While the national press has picked up this issue over the last two months, we have been losing high numbers of LGBT youth to suicide for decades. In recent years, we’ve labeled the cause as bullying. But the root cause goes deeper – it goes to the very core of our society that discriminates against the LGBT community on all levels, including the denial of basic human rights that are supposed to belong to every person.This response from Pope comes following the news of the suicide of a young Oakland University student, Corey Jackson.
Meanwhile, I'm searching for answers after the death of this one young man that has hit close to home. Sources close to him say that bullying wasn't the issue. And the message of the "It Gets Better" project seems to be that it gets better after high school when you can get out of your smaller circle into the larger, more liberal, more supportive world of college. I know, even as a heterosexual person, that it got better for me--high school was pretty miserable for a nerdy, awkward teenager, and once I got to a world where my intelligence was more appreciated and there were lots of other nerds, well, it got better. For lots of lgbt youth, they get off to college and find a world with a social circle and a support circle that they can fit into for the first time, and it does, indeed, get better.
Corey's death and other deaths of young college men belie this "It Gets Better" argument as a cure-all. For some people, it did get better. For some, like Corey or Raymond Chase or Tyler Clementi, apparently it did not. And I'm sure the support in Rochester/Detroit or Providence or New Brunswick could be stronger, but none of these are rural, isolated, or particularly conservative--Michigan, Rhode Island and New Jersey are all states that are blue or swing states. There are resources and support networks in all these areas. I'm sure all the campuses have support networks and probably offices dedicated to supporting lgbt students.
It wasn't enough for these young men.
Everything we're doing--it's not enough.
We have to change hearts and minds of those who are sending out the message that gay people are less than human, are sinners and damned, are not normal and natural.
After Zach Harrington's death, I watched the footage of the Norman, Oklahoma City Council meeting that he had attended on September 28th which debated whether to pass a measure proclaiming a lgbt heritage month for October in Norman. That is, I watched approximately half of the three-hour debate. That was enough. That was enough in a city council format, wherein each resident can say their few minutes of their point of view, and there's not rebuttal or correction or debate with each perspective unless the next person who gets up says something to refute the previous statement. I heard some really good people get up--one doctor, one minister, many other residents--and say some really positive, heart-filled things in favor of the measure. And I also heard lies after lies and stereotypes after stereotypes, and I heard slippery slopes and special privileges and all sorts of logical fallacies. The worst one comes at 1:42 into the video--this is the point where I started to just feel sick to my stomach. The speaker pretends that he hasn't made up his mind, asking how many people have reported to the police that they've been harassed by the police. Without having much time to respond, a member of the human rights council says that they have been gathering instances and hearing stories on this sort of thing at every single meeting, and that most of them go unreported, and the city council chair says that she does have the number of hate crimes reported in the city (6 in the last year). The speaker then comes to what he clearly always intended to say, which is that he's a minister in the city and that "78% of them carry sexually transmitted diseases and die from it" and that he "loves them enough" to "teach them that that's a lifestyle that's destructive to them."
Over and over the real opposition to homosexuality came out: religious beliefs. It always really comes down to that. As a country, I don't think we can, through the governement, be about the process of changing religious beliefs--I absolutely believe in freedom of religion from government involvement. But as a a minister, and as a human being, I believe that we, people of a healing and loving faith, absolutely have to be about the work of changing these beliefs. As Sophia Lyon Fahs said, "It matters what you believe." And the truth is, some religious beliefs kill. I don't believe in supporting or upholding religious beliefs that lead people to terrorism--I believe in changing those beliefs. These beliefs may not have the effect of causing their believers bomb buildings, but these beliefs are killing these young men, one at a time.
A year ago, Bishop John Shelby Spong, in a manifesto essentially declaring victory against a theology he now saw as irrelevant said:
I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured."Spong believed:
The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us.I had some skepticism at the time. Now, much as I like him, I think he was flat-out wrong. The battle isn't won, and we don't need to stop debating this theology in the public arena, we need to do it more. We have to do it more.
Everything we're doing--it's not enough.
We need to do more.