The Stigma Around Homosexuality and the Harm It Causes

March 2, 2012

Everyday across the U.S. – across the globe, for that matter – young people begin to realize that their sexual desires are different from others. Early-teen boys realize they are attracted to other teen boys, and early-teen girls realize they are attracted to other teen girls, just when all the other teens around them (their friends) are coming into their attraction to members of the opposite sex.

With that dawning awareness comes another one: these same young people realize that others (even their friends) will scorn and shun them for feeling as they do. They didn’t choose to be attracted to members of the same sex, but they are, and they quickly realize that this attraction may be a huge problem in their life. Many try to keep it a secret. They pretend to be “normal.” They hide their feelings from family and friends. They closet their identity.

Often the hiding, the closeting, doesn’t work. These teens begin to be teased at school. They are called ugly names, bullied, taunted and pushed, tripped in the halls, shoved into toilets, laughed at, excluded from activities, and left to loneliness. Some are thrown out of their homes when they find courage to tell their parents who they are and what they feel. Some no longer feel welcome at church. Many suffer from depression.

All this is painful, deeply painful. The scars can last a lifetime. They generally do last a lifetime if the young person survives these early teenage years. Some don’t. Suicide rates among gay and lesbian teens are perhaps twice as high as the rate among other teens.

We simply do not know why people come to have the sexual orientation they do. It is a much-studied topic, but no one has identified either genetic or environmental factors (nature or nurture) that makes some people attracted to the opposite sex and some people attracted to members of the same sex.

Because the stigma is so strong, it is difficult to know what percentage of humans come to understand themselves as being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered or queer (GLBTQ). Estimates run between 1% and 3%. Even if it is low as 1%, that is still a great many people. Variation within the human species is natural. We vary (for example) in size, skin, hair and eye color, blood type, sex, and (it turns out) sexual orientation. Some of these differences we humans have used cruelly as ways to deny the full humanity of others. We have silenced and enslaved, beaten and bullied others for simply being different.

Today, we in Indiana Yearly Meeting are contributing to the stigma against those who are attracted to members of the same sex. We call it sin and tell them they must suppress their identity or change.

We can tell ourselves that we do not mean our condemnation of homosexuality through the 1982 Minute to lead anyone to be abandoned bullied or beaten. We can say that we are just recognizing and affirming God’s will as revealed to us through the Bible. But we should not blind ourselves to the pain that is occasioned by the stance that tells some people that the way they were born makes them wrong. Our Minute may be well-intentioned, but it helps fuel the rejection and hatred.

Well-intentioned, yes, but also wrong, I believe. I do not believe God wants us to view homosexuality as a sin. The five verses (including two from Leviticus and none from Jesus) are each ambiguous, fraught with translation problems. Early Christians did not read them as condemning same-sex relationships. Most importantly, the “homosexuality is a sin” view makes no sense whatsoever in the larger, deeper teaching of the Bible. We soil our Christianity by making rejection of homosexuality a decisive marker of embracing Jesus’ call to love one another.

Time after time, what leads a person away from the “homosexuality is a sin” dogma is a personal experience. A daughter tells a father she’s a lesbian. The father initially recoils, then realizes this is how God made her. He realizes that he still loves her with all his heart. He wants her to be happy, to find a loving partner, to make a new family grounded in this new love. He can no longer read those five verses the same way.

Somehow many GLBTQ young people come to survive their teen years. Many even thrive. In the face of the pain, depression and rejection, GLBTQ adults have started a project to assure teens that “it gets better,” encouraging them to hang in there. Here’s a group of Facebook employees: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/#iPg02qjL40g. Here’s a group of Pixar employees: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/#4a4MR8oI_B8. Here’s a pair of young men named Dan and Terry, both of whom grew up in very religious families: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/#7IcVyvg2Qlo. Here is Jamey from Buffalo, New York: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb1CaGMdWk&feature=player_embedded. This one from Eric is especially difficult to watch because he did finally take his own life: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/01/my-name-was-not-eric-it-was-faggot.html
And there are many more.

Take a moment to let one of these videos touch your heart.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
This entry was posted in Homosexuality, Sexuality, Sin and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Stigma Around Homosexuality and the Harm It Causes

  1. Pingback: Rights Vs. Righteousness In the Marriage Equality Debate | River View Friend

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