In response to a recent rash of LGBT*-teen suicides, Dan Savage and his partner sat down and made a video. The video setup was simple, the sound wasn’t perfect, and it seemed planned, but not rehearsed. Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, talked about their lives, and encouraged others to discuss their experiences growing up, as part of their It Gets Better video project.
A lot of people face some sort of bullying in their lives, but there is a specific type of bullying that happens to young people who are not seen as being appropriately gendered, or maybe even who could like someone else of the same sex. To those people out there who are being harassed, and are thinking about harming themselves in the hopes of ending their pain, Savage says: don’t do it; your life will get better, but not if you commit suicide.
How could anyone have a problem with such an earnest and necessary message? Savage initially received criticism from members of the LGBT* and feminist community, saying that a white, Anglo male does not speak well for all members of the LGBT* community. While this may not be a proper representation of all members of society and their experience, and maybe the first effort of the project may have seemed ham-fisted to some, what else was Savage supposed to do? He can’t speak on behalf of People of Colour, or women, and he can’t speak to the personal experiences of anyone but himself — if he did, it wouldn’t be such an earnest and personal message.
What’s more concerning, aside from allies getting caught up on nuances rather than taking action in a way that will benefit teens or advance “moral” discourse, is the response (or lack thereof) from the religious community — and especially for me, my religious community — on these issues.
Before I start, I know — I know there are passages from the Bible that people have used to justify why I, as a Christian, should not be in a relationship with another woman. I get it. There are also passages that state that every woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night should be stoned, and that shellfish is an abomination, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
One day during mass, my favourite priest started talking about abortion, and Catholic involvement with organizations like 40 Days for Life, which encourages participants to stand outside of women’s hospitals and other places that may provide abortions to stand with signs stating that they are praying for the women going into those hospitals so that they will decide to not have an abortion. In discussing this campaign and its tactics, he neither supported nor let any disapproval for 40 Days for Life be known, but encouraged us as Christians to support the people who may be considering abortion, even if we didn’t support the idea of having an abortion ourselves. He also strongly stated that if someone had already made a decision that seemed to go against Christian standards, but wanted forgiveness and wanted to be accepted into the church today, it is our role to help them and not expect them to be perfect.
While I don’t believe that this kind of logic, common sense and compassion should be limited to this priest or even to one parish, it does not seem to be the model that is presented in mass media. Instead of reasoned debate and truly Christ-like people, we see hypocrites like those from the Lot Project, and Terry Jones and anyone who has the dubious pleasure of being a member of his parish. Jones was the pastor who organized, then cancelled, a Qu’ran burning party in Florida on Sept. 11 this year. His reward was a lot of media attention for organizing and publicizing the event, and a free car for deciding to do the right thing and cancel the event. What’s that old saying about a camel passing through the eye of a needle?
The Lot Project is another ill-founded representation of Christianity’s deeds, wherein the members of the project claim to be supporting Christ and His works, but their own pastor has released videos called “It Gets Worse,” in which he says that Dan Savage is misleading youth by suggesting that being anything other than heterosexual and heteronormative can be Ok, and that these teens will find things a lot worse in Hell, which is where they’re totally going. Seriously, dude? My religion is the one that says “Thou shalt not kill,” and allows for the idea that killing someone can mean physically, or spiritually. Even if you disagree with what someone does with their life, the separation of Church and State that gives you the right to practice what you believe in also gives them the same right. This means that nothing, even the perceived violation of your religion’s rules, gives anyone the legal right to bully someone to death, and I find it infuriating when someone uses God’s name in vain to encourage that kind of action. Our churches teach us that Jesus Christ was betrayed, draped in purple cloth, mocked and killed because he spoke the truth. Why then should LGBT* teens be made to fear what their lives will be like simply for living out their truth, and being honest about who they are?
There is nothing un-Christian about asking someone not to kill themself, and there is nothing Christian about telling people that they are worthless; in the eyes of God we are all worth something, and if your religion cannot compel you to value the lives that your god has created, I would suggest that you should read your Bible again, and the Qu’ran, and The Lotus Sutra, and The Torah, and any other book that could guide you on your path to be a better person, but more than any book, I suggest you find compassionate people, and listen to what they have to say.