh and blood your neighbor? Did Jesus tell us to turn our backs on sinners; to condemn? Or did he not say: Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

I shudder to think of this- the measure you use it will be measured back to you. So let’s transpose this onto this situation. You can no longer live in my house because of your sinful nature, so I am sending you out; young, vulnerable, helpless, and afraid. And now let me pick up my rosary beads and pray. Let me walk into the confessional and get down on my knees and beg God for mercy….and let me hear him say- ah, no. Sorry. You need to leave my house. You need to get out. You are no longer welcome here. We can’t have your sin in our house. The measure you use will be measured back to you…..

What if instead these teens had been met with love? Unconditional love that only a parent can truly deliver? You are my beloved child and we are going to walk through this together. The world will hate you and berate you, and I can’t imagine what the battle has been in your heart, but I can tell you that you are safe in your home, and you have safety in my heart, and further, you are safe in God’s love…..

No, instead they came to me. Broken and rejected; homeless; vulnerable and scared. And I was not able to love them back to wholeness, not even with the ferocity and willingness of my love…

…because I was not their mom. I could offer them a safe place to be. I could help them find solutions. I could listen. I could bear witness to their journey, and certainly, I could wipe the tears, and make them a casserole. But I could not undo the rejection they had suffered. And so it goes. The very people who proclaim that their life has been found in Christ Jesus, in his death on the cross, in the very fact that He paid a price for their sins….have withheld that same love and mercy from the people that they have been charged with loving no matter what. John Paul II said famously that the family is the first church. Imagine that. Imagine the wounds we heap by the weight of that judgment.

People wonder why we need a Pride month. I have heard it all.

We have pride month because there are still people who would rather send their children out like sheep to a slaughter, rather than walk through this brave step with them. We have pride month because there are teenagers everywhere who do not have a Mama C to take them in, so instead, they become lost to the streets. We have pride month because we need to know that it is necessary to find a way to cross the church pew and to love our neighbors as ourselves. ALL of our neighbors. We have pride month because we are called by virtue of our salvation to love the spirit of the law… love. 1 John says: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we can be called children of God.

Love. That is why we have Pride month.

Love, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Love more. That is why we have Pride.

*published anonymously per author’s request

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