Assault, Suicide, Love, and Respect
Current events show why LGBTQ equality can be life and death
The past few weeks of LGBTQ news have been full of hard lessons
Headlines are packed with assaults, suicides, and downturns in public acceptance after decades of progress. In one particularly stunning blow, a revered religious institution long considered a staunch ally of LGBTQ people has turned its back on full equality.
Sometimes people like to deny or downplay the hard realities many gender and sexual minorities live with. Here’s a brief sampling of recent news. Here’s why real equality matters and why full acceptance is worth fighting for.
Assaults in the news
Ryan Williams is a young adult living in Preston, a small city in Lancashire in the UK. He works as a Holiday Inn receptionist.
He posted this photo on Facebook last weekend after he was beaten unconscious by people shouting homophobic slurs.
In his post he says, “I never thought in my life that I would get beaten up for being GAY! I want people to understand that being gay ISN’T a choice and I can’t help it.”
- Police are investigating a homophobic hate crime in Southeast London that left a man with serious head injuries.
- A serial killer has been stalking gay men in Detroit. A man was arrested yesterday, suspected in at least two murders and being investigated for more.
- Queer teen Bianca Devins was brutally murdered in New York City on Saturday, a day after coming out to friends online as ‘bisexual’, ‘LGBT’, and ‘asexual.’
Reports of youth suicide are constant
Earlier this month, 19-year-old Adam Seef ended his life, leaving a note telling his parents that he was struggling with his sexuality. Nobody had any idea how depressed and anxious Adam had grown trying to reconcile his Orthodox Jewish faith with his sexual orientation. His stricken parents and his rabbi have made his note public, urging families to accept their children unconditionally.
Respect and concern for at-risk youth are often lacking
The assault and suicide above are just examples. Anti-LGBTQ assaults are increasing around the world, and in the US, according to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth suicide rates, already tragically high, may be increasing.
In April, 15-year-old Nigel Shelby of Huntsville, Alabama took his own life following homophobic bullying.
15-year-old Nigel Shelby took his own life after homophobic bullying
He lived in Huntsville, Alabama Nigel Shelby | Photo: Facebook Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old student has died by suicide…
Following his death, his mother requested people remember him for more than his bullying and subsequent suicide. After a Huntsville TV station shared her plea in a public post, Madison County Deputy Jeff Graves responded that he was “offended.” He posted, “Liberty, Guns, Bible, Trump, BBQ. That’s my kind of LGBTQ.”
He went on to characterize LGBTQ people as having “altered ego” and “fake agenda.” The Sheriff’s department suspended Graves with pay pending an investigation. He later resigned.
The deputy mocked the death of a 15-year-old boy and used his mother’s grief as a platform to bash LGBTQ people. I started to write that it’s hard to imagine somebody being that calloused and disrespectful. I had to delete that sentence. Not only can I imagine such a thing, I see it all the time.
The more religious the LGBTQ teen, the more likely they are to try to kill themselves.
Last week, Graves was hired by a local police department. “He’s an officer here,” said Owens Cross Roads Police Chief Jason Dobbins. We feel he will be a good addition to the department.”
Disrespect can turn to calls for violence
Elsewhere in Alabama last month, small-town mayor Mark Chambers felt so secure in his disrespect of LGBTQ people that he posted on Facebook that the only solution would be “killing them out.”
We live in a society where homosexuals lecture us on morals, transvestites lecture us on human biology, baby killers lecture us on human rights and socialists lecture us on economics. The only way to change it would be to kill the problem out. I know it’s bad to say but without killing them out there’s no way to fix it.
Despite subsequent calls for him to resign, the mayor of Carbon Hill announced that he would not do so.
According to the Washington Post, Carbon Hill town council member and Christian minister Rev. Clarence Colbert describes Chambers as a “great man” and a “good leader.” April Herron, another council member, describes criticism of Chambers as “unjust,” explaining that, “There’s one negative thing that happens in this town and a thousand positives. It’s a shame that it takes something like this to be in the spotlight.”
One might almost believe that Herron’s “one negative thing” was just a minor faux pas or mistake, rather than incitement to violence and murder. Chambers remains in office.
LGBTQ acceptance can be a matter of life and death
I don’t suppose anyone directly followed up on Chamber’s call to violence, but he joins a chorus of voices around the world that work to stigmatize and dehumanize LGBTQ people.
From the homophobic World Congress of Families that met in Verona, Italy last month to associations of evangelical Christians in the United States, religious leaders often raise their voices to morally condemn gender and sexual minorities. Evangelical leader Franklin Graham even wades into politics. In April, he tweeted out a moral condemnation of presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
Chambers and Graham share something in common that many of us LGBTQ people know well — a willingness to publicly shame members of gender and sexual minorities, to state openly that we are not moral, and that we represent moral danger to society.
Graham and his co-religionists are not in a majority. Most Americans support LGBTQ rights and strongly disagree with people who would call us sinners or call on us to repent.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute , public support for religiously based discrimination against LGBTQ people stands at about 30%. While that’s certainly a minority, it’s not a small number. Put 10 random Americans in a room and three of them will buy into religious condemnation.
30% is a huge number
If you’re a kid in the Bible Belt just discovering you aren’t like everybody else, 30% could be life threatening. Suicide rates are especially high among LGBTQ teens in conservative religous families. The more religious the LGBTQ teen, the more likely they are to try to kill themselves.
As to acts of homophobic violence, according to the Pew Research Center, people almost always learn their intolerant views in church. If 3 out of 10 people are learning that gay, bi, and trans people are immoral, then 30% is a very dangerous number.
LGBTQ people count on allies to counter bigotry
People like Chambers and Graham are outnumbered by decent, loving Christians and other religious people who run churches, temples, and synagogues that fully accept and affirm LGBTQ people.
Those of us rejected by our own faiths and families often turn to large, important Christian denominations like the Anglicans for succor, support, and love.
Christian allies seem to be in retreat on LGBTQ inclusion
Last Friday, when bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada voted to reject same-sex marriage, clergy, lay people, and LGBTQ people all over the world reacted with shock and despair. Meghan Kilty, the church’s director of communications, says the vote has prompted strong reactions from many members and clergy. “There’s a lot of grief right now among the delegates,” she said.
The Canadian bishops’ vote stings especially hard given that it follows closely on the heels of a similar direction by the Anglican Church of England, and by the United Methodists in the United States.
The last two weeks have been rough weeks in the struggle for LGBTQ equality. With homophobic and transphobic assaults on the rise and youth suicide at tragic levels, members of gender and sexual minorities are more in need of allies and support than ever.
We all need to remind ourselves of something very important: