The past few weeks have been shameful for those who abuse religion to justify their anti-gay bigotry, and devastating for our community and families that lost sons and daughters to suicide. We now face a moral challenge that we must meet.
In these past weeks, I have felt powerless to stop the rising toll. Just months into the school year, at least 10 teenagers committed suicide rather than continue to face the pain of daily harassment and the shame of being made to feel they were “wrong” or “immoral.” We know that for every one of these young people, there are countless more who suffer in schools and classrooms every day.
In the wake of these tragic deaths and in an appalling act of grown-up bullying, several anti-gay figures, including Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, spit on the fresh graves of these young people. Spewing hate-filled rhetoric, baseless lies, junk science, and half-truths about our lives, they justified their screeds by invoking their religious beliefs.
Packer, in remarks televised as part of the Mormon General Conference, said that same-sex “tendencies” were “impure and unnatural,” and suggested that God would not make us this way. Perkins, in a column riddled with lies and discredited research (shame on The Washington Post for publishing such trash), argued that the bullies must not have been regular churchgoers because true Christians would not engage in such acts. He went on to blithely attack the integrity of our lives and the health of our relationships, and in a classic “blame the victim” deflection claimed that we are hurt not by anti-gay violence, intolerance, and harassment, but rather by simply being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. So much for living a “Christ-like” life.
These men are simply bigger bullies, and quite devoid of human decency. They spinelessly dodge the blame that belongs at their feet for trafficking in stereotypes about our lives, and for eagerly and ceaselessly supplying excuses and ideological cover for discrimination and hatred. We must hold them accountable for the damage they cause to LGBT youth with their bigotry masquerading as religious belief.
The deaths of these young people have galvanized our community and a range of allies. There has been an outpouring of support for many of the families and for other young people who may likewise be suffering, and a renewed push for accountability to address the epidemic of bullying and harassment. We must keep up the pressure. We must make sure there is lasting reform. We must reach the parents of kids who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying and forge a permanent end to this corrosive cycle. And perhaps most importantly, by speaking up and being out, as LGBT people or as allies, we must help foster a culture of greater inclusion, compassion and understanding.
In my school community, we have taken our first steps. My 14-year-old son Julian and some of his friends wanted to find a way to get a supportive word out to other kids, who may not be as lucky as they are to live in a community where difference is not feared. The result is our own It Gets Better/We are Making it Better video.
These kids are the same age as many who took their lives. That is a sobering reality. But fortunately, unlike those who exploit these tragic deaths to further their own anti-gay agendas, the kids in this video are the future. They are our future leaders. That should give us, and every kid out there, hope.
We still have much to do, and some of our most profound victories lie ahead. But we must have the faith of those who know our full humanity is worth fighting for. We will win equality. And we will win a day when anti-gay bigotry and dehumanizing statements about us and our lives are universally condemned as damaging, wrong, and utterly unacceptable. The teenagers we fight for – Asher, Tyler, Billy, Raymond, Seth, Aiyisha, Felix, Zach, Cody, and Chloe – should be fighting with us. They, more than most, earned the right to see that day. They were robbed of that moment. Our commitment must be to do all we can to ensure that they will be hate’s final victims.
For additional resources on helping to stop bullying and information on suicide prevention efforts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, please visit:
• The Trevor Project
• Gay-Straight Alliance Network
• Groundspark’s Respect for All Project films
• Family Acceptance Project
• Make It Better Project
• Welcoming Schools