When one of Deb and Steve Word’s sons came out to them as gay at age 23, they accepted him with unconditional love — and now they’re offering that love to young people who didn’t have such accepting parents.
The Words, whose story is the subject of a new CNN feature, have opened their Memphis, Tennessee home as a safe house for homeless LGBT youth. The couple additionally serve as surrogate parents to 17 LGBT young people.
“Any of the young people who have stayed with us have known they were going to be treated just like our own children, which means you take the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Steve Word told CNN.
They came to this work after meeting Will Batts, director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, who told them about a young gay couple and 4-year-old child who were living out of a car.
“We invited them into our home,” said Deb Word. “They stayed for three or four weeks — that was the beginning of our journey as a safe house.”
The Words, who are devout Roman Catholics, have responded to their son and other LGBT people in their lives with affirmation rather than condemnation (the church frowns on discrimination but still considers homosexuality a disorder and gay sex a sin). Their faith was one reason their son waited so long to come out to them, telling them, “It’s your club. You know the rules,” Deb Word recalled.
“As Catholic parents, it broke our hearts that we weren’t able to kind of shield him from some of that,” she told CNN. They have become involved with a group for Catholic parents of LGBT children called Fortunate Families, which promotes dialogue and acceptance.
Watch the CNN segment below.