Billy Lucas, age 15. Seth Walsh, age 13. Asher Brown, age 13. Tyler Clementi, age 18. The names of these four youth who killed themselves in September are haunting reminders of the perils of life as either a young gay teen, or one who is perceived to be a young gay teen. All of these young men experienced harassment and humiliation from their fellow students that finally became unbearable.
According to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educator’s Network), their experience is not unusual; nearly nine out of ten lgbt students experience harassment at their school. This victimization negatively impacts school attendance, grade point averages and levels of depression and anxiety (www.glsen.org).
Ultimately it can lead to suicide. Bullying does not take place in a vacuum. The persistent targeting of lgbt youth is sustained by religious ideology and practice that is either hostile, silent, waffles in ambiguity, or retreats in the face of challenge. Enough!! It is time for people of faith to stop fueling the misery of teens. This means an end to beloved “discernment processes” that are carefully constructed to drag on for years and avoid any risk. It means no more cover for pastors who wring their hands in private but are silent in public. It means actually naming the reality that violence is specifically directed towards lgbt people and not pretending that doesn’t exist or “isn’t that bad,” or that there is “pain on all sides.” It means acknowledging that the church has participated in the suffering of lgbt teens and bears responsibility for both the harm and the healing.
It’s time for all of us to say “enough” and begin to act for a better world for lgbt youth. Start by going to the BMC website and downloading a copy of BMC’s Accompaniment: A Resource for Youth Leaders. Then share it with your youth leaders and pastor and make sure they read it. Publicly identify yourself as an ally. Keep an eye out for youth who appear to be struggling. Intervene when you hear anti-gay comments or witness bullying. Insist upon a church and school environment that is safe and affirming for all youth, including lgbt youth.
Far too many of us have been too accommodating and accepting of mean-spirited, uninformed and cruel assertions. The times call for each of us to move past our timidity and rise to the occasion. Youth are not only watching and listening; their very lives may depend upon it.