… And the LGBT community must find a way to give hope to youth struggling against bullying, bigotry and discrimination
“Hope is a dangerous thing,” a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, is a concept our community should embrace.
Like you, I have been deeply disturbed by recent reports of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teen suicides.
As heartbreaking as they are, the greater tragedy may be that such suicides have been happening all along, but no one has paid any attention.
Studies have shown repeatedly that LGBT teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide. But, until recently, that has been a statistic without faces and names. Perhaps now these young men will force our country to pay attention.
That is faint consolation, but it does mean their lives and deaths won’t be in vain.
It is tempting to rail against fundamentalist religions of all stripes that have given the “moral” justification for an atmosphere of bullying and abuse. Fundamentalist Islam leads to suicide bombers, and fundamentalist
Christianity leads to suicidal teenagers.
Our anger at them is justified, but, ultimately, it doesn’t do much to help the problem.
So what can we in the LGBT community do? How can we help?
Well, this is where hope comes in.
For 22 years, I was a leader at the Cathedral of Hope. Although I am no longer there, the memories I relish most are the times I talked to people who discovered that what their fundamentalist parents or church had said about them had been a lie. They were angry, angry enough to get involved and do something.
Too often our anger turns to cynicism, so we practice “horizontal violence,” taking our anger out on one another. Rumors and gossip and catty remarks aimed at one another will not change the world or heal our own wounds.
We are also prone to turn our anger inward, and all too many members of our community struggle with depression.
It is well past time that we put our anger where it belongs. Let it energize us to volunteer, write letters, post Facebook rants and come out. (After all, Monday, Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day.) We must use the energy of our life to change things.
All of us have had times when we felt rejected, oppressed and depressed. Most of us overcame those feelings.
Remember how you did it and then figure out a way you can help others.
Are there places you can volunteer where, as an openly gay or lesbian person, you might give hope to a child who is growing up feeling different? Isn’t it past time you spoke to your family and told them the truth about how right-wing policy and fundamentalist religion is hurting you personally?
Next time a co-worker makes a homophobic joke, pull them aside and tell them that, while you aren’t thin-skinned, it worries you that those kinds of remarks are why so many gay and lesbian kids commit suicide.
I have a dear friend named Daryl who turned 50 this week. He has had AIDS for almost 30 years. At his party, we played that Gloria Gaynor song, “I Will Survive.”
He is my hero because, even before there were any treatments for HIV, he fought the disease and led small group programs for men who had only their attitudes to see them through. He came out as a person living with
AIDS in a day when there were no protections and much bigotry.
It wasn’t enough for him simply to survive; he worked to help others who were in the same boat.
You and I are in the same boat as those teenagers. It isn’t enough for us to have survived to adulthood. We have a moral obligation to challenge and confront oppression every chance we get.
Oh, yes, it might cost us. Many years ago, I was fired as a pastor for being gay and, later, I was fired as a therapist for speaking at a gay Pride rally. I’ve had my tires slashed and the paint on my car scratched nearly off. Two churches I served were firebombed. I have been picketed and spat upon, and have had numerous death threats through the years.
Yes, this fight can cost you, but my only regret is that I wasn’t able to do more.
Hopefully, there is still time. Hopefully, there is still time for you, too.
We can, and must, change the world in which teenage lesbian and gay people are growing up. We must do so in a public way so that they have hope.
It will terrify our fundamentalist and right-wing friends because, “Hope is a dangerous thing.”
The Rev. Michael Piazza is president of Hope for Peace & Justice, a nonprofit organization that is equipping progressive people of faith to be champions for peace and justice. He also serves as co-executive director of the Center for Progressive Renewal, which is renewing progressive Christianity by training new entrepreneurial leaders, supporting the birth of new liberal/progressive congregations, and by renewing and strengthening existing progressive churches. He served the Cathedral of Hope for 22 years, first as senior pastor and later as dean.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.