Deb and Steve Word’s house in Memphis, Tennessee might look very ordinary, but the reality is that it’s far from it.
The couple has fostered numerous homeless LGBTQ+ kids in their home over the past six years, and most of them have been rejected by their own families.
The Word family are Catholic, and that’s exactly why they do it.
In an interview for CNN the couple said that they already knew that their son was gay when he came out at the age of 23, and when they asked him why didn’t he tell them sooner, he said that it was because of their faith and because he was afraid that they would disapprove. So, it was a wake-up call for Deb and Steve, and even though they are practicing Catholics, outreach is something they had always done in one way or another. Deb says that the truth is that rejection seriously hurts these kids, and is something the church avoids talking about.
According to the couple, it was crucial for them that the kids they have fostered felt like it was their home and that they were part of a loving and accepting family. The fostered kids did chores and helped at mealtimes, and many of them are still calling Deb and Steve “Ma” and “Pop” even to this day.
One of the kids was with the couple when he lost his mother, and even though he has moved away from them, they still hear from him every week. Another young boy was discharged of the Navy, and his parents did not know that he was coming home or that he was gay, so he went to the Word family.
The couple had struggled to adapt their religious community and their mission at times, but Deb now volunteers in a Catholic group of parents of LGBTQ+ kids named Fortunate Families, and their goal is to help and support other parents who are part of this journey.
Even though many people admire their work, it has led to some truly heartbreaking moments. They lost one of the kids one year after he left them, and Deb adds that parents must understand the harm that comes from rejection.
However, despite some of the rough moments, the choice to open their home was one of the best choices Deb and Steve had ever made. They are now working with the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center to build a shelter for local LGBTQ+ youngsters who need support and a roof over their heads.