Yesterday I visited a terrific middle school in Washington State. This is the first year they have an “Equality Club,” thusly named because the principal mandated that the name not include any of the letters associated with LGB or T.
I walked into a library where 20 smiling kids sat around, slumped on couches, braiding each other’s hair. They looked so happy! It made me feel so good about the progress that is being made for young people who identify as LGBTQ.
The first comments confirmed this belief. One boy who identifies as gay mentioned someone saying a gay slur, and since it led off, I assumed that was a notable experience at this middle school. And part of me thought: thank God. They aren’t being physically bullied every day.
Then a girl talked about relatives who are over-correcting because she came out as a lesbian. They say too many positive things about her sexuality. I smiled, because that’s what Openly Straight is about in many ways. And I get how frustrating that can be, when a label overtakes a person. And yet, a part of me thought: thank God. Her family accepts her.
And we talked. The questions came in, and we laughed a lot. These were some sharp kids, and they had come out as pan, and bi, and gay, and lesbian, and there were kids of various genders mentioned, and it was all basically okay.
And then I brought up the challenges I faced when I was in school. Back in the 1400s, when I was their age, there weren’t a whole lot of LGBT role models to look up to. The kids listened intently, perhaps trying to imagine what that would be like. Somebody brought up the issue of suicide, so I did my usual talk about how glad I am today that I didn’t take that road, because I did suffer depression as a teenager, deep depression. And there were many times I didn’t think I’d make it through. But I did, and look at all the things that have happened in my life! None of those things would have happened had I ended my life. Sometimes you just need to have faith that it’s important to see what happens next. I believe that with every fabric of my being, and say it to every young person who will listen.
The conversation changed after that. One person mentioned that the person they are dating attempted suicide last week because their father is so homophobic they can’t figure out how to tell him. Another talked about cutting, and a third said, “I’ve done that, too.” One mentioned an eating disorder.
I always do what I can in those situations, which is admittedly not much. I empathize and listen, basically, because I strongly believe that kids need to say these things and be heard. Disease loves the darkness. When we share our pain with others, the light diminishes that pain.
When I left with the librarian who brought me in to speak, we commiserated. These are just such wonderful kids. And they’re so, so lucky to have friends, and a safe space, and adults who are paying attention to them. And yet. There’s still so much pain. It’s so hard to be different in this world, and meanness is everywhere, and we both just want to fix it, but we can’t fix it. Kids just have to go through the minefield, and it’s excruciating to watch sometimes.
And then, this morning, I came across this. Republican State Legislator Gordon Klingenschmitt, who has a program called “Pray in Jesus Name,” explains that gays will come into your home and demand to have sex there.
This is funny stuff, right? I’ve been a gay man for quite a few years, and it has never occurred to me to demand to have sex in a strangers home. I’m so caught up sometimes in the fact that there are people who would do us harm, that it’s hard enough to hold hands in public with my husband. I mean, who thinks something like that?
Well, as it turns out, some people do. And what it made me think this morning is that we adults who are out and (semi) well adjusted can laugh about this. But you know who isn’t laughing? LGBT kids who are just coming out. Do you know how damaging it is to be told by a lawmaker voted in by citizens that, as Klingenschmitt says, “We’ve got to stand up against Satan, who is inside of them.”
In The Porcupine of Truth, Aisha says that the worst thing you can do to a person is tell them that God doesn’t love them. I believe that’s true. I also believe that when a person tells you who and what God is, and what God believes, you should run, fast.
I guess what I want to say is this. I have Republican friends. I happen to believe that it’s okay to believe differently than me, on just about any topic. I may not get it, but you can be more fiscally conservative than me, more socially conservative, you name it. But what I really struggle with is stuff that hurts kids. And if you’re a Republican, and you’re voting by party line, the sad truth is you may well be pressing the lever for someone like this.
Is this what you believe? Because in my experience, I’ve met some people who do think that LGBT people are possessed. But mostly what I’ve met are people who are, in one way or another, more conservative than I am. Which is a far stretch from believing in demonic possession. And you better believe that a person with power saying like this impacts young people.
Is this what you stand for? In most cases, I think not. I think most people do not wish to say things that disenfranchise entire groups of people, especially those most vulnerable, like LGBTQ youth.
These are the smiling kids you see, so much more well adjusted than we were, three decades ago. And I’m here to tell you. For so many of them, there are still tears inside.
Please pay attention to whom you vote for. And this goes for Democrats, too, as there are wingnut Dems, too. Just not as many of ’em.
It’s a life or death situation out there.