I read an article in Rolling Stone, One Town’s War on Gay Teens, during my downtime at work last night, and I was truly ready to vomit on my desk by the time I was halfway through it.
The heart of it is that a Minnesota school district had a policy that led to teachers being so afraid of talking about homosexuality that they didn’t talk about it at all, even to do anything about homophobic bullying. The result? A staggering rash of suicides.
Sam’s death lit the fuse of a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a “suicide cluster,” adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus. “Here you had a large number of suicides that are really closely connected, all within one school district, in a small amount of time,” explains Reidenberg. “Kids started to feel that the normal response to stress was to take your life.”
There was another common thread: Four of the nine dead were either gay or perceived as such by other kids, and were reportedly bullied. The tragedies come at a national moment when bullying is on everyone’s lips, and a devastating number of gay teens across the country are in the news for killing themselves. Suicide rates among gay and lesbian kids are frighteningly high, with attempt rates four times that of their straight counterparts; studies show that one-third of all gay youth have attempted suicide at some point (versus 13 percent of hetero kids), and that internalized homophobia contributes to suicide risk.
The article is full of really wrenching details about the horrible shit the kids in this district go through, all because there is a powerful bloc of people who hate anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of moral sexuality. These people, who hate so much in the name of Christ, whose message was almost entirely about compassion, are perpetuating evil.
They create a climate in which it is OK to belittle and assault people because of who they love, and they prevented the teachers from even being able to say, “Stop.” That is evil.
They teach a hate that leads to violence against LGBT kids. That is evil.
They say that the gay kids didn’t kill themselves because of the bullying, they killed themselves because they were sinful gays, or that if they had never come out of the closet, they never would have been bullied, and then they wouldn’t have killed themselves. That is both evil AND insane.
Hate is evil. Period. It doesn’t matter who you hate, be it gays or Muslims or intolerant fundamentalists who teach hate. The world is too dark and painful to carry on this way. To borrow a line from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, “Love as thou wilt.”
Practice love. Pursue happiness. Don’t hurt other people. That’s it. Those are the only commandments you need.