I Ask: What Can We Do To Help Our Gay Youth?

Thanks to A Whole Lot of Nothing for the image and continued writing on the subject.
I have wanted to post on the recent suicides of five teenagers. Who were gay. And teased. Tormented. Bullied. Billy Lucas (15 years old), Tyler Clementi (18 years old), Asher Brown (13 years old), Seth Walsh (13 years old), and Raymond Chase (19 years old). But I have been struggling with how.

I was bullied for a summer at camp. Not for being gay. I, honestly, have no idea why I was targeted. Two years later I befriended those girls. But I never forgot how it felt to be singled out, lied to, left out, humiliated. Or how terrifying it was to hold a bed frame in the hopes that the girl in the lower bunk would not succeed in shoving you off your mattress by endless kicking it while others egged her on.

I can’t imagine going through that for months and years.

One of the best teachers in my high school committed suicide rather than live openly as a gay man.

My husband and I continue to discuss how we can be helpful to our local LGBT community. We are very supportive within our family. I have often joked that we would be a great family for God to give a gay son (or lesbian daughter or transgendered child). But some of the children who died had supportive families. So we cannot do this alone.

We will start with small things. We will buy more rainbow flag and stickers. So the random gay teenager walking past our home may know he is not alone. So the young questioning girl in the passenger side of her car, listening to a sermon on the degradation of American society due to THOSE HOMOSEXUALS, can see that someone loves her whether she loves other girls or not.

We will continue to support the Human Rights Campaign and renew our support that we let lapse for Equality Virginia. I write my senators again to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and support gay marriage.

We will teach our children to be loving and tolerant. We will learn more about grappling with bullies. And we will listen if a parent calls us up to say our child is bullying their child. Because as Adrienne wrote, her bullies came from GOOD HOMES with GOOD PARENTS. So I don’t assume my only job is to protect my child from bullies. Even good children do stupid and careless things.

But I don’t know what else to do. How can I let people know that I am here? That I am so sorry our society has let them down?

I think that it’s important to note that whether you believe homosexuality is a sin or not, I trust that you want everyone to feel safe. But I would also encourage you to ask yourself: If we all sin, why do you focus so much attention on this one? And if YOU don’t, does your place of worship? How often does your pastor (or whomever) preach about loving the person beside you even though she’s way thinner than you (envy)? Or how much you are giving to the poor (greed)? Or thinking you are the BETTER parent (pride)? Only ten percent of the population is LGBT. Does homosexuality only come up in ten percent of the sermons?

And if you are struggling with questions around Christianity and homosexuality, I wrote a post on how Christians can (and DO!) supports gay rights. And how I do not believe homosexuality is a sin at all.

But wherever you stand, I ask: What can we do?

Because to stand by when gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual teenagers are up to four times more likely to commit suicide is not an answer. For any of us.

I didn’t pick the answer. For obvious reasons. But read the comments. These are smart, caring people.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

46 thoughts to “I Ask: What Can We Do To Help Our Gay Youth?”

  1. Nicely said. I always had so many gay friends that I never realized when I was younger that the population wasn’t like half gay. It genuinely makes me cry when I think about it too much, this mess we’ve made as a society. There’s a better way, right?

  2. Until we throw off the shackles of the iron age religions that persecute these youngsters, the only things we can do are what you have mentioned–personal support, open political support, and community education.

    As the parent of an openly bisexual male, I do have to worry. About my teen, about the community he’s being subjected to (and yes, I mean subjected to). In Texas, open bisexuality is still a dangerous game. He has taken his lumps and is on anti-depressants and is doing (fingers irrationally crossed) great at the moment.

    I read the news and my heart goes out to the families of these kids. As you mention, family support is often not enough. This is going to take a total revamp of society, and it’s not going to be pretty or fast.

    It is going to be secular. Religions perpetrate this hatred.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience as the mom of a bisexual son. I imagine that it is hard on many levels for him since although LGBT includes bisexual, it’s not always embraced in the gay (or straight) community. I’m glad he seems to be finding his way.

      I agree that it’s not going to be pretty or fast. But I’m not sure that it’s religion or religion in the wrong hands. (eg. I think the ideals of America are amazing. But in the wrong hands? America sucks.)

      1. Religion, or religion in the wrong hands?

        Here’s the problem. The book is supposed to be the “word of God.” If so, that means that what it says is what God says.

        God says that homosexuality is an abomination. Several of the commenters here have no doubt that God said that homosexuality was a sin.

        Saying that there are lots of sins in Christianity, we shouldn’t focus on this one, is still acknowledging it as a sin.

        Saying that Christianity is about love, and that we should love these young men, even though they sin, still acknowledges it as a sin.

        Imagine, for a moment, being a young man growing up in this overwhelming negativity, being told left and right by society that he is living in, and controlled by, sin. In that case, our only hope is to try to keep him alive until he is mature enough and strong enough to shove off these shackles.

        Why should he have to be the one to figure this out on his own?

        Why should society stick to a dangerous, old, discredited document that supports child sacrifice, genocide, slavery, racial and ethnic segregation, stoning unruly children, and rape and beating of women? Oh, but homosexuality is an abomination (so, of course, is eating shrimp and pork and wearing wool and cotton together. But who’s counting?).

        It isn’t a question of wrong hands. Of course the gay-bashers use this book as a club, but so do millions and millions of good, caring, liberal Americans (who just don’t realize what they’re doing), by continuing to claim it as the work of a vindictive sky-god who has power over everyone in a life to come.

        Homosexuality isn’t a sin. It’s not even a choice for many of these youngsters. I can’t believe in a God or a text that condemns my son, or anyone, for who they sleep with. And I continue to be astounded that their supporters can.

        1. I acknowledge that some people see homosexuality as a sin and discuss it here because I recognize that the best to be hoped for is at this point is that they will be quieter on the subject.

          However, plenty of Christians do not see the Bible as a non-moveable text. Only fundamentalist & conservative Christians read it literally. In the church I attended up until June, no one believed or was taught that homosexuality was a sin. The whole idea in UCC is that ‘God is still speaking’.

          My understanding is that you neither believe religion or God is helpful so the idea of God speaking or any faith in something more than humankind may also offend you. (i see religion amd faith as very different) But I know many gay and straight who disagree. And I think it’s important for people to know that if you are homosexual or support gay rights, you don’t have to be atheist or even agnostic. Because some of us just aren’t built that way.

          Also. My God totally lives in the sky on a cloud. With the Care Bears. Heaven is going to be so awesome.

  3. Amen! I heart this post and you have inspired me to show more support. I’ve also said I would have not ONE iota of a problem if on of my kiddos turned out to be gay.

    1. It’s really to avoid exercise.

      Actually, I feel really good about using my voice on my blog to talk about issues that have been near and dear to my heart for years. So thank you.

  4. I totally share your frustration. Why do Christians focus so much on this one “sin” when everyone is a sinner? Aren’t we supposed to reserve judgment? I’d say everyone who “throws the first stone” is going to hell, too but them I’m just as stone-throwy.
    I’m not a practicing church-goer but I remember enough of Godspell to know we are supposed to treat eachother with respect.
    Whatever you come up with, Alex, I’m with you.

    1. “I remember enough of Godspell to know we are supposed to treat eachother with respect.” I adore this line! I sign Godspell all the time!

      And it’s hard to not judge the judgmental. Maybe the trickiest thing for me about having faith.

      So far we ordered our rainbow flag and a reader is sending me a rainbow sticker in exchange for my Late Enough sticker. And I’ve been kinda annoying about getting this post out and read. Have gotten good comments and support on facebook too.

      Thanks for RTing it! That helps!

  5. Very poignant. I think we can do our best with our kids. Teach them to be accepting and to stand up against bullies. But some people will always teach fear and hatred. once a six year old to me he wouldn’t stand next to a girl, calling her the n word. Who taught him that? Why? Oh, it grieves my heart! My own father in laws deeply homophobic. So much so that he told me not to let my daughter near a cousin of his. I marched over and shook his hand, introduced myself and my daughter.

  6. I watched the Dr. Phil episode yesterday about bullying and he brought up some points that I would like to think most parents know, but the truth is I know a lot don’t. Some of the cyberbullying starts when kids aren’t even old enough to have FB pages or be on certain other websites. Parents can’t use ignorance as an excuse. They have to know where their kids are online and know about things like the COPPA law.

    One of the big points on the Dr. Phil show is that anti-bullying has to become practically a curriculum on the school level, particularly on elementary and middle school levels. I agree with that sentiment. Schools have to be able to say, “We take this seriously. We have several steps we take on a regular basis to prevent bullying, stop bullying that is already going on and allow our students to know they are free to ask for help at any time”.

    1. I am shocked that parents let their kids on FB etc before they should legally. Although my four year old is not asking incessantly yet. And you think that you can control it.

      I agree that schools need to be involved since bullying often happens where there are lots of kids and few adults (buses, playgrounds, locker rooms).

      In town a principle rode the bus for two weeks after hearing about bullying on the bus. I like that approach.

  7. I grew up in a “gay” community. By which I mean a community that many gay people settled in, bought property in, opened businesses in. The gay and straight populations were equally represented.

    Which I did not realize for a long, long time was unusual.

    So it *mystifies* me that ANYONE thinks it’s wrong. I mean, like I would find about as much sense in people thinking that blondes couldn’t marry brunettes.

    I am BAFFLED.

    Yet, I see it. I hear it. I know that that type of discrimination is true.

    And my biggest satisfaction right now is to see my kids anger and indignation when they see this nonsense. That they are enraged to watch others treated unfairly and unkindly.

    I exhale in relief. They will see many things differently than I do, but I could not stand if this was one of them.

    1. It is awesome to hear that your children are standing up for others like that. You should be giving yourself a high five RIGHT NOW. GO!

      Growing up in a very small New England town and now living in the South, nothing sexist, racist or homophobic surprises me. I was actually shocked by how sheltered and unconsciously prejudice I was — thank goodness for my college.

  8. thank you so much for this post. I agree with you 100%. I have a niece that is gay and she hasn’t come out to her parents yet. yeah, it’s a religious thing. I’m going to send this link to her for her to read. Thanks again.

    1. I am so glad that you are sending this link on to your niece and that you shared this story with me. It’s comments like this that make me keep blogging. Seriously.

      I hope some day she feels confident enough to be herself with her parents.

  9. There was a really good article in the Huffington Post about this wave of suicides. One point that stuck with me is that a lot of people still have homophobia; they’d be horrified if their kid called someone the “N” word, but somehow they don’t insist that the “F” word or the term “that’s so gay” be squelched, too.

    1. I actually didn’t realize people still used that phrase “that’s so gay”. Maybe because my kids are so little still. I always worry about the r-word since it’s only been a few years of me purging that from my vocabulary. (Whereas it’s been over ten years since I’ve had to do that with “that’s so gay”).

      An article in the Huffington Post inspired me to write the paragraphs about religion and homophobia in this post — I’ll have to look for the article you’re referring to as well.

  10. For me, being a Christian, I feel like we have to demand that Christians stop judging others. Have they torn those verses out of the Bibles in the pews? If so, are there any pages left? From all my years in Sunday School and church services, several things have resonated strongly – one being that it is NOT our job to judge, that Christ was friends with and LOVED deeply those that were cast aside, were sinners (as well as those who weren’t). Why do we go COMPLETELY against God’s teachings and judge? We aren’t helping our cause either – we’re supposed to bring others closer to Christ. It is not our job to “fix” sin. Isn’t there something in that Bible about being the one to cast the first stone? Or is that one of the pages that’s been ripped out?

    1. I love your comment.

      I’m going to carry business-sized cards with the verse from Matthew 7:3-5 and start giving them out to all these intolerant Christians:
      3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

  11. I feel the same as Kate in that we can do our best with our kids. It makes my stomach absolutely *turn* to think of my children treating someone in this way. It is absolutely unacceptable.

    And while I know my children are not and will not be perfect individuals (as well as currently being little and young), if I can teach them how to be kind and sympathetic–then I consider this a fabulous start to preventing bullying.

    1. Yes! Kind and sympathetic. And honest — so they’ll be willing to tell us or some adult about what is happening.

      And us adults need to respond appropriately. And from reading some comments by people who were bullied in school, they were all grateful for parents who took extreme actions such as placing them in a new school. That was helpful to read.

  12. Great post Alex. Both my uncles on my mothers side are gay. Both were married before they came out and one even had children. I can’t imagine how hard it was for them to go their whole life feeling an inner conflict. I know it is hard for my cousin with having to explain about if fathers and mom. I wish nothing but the best for the next generation and hope that we can help teach them to not be scared of things they don’t understand. I am not religious but, doesn’t God say to love all people?

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal stories. I imagine it’s awful to carry something like that. I am so glad that they were brave enough to come out and walk through it.

      God does say to love all people. And God loves all people. It’s people who seem to struggle with this.

  13. For some reason, I keep coming back to the idea of rainblow flags and stickers on cars and in windows. On the one hand, how great that we can send signals of support to those affected, even if they never need to approach us for help. On the other hand, how sad that we even need to do this. It reminds me of times in history when people had to find a way to let Jews know they would be offered help in a certain place, or they had to show Blacks to the Underground Railroad.

  14. bravo!

    this makes me think of a story. I have this friend Nat. we’re close and alike except that she’s Christian and I’m….not. I’m also queer. she and I did the AIDS Walk LA one year together and you always get the protesters on the side of the route with signs and yelling that AIDS is the scourge of homosexuality, etc. when Nat saw that, this good Christian, quiet girl yelled, “Jesus wouldn’t want you to say that!” it was so sweet and so true. it will always stay with me.

    I think it’s just important for queer youth to know that there are straight allies. that they have somewhere to go for comfort among peers. more schools need Ally programs and diversity centers. and I think it’s important for straight youth to hear that gay or queer doesn’t mean bad. that difference is just difference. and we have to stop using the word gay as a synonym for stupid. also: check out makeitbetterproject.org.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story.

      I agree that knowing there are allies and community support is helpful in and out of schools. I’m going to be sure to support (or encourage my children to create) this when they are in high school (middle school?).

      When I went to college a friend of mine had a gay roommate. One day we were all in someone’s room watching tv and I said: “That’s so gay.” (meaning stupid)
      He turned to me and so kindly said: “That hurts me when you use gay to mean stupid.”
      I honestly had NEVER EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THAT. I was embarrassed but more so I was GRATEFUL that he was brave enough to speak up in such a practical and nonjudgmental way. Because I stopped using it.

      Words are powerful and I would never want to hurt someone that way. And I haven’t for nearly fifteen years. Thanks Cameron! Wherever you are! For also giving me the courage to do the same down the line.

      And thanks for reminding me of this Andy.

  15. Great post. I like the way you point out that there are many “sins” in the Christian religion, but this one gets way more emphasis, and I think those who resize that are actually following their religion much more. It’s so easy to judge and condemn and stereotype. That’s something all of us need to work on. How do so many “Christians” not see through that logic? It drives me crazy.

    One thing we can do is watch our and others’ language. I hate when people call things “gay” when they mean “weird” or “stupid.” Adults do is. Teachers do this. It’s not cool, and we need to check them on it, tell them that’s really not acceptable.

    1. I’m pasting part of my response to andygirl because I think that you’ll appreciate it as well!

      When I went to college a friend of mine had a gay roommate. One day we were all in someone’s room watching tv and I said: “That’s so gay.” (meaning stupid)
      He turned to me and so kindly said: “That hurts me when you use gay to mean stupid.”
      I honestly had NEVER EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THAT. I was embarrassed but more so I was GRATEFUL that he was brave enough to speak up in such a practical and nonjudgmental way. Because I stopped using it.

      So we DO need to speak up. Because some of us are just ignorant. Not mean.

  16. Oh Alex! As usual, I’m so very glad you posted this.

    I live in California. A state that will, most likely, legalize pot next month. A state that has a reputation for hippies and liberal thinkers. And STILL, STILL the majority of voters passed a bill changing the California Consititution to prevent same sex marriage. It makes me ill, frustrated and furious.

    And now this. I cry when I think of those children who felt so alone and worthless that they took their own lives. I look on my Facebook page and I see people sharing Ellen’s very moving message. Then, I do a double take. A solid HALF of those people are the very same people who preached about the “disgusting sin of homosexuality” and that same sex marriage would “destroy the sanctity of marriage.” (To which I say, wow. I’m so sorry their marriages are so fragile that what another couple does would destroy it.) How can they be such hypocrites! Do they not realize that it was actions by people like THEM that caused this horrific tragedy?

    I don’t know what to do. I’m angry and frustrated and feel so powerless.

    1. I feel powerless too. I can’t believe how much of this fight we keep losing in the elections and congress and even with judges. It’s so frustrating.

      That’s why I’m just starting small again.

      And people are conflicted. But maybe if more of us are sure, they won’t be so afraid to stand up to a flawed belief system (homosexuality as a sin etc..)

      PS. Totally with you on the sanctity of marriage. If those people are so pro-family shouldn’t they WANT everyone to married?

  17. This breaks my heart. Jut one of the reasons why I don’t want the Roo and Lulu to grow up. Kids are mean. Viciously mean. And I think girls are worse. Does this make any sense?! I watched a really interesting Dateline(?), or maybe an NBC news study, about bullying. They did a group study of 7 preteens/teenagers and found that the only thing that made a difference in bullying is when there was someone to stop it or befriend the one being picked on. There were kids that would leave, or watch, some even started to chime in so not feel like they were next on the bully list. But when one kid…just ONE kid spoke up, it totally changed the dynamics of the room. We need to be teaching kids to SPEAK UP! It doesn’t mean you agree with the person being picked on, that you agree with homosexuality, or sleeping around, or not being athletic, or whatever it is (or is not) what kids are being picked on for these days. It just means that you have had enough and that EVERYONE deserves to be precious and to have a good day, and to be treated like a human being. I don’t know of one current anti-bullying program in schools that references what to do with cyber bullying. I hope and expect to see some clearly defined strategies for schools to follow and laws as well. This has got to stop.

  18. Alex – a great post. I love the idea of flags and stickers…plastered everywhere. I am not gay but I can only assume what it would be like to be someone who is gay and struggling but kept finding support at every car or house they looked at would help the heavy heart! Great idea!!

  19. Continue to speak out!! Continue to support the youth who fight with this. As a lesbian who did not come out until I was 32, I would add one thing. If you see a same sexcouple on the street, don’t stare if they’re holding hands. I know you’re saying you don’t do that, but so many people do without even noticing.

    Also, I have made friends with a football mom recently, and her son has been my childs greatest protector. Everyone should teach their children to protect the weak. It kills me that my son gets picked on because of my life, but it happens. Support, support, support, be someone anyone will feel safe with!! Thank you for caring so much!! 🙂

  20. I know this post is old but it came up in related posts and it really spoke to me. I want to believe that the current generation of children will grow up and be more accepting, and their kids will be shocked at how intolerant people once were, kind of like how I can’t imagine living with racially segregated schools even though they existed only half a century ago. Wouldn’t that be amazing? But that will only happen if today’s parents (and teachers, mentors, etc.) openly speak out against hate and discrimination, and teach kids (through example) to love and accept everyone. You are making a difference by speaking up, Alex! I especially love when Christians speak up in support of gay rights because there is this idea that Christianity is incompatible with gay rights- but it isn’t!
    p.s.- I’m totally going to buy a rainbow sticker for my car.

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