Let me be clear: No gay or lesbian kid should be bullied, harassed or made to feel disrespected and rejected. No gay or lesbian kid. None, period.
Yet rejection is the very thing that seems to be the experience of gay and lesbian teenagers in the most politically conservative communities. What other explanation can you offer for the finding of Columbia University researchers of the high incidence of suicide attempts in such Oregon counties?
The researchers surveyed about 32,000 high school students throughout that state. Here’s what those kids told them. In mostly Republican conservative counties, where few Democrats live, about 20 percent of gay and lesbian kids said they had attempted suicide at least once.
At the same time, only 4 percent of straight kids in these communities reported making a suicide attempt. Which would be the story for gay and straight kids in mainly Democratic counties.
You can read all about it in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Thank goodness, my son, who is straight, survived four suicide attempts as a teenager. So our family has had some experience in the trauma of an attempt. Such events cast a shadow over our family for years. It’s hard to imagine what losing a child to suicide would do to one’s sense of personal security. When would you stop grieving?
The Columbia researchers note that the suicide attempts for the gay and lesbian kids in the study occurred whether or not they were bullied or depressed.
In conservative communities, you’re not likely to find school programs that support gay and lesbian kids. In more progressive communities, such programs are common. Further, those kids will find support in the mainline churches. Straight kids here will befriend them, take their side and be their advocate.
Our granddaughter, a university student, has one gay friend whose family lives in a conservative town north of our city. He fears to tell his parents. He believes that if he told them that he’s gay, they would be devastated. Maybe even reject him.
Where does such prejudice come from? What does a rejection of anyone on the basis of sexual orientation have to do with politics? What does it have to do with religion?
Clearly, many young gay and lesbian people internalize the bigotry they hear voiced at the dinner table, from the pulpit and from the most conservative politicians. Growing up amid the expression of such self-righteous and ignorant attitudes becomes a burden no child should have to bear.
How is it that you don’t find such bigotry directed toward adulterers or those who divorce? I point out that such things seem to be condemned in sacred texts.
Oddly enough, the same holy scriptures that are interpreted to condemn deviations from the sexual norm also condemn those who would judge others. Instead, these scriptures call upon us to love and accept everyone.
Homophobia seems to be a special, even unique form of bigotry. And like most all prejudices, it can have terrible, tragic consequences. The Columbia University study merely tells us where you’re most likely to find it.