Tag Archives: Bullying

Don’t Say Gay?

Today I had the privilege of both speaking briefly at a prayer breakfast and meeting with fellow clergy and Tennessee state  legislators to discuss the far-reaching implications of Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  As you may know, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill would force teachers and school administrators to literally “out” any student who approaches them to discuss anything related to homosexuality.  This bill is not only a HUGE step backward in our work to create equality, but also a CLEAR message to LGBT youth that they sit in their closets alone. I honestly can’t decide if this legislation makes me more want to cry or shout… or possibly both.

No matter our political or theological leanings, we should be able to agree that children and teens should not be killing themselves because they have been placed in a situation so hostile and isolating that they feel there is no other alternative.

I don’t often write my sermons/reflections out in a word-for-word document… but I did this time.  Thought I’d my reflection with you here…

Don’t Say Gay?

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When I confirmed my participation in this breakfast, one of the organizers asked about scriptures that would be appropriate to share this morning.  I immediately thought of this small story from Joshua 20:

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought.

It’s an interesting little story, isn’t it?  It’s the Lord telling Joshua to provide refuge for people being pursued by their enemies.  In this case the cities of refuge are specifically for people who have accidentally killed someone, but let’s think about the spirit behind the idea…

Provide safety, refuge, and protection for those who need to be protected.  It’s an important enough idea that the commandment to provide cities of refuge can be found in 4 of our OT books.

“Provide a place where they can flee and find protection.”

Let me be clear – I AM NOT implying that a non-hetero sexual orientation is in any way deviant or that LGBTQ youth – or any youth – should feel the need to hide because of who they love.

BUT… I do like the standard set in this passage that God provided a place of safety for those whom society considered morally outcast.  Should our schools and churches not also be these places for our youth?  Shouldn’t our teachers have the freedom to act in compassion and be a “city of refuge” for students who are sometimes literally “pursued by their enemies?”  Given that our kids spend 25% of their day under a school roof, shouldn’t we do everything we can to make it a safe place… a city of refuge… rather than a place that makes them feel isolated and alone?

Given that research shows the isolation LGBT youth feel may be one of the greatest contributors to the fact that these kids are:

  • more than 8 times more likely to attempt suicide
  • almost 6 times more likely to experience serious depression
  • over 3 times more likely to have regular unprotected sex than other youth.

Given that… shouldn’t we do everything we can to hold them close rather than push them further outside the city walls?

From the gospel of Matthew:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

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Bullying, Depression, and The Extra Credit Kid.

Bullying.  There, I said it.

I just read a pretty decent article titled “Are Depressed Kids Bully Magnets?”  The article is (obviously) about the possible link between depression and bullying.  It doesn’t deal specifically with LGBT kids, but… c’mon.  The author questions whether kids become depressed because they’re bullied or whether they’re bullied because they’re depressed.  After all, the author reasons, a sad, downer kid crying in the corner is a pretty easy target.

If you have any connection to LGBT youth, you’ve probably already made mental connections between bullying and depression… and being gay and depression… and being gay and bullying… and have already realized how all these ingredients can mix together into a pretty nasty cake.

After reading the article, I was reminded of a short story I wrote a few years ago about an “extra credit kid.”  (Hopefully) it raises some questions not only about  the need each of us has for someone to look beyond our ordinary and see something special, but also about our ability to bounce back when they don’t.

And so, because I think it somehow relates to our larger conversation of the LGBT experience, I present…

The Extra Credit Kid

When the boy was ten, his 5th grade teacher used the hour after lunch to teach her class the beautiful language of the deaf.  Even though everyone in the class could hear – even though they all listened to their radios at home and turned their TVs louder than their mothers would have liked – this particular over-achieving educator wanted her class to know sign language. She wanted to teach their still innocent hands how to do something constructive.  She wanted them to learn gestures that would communicate without offending the elderly.

The children loved their sign language lessons.   Once, during a silent game of Ring Around the Rosie, they even got so rowdy that the teacher had to remind them to use their inside hands.

After the first week of learning to speak with silent words, the boy told his teacher that his mother was deaf.  He said that everyone in his family knew how to use sign language.  He had been doing it for years.  Sometimes, before bed, he even used his hands to read out loud to his mother.

“But not the Bible,” he said.  “All the whosoevers and wherefores make my knuckles crack.”

The teacher was amazed. Like an exotic exchange student from a quiet and faraway land, the boy was a native who already knew the language. He was a natural tutor.  In a moment of instructive genius, the teacher offered bonus points to any child who spent time with the boy whose hands could talk.

He was the extra credit kid.

Within hours of the teacher’s edict, the extra credit kid became the most popular kid in class.  His lunch table was always full.  His seat was always saved.  He never spent recess jumping rope by himself.  He was extra credit.

Every afternoon The Extra Credit Kid leapt off a bus full of new friends, eager to tell his mother how popular he was at school.  With exhausted fingers, he bragged about how everyone wanted to spend time with him because he was good at something.  Because he knew something.  Because he could do something no one else could.

Because he was extra credit.

The teacher asked The Extra Credit Kid to keep a journal of the time he spent with friends from their class.  She wanted to be fair when she assigned extra points.  The Extra Credit Kid soon noticed that he was invited to lots of birthday parties and sleepovers, but only on nights before the teacher tallied progress reports or just after difficult math tests.  He played lots of video games with the lazy kids, but was never spoken to by the smart ones who had stars next to their names on the bulletin board.

In March, everyone celebrated The Extra Credit Kid’s birthday by singing Happy Birthday with their hands.

In April, his class took a special trip to a school where the children couldn’t hear.  The Extra Credit Kid ate lunch at a table full of deaf kids and told a joke so well that a boy almost choked on his peas.  Everyone from The Extra Credit Kid’s class turned around to look.  The rest of the cafeteria hadn’t heard a thing.

In May, everyone waved goodbye to each other and promised they’d play together at the swimming pool.

In June, when school was over, the Extra Credit Kid’s new friends stopped returning his calls. His hands, once limber from telling jokes and stories, grew lazy and fat.  Summer vacation wasn’t nearly as much fun as the school year had been.

The sixth grade was even more disappointing than the summer. His new teacher, Mrs. Espinoza, had severe arthritis and wasn’t interested in sign language.  She wanted to teach the children Spanish.  The Extra Credit Kid had never been to Spain.  For a month he spent the hour after lunch memorizing conjugations with his hands folded politely in his lap.

It was hard crossing from extra back to ordinary. It always is.

During the seventh grade The Extra Credit Kid learned to play the trombone.

In high school his hands were often busy, but with a new sign language that involved him talking mostly to himself.

The Extra Credit Kid eventually went to college and found a job and became a man.

After a while, the man almost forgot that he had ever been extra credit.

But then, when his mom visited, they would sit together and tell stories with their hands.  And laugh.  And he would remember.

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Some of my best friends are gay…

If you’ve never met my boyfriend, you’d like him.  He’s good people.

Jeremy’s starting a new project called “The Allies Project” that helps gay folks see that there are tons of straight people who love and support LGBT folks.

Basically, he’s asking LGBT people to share a story about how a straight ally has helped make their journey easier. The idea is that “When you share a story about how a straight person has made a difference in your life, your ally becomes our ally.”  Pretty brilliant, right?!

Read a story written by an LGBT person about how an ally has made a difference in their life.

Read a story written by an ally about why they love and support the LGBT community.

When LGBT youth “come out,” they already know that the gay community will love and support them.  Duh.  What they don’t always know is that there are TONS of open minded, loving, compassionate, straight people who will support them as well.

These kids need to know that not all straight people are against them!

If you’re LGBT, share a story with The Allies Project about how a straight person has made a difference in your life and make your ally our ally.

If you’re one of our straight allies, tell a story about why you love and support the LGBT community.

Help LGBT youth know that they’re not as isolated from the straight world as they sometimes feel.  Support The Allies Project!

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Christians and Gay Teen Suicides

Experience satirical wonderfulness below….

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Church’s Response to LGBT Youth Suicide

Yesterday I posted a few thoughts about Jamey Rodemeyer’s suicide and a link to a great open letter to Christian parents of LGBT youth.

As a quick follow-up, I thought you might want to see this pic I just found of a church’s response to Jamey’s suicide…

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A Letter to Parents of LGBT Youth… It MUST get better.

Even though Jamey Rodemeyer found the courage to make an “It Gets Better” video encouraging his LGBT peers to “hold their heads up,” things didn’t get better.  Last week Jamey committed suicide.

Our friend Kathy Verebiest of Canyonewalker Connections said this about Jamey’s video (which you can watch below):

…too bad he was not saying “I am getting so much support from my youth leaders at church who just love me” …where are the positive role models of healthy living for our gay youth in churches? I MUST get better. It MUST. And now he is dead.

Jamey’s parents chose to bury their gay son in his favorite outfit – including a t-shirt printed with the Lady Gaga mantra “Born This Way.”

Amen.

Jamey was lucky to have parents who accepted and supported their gay son.  Not all LGBT youth are this fortunate.  It sometimes takes moms and dads a while to understand what it means to have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or tansgender child.

Kathy Verebiest – one of our straight allies – has written a powerful letter to the parents of Christian LGBT youth.  If you know a kid who’s struggling to survive because his parents are struggling to understand… send them this letter. Our kids need all the support they can get.

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Church Bullies?

A few days ago, a friend of mine on Facebook posted the following update:

“Today, I’ll try not to track down a bully, take a 2 by 4, sharpen it, & pound it up his rear with a croquet hammer. For I’m a man of peace. I will, however, rattle a few cages of some elected representatives who create anti bullying websites with NO ADEQUATE LAWS to back it up.”

My friend obviously isn’t Gandhi… but can you blame him?  Wouldn’t you also be tempted to find a few creative uses for a croquet hammer if a kid at school was making your kid feel like his life wasn’t worth living?

It’s been almost a year since the suicide of Tyler Clementi – a Rutgers student who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a live internet video of him having a sexual encounter with another man – brought increased national attention the “problem” of bullying among LGBT youth.

Those of us who work with (or are) LGBT youth didn’t need the death of Tyler Clementi – or any of the dozens of other youth who commit suicide due to bullying every year – to remind us that words can be even more dangerous than sticks and stones.  Dozens of studies – including this report from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence – report the effect of discrimination and harassment on LGBT youth:

40% of youth who reported a minority sexual orientation indicated feeling sad or hopeless in the past 2 weeks, compared to 26% of heterosexual youth… [the data] also showed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely as heterosexual youth to have considered attempting suicide in the past year (31% vs. 14%).

Adolescence should be a time of hopefullness, not hopelessness.  The church – one of the primary vehicles God has given us to communicate His hope to the hopeless – should stand as a sanctuary of peace and safety for LGBT youth.

Does yours?

Our friends at Lutherans Concerned/North America have developed a super anti-bullying curriculum that’s designed for churches who want to make both their congregations and communities safe(r) places for LGBT folks.  According to the promo literature, Where All Can Safely Live “was developed with the help of the staff at the Pacific Violence Prevention Institute, from the pioneering research on bullying by Dan Olweus, and materials created by the United States government.”

Interested?  Download a free copy of the anti-bullying curriculum (“Where All Can Safely Live”) here.

Reference:

Almeida, J., Johnson, R., Corliss, H., Molnar, B., & Azrael, D. (2009). Emotional distress among LGBT youth: The influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 1001 – 1014.

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