Monday, June 29, 2015

Current LGBT Attitudes, Their Repercussions, and My Experiences as They Relate.

The supreme court decision this past Friday was momentous and should be celebrated. The amount of support that we've seen around this country this past weekend is amazing. We're seeing this country change for the better - a little more every year. People are changing, minds are changing, and every day we get a little closer to where we need to be. That said, it's important that we remember that the fight is far from over. The supreme court exercised it's legal authority and upheld its responsibility to protect the civil rights of the citizens of this country, but it was not a position made by popular vote. There are still plenty of places in this country where it's unsafe for two men or two women to walk down the street holding hands. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth especially are still living a nightmare all over the country when dealing with rejection from their family, friends, teachers, and fellow students. Hateful legislation still remains and people of influence and power are still fighting to withhold basic freedoms of the LGBT communities.

Here are some statistics, with references listed below, on some of the struggles that the LGBT community, in particular the youth, face. Below that I will discuss some personal experiences and share some of my thoughts on why these statistics are as high as they are and what people can do to change them.

  • Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) youth are up twice as likely (some studies show up to 4 times more likely) to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and over 8 times more likely if they come from a rejecting family.
  • LGB youth suicide attempts are 4-6 times more likely to result in injury that requires treatment from a doctor.
  • LGBT adults are up to twice as likely to suffer from major depressive disorder.
  • Because of victimization at school and at home LGBT youth are more likely to have high levels of drug use and have unprotected or risky sex.
  • LGBT youth are at greater risk for homelessness due to running away from home due to stress or being kicked out of their home. Studies show that between 25% and 50% of homeless youth are LGBT.
  • Half of gay males have a negative parental reaction when they come out and a quarter of them are thrown out of the home.
  • Nearly half of transgender people have seriously thought about suicide, and one quarter have made a suicide attempt.

I consider myself to be fairly fortunate in my coming out experience and any history of persecution or bullying. My family has either been openly accepting of who I am (thank you) or have at the very least kept their opinions to themselves and still made an effort to accept Jarrad and I as part of the family. My most difficult struggle was, and in some ways still is, an internal struggle. I did not really come out to myself until my early twenties. For most of my life before then I believed and spoke openly about homosexuality being a sin. I was a very devout evangelical Christian. Who I was as an individual revolved around what I believed and who I thought I was in the eyes of God. Imagine me trying to reconcile the slow realization that I was gay, and had no choice over the matter, with my belief that it was a sin and that by "choosing" the gay lifestyle I would be choosing to abandon the type of life that God wants us to lead. It's a familiar struggle for many LGBT men and women.

My slow departure from my faith coupled with this struggle of who I was set the stage for confusion, depression, and the formation of some bad emotional habits. For the record my realization that I was gay was not the reason that I began to question my faith. I fully believe that someone can hold deep religious convictions and still identify as LGBT, and that the two are not always contradictory. The reason that I personally began to question my faith was my inability to reconcile the teachings of my faith and the Bible with what I was learning in college. The overwhelming evidence and facts I was being exposed to contradicted the beliefs that I held, and once water started seeping through the cracks in the dam I'd built there was no stopping its eventual destruction. The purpose of this blog post though is not to discuss my faith, and the only reason I bring this up is to show how my struggle with my faith coupled with my realization that I was gay was incredibility difficult for me to wrap my young brain around. It left me feeling empty, unsure of who I was, and with lots of holes in my life and gaps to fill. If the coming out process for me was this difficult, I can only imagine how hard it must be on younger youth without the supportive family and friends that I had, and the inability to live independently and provide for themselves.

None of this is easy for me to talk about. I haven't shared it with many people, and I don't think I've ever written it down before, but I think it's important to do so. I believe each of us has to do everything we can to fight against the remaining anti-gay propaganda and attitudes in this country, and if sharing some of my own experiences or confronting difficult situations can help, then I think it's my responsibility to do so. Kids are literally dying in this country and lives are being destroyed due to hate and nonacceptance. This is not something any of us should be taking lightly.

So now I want to ask yourself two questions. "Am I part of the problem?" and, if not, "Is there anything more I can do to help?"

Are you part of the problem? I'm not going to spend time talking about Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, or the blatant anti-gay hate speech you may see on the news. I doubt I have many "God Hates Fags" followers on here, or even the "If you're gay then you're going to Hell" crowd. Rather I want to address those individuals who take a more "loving" approach to discrimination. Those who preach, "Hate the sin, love the sinner," or "You're wrong, but I love you," in response to the LGBT community. In many ways these attitudes are even more dangerous than outspoken hatred. It's easy to laugh at and ignore someone who calls you a faggot and tells you that you're going to hell. But saying, "I love you.. but who you are is wrong," sticks with you, it cuts deeper, and it's not as easy to dismiss.

Imagine you are a 14 year old boy who is struggling with who he is. His world has turned on his head. His whole life he has heard his family, his pastor, people who he looks up to talking about how the feelings he's having, uncontrollably, are wrong. He's afraid to share who he is because he's surrounded himself with these people and knows nothing else. But then it comes out - maybe by accident, maybe because he believes he is wrong and he wants help to change, maybe he's one of the few brave enough in this situation to actually share who he is. His response is a hand to the shoulder and the kind words of I love you, now let's see what I can do to fix you. The words speak love, but behind his parent's eyes he sees disappointment even if it's fleeting. And then, rather than growing and learning to live and love who he is he is convinced to take steps backward and to fix himself - which of course does not work, and instead leads to self hate, doubt, depression, and then thoughts that he's not good enough, he can't fix himself, maybe it's better to just die? This is very common among young boys and girls who just need to be accepted for who they are.

If you're saying "Hate the sin, love the sinner," when it comes to LGBTs then you are part of the problem. Not only that, but you are deceiving yourself into thinking that because you throw the word "love" in there you are potentially having a positive effect on the individual by showing them that you love them, as God does. But really your words are no more Godly and no less harmful then saying, "You're African American, but I love you anyway." You are adding to the statistics above. Even if you have not had a personal experience with an LGBT individual you are still propagating these harmful believes into society. You are part of the climate that encourages suicide and breeds depression and hate. To put it bluntly, you have blood on your hands.

Is there anything more than you can do to help? I'm going to start this one off by saying my intention is not to tell anyone that they aren't doing enough, or that they should be compelled to go out and start a movement, or that they should in any way feel guilty if you just keep to yourself on the matter and don't do a single thing. For some people that might be enough. Nobody knows what's going on in your head besides you and nobody knows the pressures you are under, the struggles you are facing, and the reasons you may have for keeping quiet.

There's a lot that people can do to help - a simple Google search will bring up tons of great opportunities. But I'm going to only ask two simple things - and this is only if you're able to do so. The first thing is this; speak up, let people know what you believe, and tell people when they're wrong. It can be easy to scroll past an anti-gay post on Facebook or ignore a comment by a friend or family member. A lot of times it's easier that way. Most people don't want to start an argument, or put themselves into an uncomfortable position. But remember, these people are in their own ways promoting depression and suicide. So just let them know that you disagree. Let them know that they are wrong. Be respectful, they are probably good people, they probably don't want to hurt anybody. But they need to know that spreading lies and information that puts children at risk is not okay.

The second thing is hopefully an easier one. Just tell people that you love them for who they are. You would be amazed how much of a difference this could make. Let a transgender boy know that you support who he is. Let the high school girls timidly holding hands in your church know that you are okay with how God made them. That they are special. That no matter what they are dealing with it gets better. And you don't have to limit this to the LGBT community - everybody deserves to know that they aren't born broken. Everybody deserves to be happy. So just say I love you, and you should be proud of how you were made. You just might save someone's life.