In December, we received a donation to support our LGBTQ services in honor of Vice President Elect Mike Pence. As is our custom, we notify the honoree of the donation.
Dear Mr. Pence,
I am writing to notify you that we recently received a generous unsolicited donation in your honor. As you have undoubtedly been apprised, up to 40% of youth who are homeless identify as LGBTQ, and it is the portion of our work with LGBTQ youth that inspired the donation in your honor. Almost every youth who reaches out to Ozone House has endured multiple traumas over their lifetime, including sexual and physical abuse, human trafficking, abandonment, as well as witnessing domestic violence, substance use disorders and mental health crises in the adults who otherwise should be caring for them.
Despite spending four years in Indiana for college, I was unfamiliar with you and your work until you came to national prominence in 2015 after signing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. At that time, my mother mentioned to me that she had a relative in Indiana named Ed Pence. She has no siblings, both her parents are deceased, she suffers from dementia, and I have not attempted to verify her memory.
Please consider this letter less a protest, but rather an invitation from a potential far flung relative to contemplate what you and I might have in common. Our biographies are not dissimilar, Mr. Pence, and neither are the values of our families of origin. It is—in part—a testament to the United States democratic experiment that despite our converging family histories, we both are free to live out our wildly diverging values every day.
Imagine for a moment how distracted your children were when they were hurt. Or when they were afraid. No doubt you and their mother reached out to comfort and love them in their time of distress so that they could confidently move forward. More importantly, though, imagine the foundation of love, safety, and health that you had already provided them that already enabled them to move through the world without ever having to wonder whether they would have a place to sleep or a meal. Without knowing your family personally, I suspect that you instilled in them the assurance that they could achieve whatever they set their minds to accomplish.
Not all citizens of this country are born into that foundation of family, or of faith—that foundation of not having to struggle just to meet basic needs of shelter, food, or clothing. Not all families are as welcoming of their LGBT children as you were of your own children. Young people who come to Ozone House are teenagers, who, in a country as magnificent at ours, should have the opportunity to build and dream about happy and productive futures from a safe and healthy foundation. Instead, these remarkable young people focus all their energy on mere survival; their future plans and dreams are sublimated to the imperatives of finding a safe place to sleep, or a meal to eat.
Imagine, for a moment, that all young people in this country were provided the vital, life-giving support, safety, and affirmation that you never thought twice about providing for your children—the kind of foundation that Edward and Nancy provided for you.
Since November 8th, hate crimes have spiked precipitously, including against LGBT people. When people are forced to live and operate from a place of fear, they cannot contribute all their talent to this great country of ours. Imagine if you, as Vice President of the United States of America, could reinforce the dignity and worth of all people in this country. Imagine if you could assure all youth of their safety and capacities, the way you undoubtedly have reassured your own children for decades. This could be the most cost-effective government intervention ever extended.
Against conventional wisdom and evidence to the contrary, I am taking a leap of faith to imagine you standing up and declaring that there is no room in this country for hatred, violence, bigotry, or denigrating people based on their identity. I said at the outset that this letter is not one of protest, but rather of invitation. I invite you to take a similar leap of faith and protect all of your fellow citizens from the deleterious effects of hatred and bigotry with the same vigor you have protected your own family.