It Gets Better, but in the meantime, let's make it better

October 20, 2010

Recently a campaign called “It Gets Better” started by columnist Dan Savage, has been receiving a lot of attention. To raise awareness about the recent rash of teen suicides and to try to offer hope to young queer teens suffering from bullying and homophobia, Savage created a YouTube channel where people could post videos about living through bullying and harassment as young queer people and how it gets better. I can only hope that this campaign will help some young people who feel there is no hope. Unfortunately, I feel more attention should be directed and energy spent on a message that there is no place for bullying, harassment, and homophobia in our homes, schools, churches and society and we need a strong message that, as Carol Wise, director of BMC, has written, we’ve had enough!. As she said:

 

“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.”

 

Every denomination and congregation needs to look deep into itself and ask, what have we done to fuel the misery of teens? Have we been silent when we should have spoken up? Have we tacitly supported messages that lgbtq people are less than? Have we spread that message ourselves? Telling queer kids that “It gets better” feels to me a little like telling a battered woman that it will get better instead of telling a batterer that he shouldn’t beat up his wife and currently most parts of organized religion are either silent on the battering or outright encouraging/doing it themselves. The rest of us are just trying to do damage control. When will we be able to say that religion is fighting this problem instead of religion is the problem?

 

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson recently published an article called “How Religion is Killing our Most Vulnerable Youth” in the Huffington Post. A few quotes:

 

“It is not enough for good people — religious or otherwise — to simply be feeling more positive toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude beats discrimination and abuse by a mile. But it’s not enough. Tolerant people, especially tolerant religious people, need to get over their squeamishness about being vocal advocates and unapologetic supporters of LGBT people. It really is a matter of life and death, as we’ve seen.”

 

“Ministers who remain in comfortable silence on sexuality must speak out. Churches that have silently embraced gay and lesbian members for years must publicly hang the welcome banner. How long will we continue to limit and qualify our messages of acceptance, inclusion and embrace for the most vulnerable in order to maintain the comfort of those in our communities of faith who are well served by the status quo? In the current climate, equivocating messages of affirmation are overpowered by the religious rhetoric of hatred. Silence only serves to support the toleration of bullying, violence and exclusion. In the face of what has already become the common occurrence of LGBT teen suicide, how long can we wait to respond?”

 

And one more:

 

“These bullying behaviors would not exist without the undergirding and the patina of respect provided by religious fervor against LGBT people. It’s time for “tolerant” religious people to acknowledge the straight line between the official anti-gay theologies of their denominations and the deaths of these young people. Nothing short of changing our theology of human sexuality will save these young and precious lives.”

 

The “It Gets Better” campaign could be a powerful way to raise awareness and give hope to some. We can all feel a little stronger as we watch the videos and drop a few tears. But let us not be satisfied simply with the adage that “it gets better.” For if we look at ourselves, our actions, our inaction, and our churches without getting a little angry and doing something to make it better, we’ve failed the youth we wish to help.

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Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests

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Minneapolis, MN 55406

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