I've noticed that the latest spate of young gay suicides have really struck a nerve with LGBTs. I think the reason is clear, we've all been through this. Michael went through it. I went through it. In mid 1970s Texas, I was a very lonely and suicidal gay teen. Michael was badly bullied in mid 1980s Long Island. We all go through this, and most of us survive, but some of us don't. Each loss is irreplaceable, a life that might have been and now never will be. Each loss is another victory for the haters who would love to see us removed in one way or another from the face of the earth.
On the one hand, there really has been a lot of progress, I would never have dreamed of seeing an openly gay and an openly lesbian Episcopal bishop with the support of their church thirty years ago.
On the other hand, in some fundamental ways, we are still stuck right where we were on that steamy night in June of 1969 when the riots started at the Stonewall Inn. This was demonstrated forcefully in a discussion of the legacy of Stonewall staged by Brian Lehrer and the local Public Radio station, WNYC between some Stonewall veterans and a group of LGBT youth. What was so striking was not the differences, but the similarities in the experiences of the veterans and the kids. Really little had changed in how hard it was to come of age as gay between then and now.
The historian David Carter, who wrote what will probably stand as the definitive account of the Stonewall riots, pointed out that gays and lesbians still enjoy no legal protection on the federal level. There are no federal laws forbidding discrimination against LGBTs in housing or employment. What legal protections LGBTs have are a hodge podge of state and local laws that vary considerably from place to place. Cities and states frequently have conflicting anti-discriminatory laws (like between New York City and New York State). Some cities are legally gay friendly in the middle of gay hostile states (Austin). There are numerous states and communities that openly desire to re-criminalize the status of LGBTs despite the Supreme Court and Texas vs. Lawrence.
Homophobia remains the last socially acceptable bigotry. The idea that being gay is the worst possible thing in the world for men is still a staple of very machismo oriented contemporary youth culture and the industries that profit from it. Our culture is soaking in it. It is inescapable. It has gotten particularly nasty since it is now openly challenged and called to account. Churches are leading villains in this struggle. Pulpits create that sense of spiritual permission for the haters by singling out gays and lesbians as either creatures from hell, or as God's mistakes. Indeed, what comes from the pulpits is basically an apologia for extermination, either in the extreme and literal form advocated by the likes of Fred Phelps, or more commonly through "reparative therapy," the idea that gays can be "changed."
These suicides are a brutal reminder that our struggles are far from over, both our political and our personal struggles. There is no Glinda the Good Witch to help us out. We aren't wearing any ruby slippers. The Emerald City isn't any friendlier to us than Kansas was. The Wicked Witches are legion, and they really do want to kill us all.
But, they really will melt with a bucket of cold water thrown on them. It is our courage, our hearts, our brains, and above all our friendship and solidarity that will get us all down the yellow brick road together.
There were 2 bashings here in New York in what are supposed to be safe neighborhoods for gays. One of them was right in the Stonewall Bar. Apparently 2 palookas from Staten Island had no idea what kind of bar they walked into, yelled homophobic curses, and then tried to rob and beat one of the patrons.
As usual Joe.My.God had all the dirt and details.
And speaking of apologias for extermination coming from the pulpit, Dan Savage, as usual, minces no words:
My good Christian friends, I think he is spot on about this. I think our proper response should not be to complain about Dan Savage painting all Christians with the right wing brush. There's a much bigger and more desperate issue involved than the reputation of our faith . Our Lord can take care of Himself, with or without our help. The Christian Faith will survive even those who ask "What Would Jesus Do?" while dragging that very faith through the mud of bigotry. Those who do need our help (as well as Our Lord's) most desperately are those very people who Dan Savage rightly describes as seeing nothing but despair in their futures. It is our responsibility as Christians to those kids, to the rest of the world, and to ourselves to dispel all the obsolete and bad science used in bad faith to demonize and pathologize sexual minorities, to dispel the really toxic heresies that proclaim parts of God's Creation to be exceptions to His declaration that His Creation (ALL of it) is Good, and to dispel the monomaniacal and downright psychotic obsession of Christian leaders and institutions with matters of sex and control. It is up to us to present to the world an alternative vision of church as a community grounded in love of God through love for each other and the world instead of as spiritual buttress for the prevailing hierarchy and spiritual enforcer of social convention.
Perhaps it's time to think about replacing the image of Christ the King (kingship is obsolete, even as a metaphor) with Christ the Liberator. Deus Optimus Maximus et Christus Liberator.