Is Religion Complicit In The Suicides of Gay Teens?

A recent post about the suicide of Jamie Hubley, a 17-year-old gay Ottawa teen, sparked a debate about the role of religion in anti-LGBT bullying.
Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh

I noted in the post that Jamie's funeral would be held at a Catholic church, and stated that "Jamie's family and friends will pay tribute to Jamie's life in an church institution which undoubtedly contributed to his death."

I realize that those were strong words, yet I stand by that statement.

LGBT Teens, Bullying, and Suicide

Here are some startling statistics on LGBT bullying:
Statistics suggest that youth hear anti-gay remarks approximately 25 times in an average school day, or more specifically, once every 14 minutes. 
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) school climate survey found that approximately 61% of LGBTQ youth reported feeling unsafe in their school environments and 44% reported being physically harassed due to their perceived sexual orientation. This unsafe sense is not just a feeling, because 1 in 6 LGBTQ youth will be physically assaulted so badly that medical attention is needed. 
Recent research on the relationship between anti-gay bullying and suicide indicate that LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for physical and emotional abuse at school and are at a higher risk for suicide. 
The 2006 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey of over 3,500 participants indicates that LGBTQ students were more than twice as likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to attempt suicide.

One recent study suggests that anti-gay discrimination increased symptoms of depression among LGBT high school students overall and increased risk of self-harm and suicidal ideation among LGBT male high school students in particular. Another study of 7,376 middle school students found that LGBQ youth reported higher levels of bullying, anti-gay victimization, depression, and suicidality when compared to heterosexual youth.
(Anti-Gay Bullying and Suicide: Implications and Resources for Counselors, Penn State University College of Education)

I'm sure we can all agree. Anti-LGBT attitudes and bullying can be devastating, especially to teens, and often leads to isolation, physical and mental abuse, depression, and suicide.

Where Do Anti-LGBT Attitudes and Bullying Come From?

Many believe that bullying is simply part of growing up. Michele Bachmann has stated, "It’s part of growing up, it’s part of maturing…I hardly think that bullying is a real issue in schools."

While it is true that bullying has occurred for as long as humans have been social beings, and that much of bullying is not directed at LGBT teens, the bullying that LGBT teens experience is something different altogether. While no bullying should be acceptable, the bullying of LGBT teens should be of great concern, due to the nature of the bullying and its devastating effects on our children.

The religious component of bullying is especially damaging. When we say that bullying is simply a normal part of growing up, we fail to remember that Leviticus 20:13 does not state, "If a man plays the piano instead of football, he has done what is detestable. He must be put to death; His blood will be on their own heads."

We forget that 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 does not say, "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor skinny kids who play chess, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

The religious condemnation which informs the bullying of LGBT teens does more than hurt feelings, or cause a bruise. It is a visceral attack on the core of a child's being. It condemns. It eviscerates self worth and advocates a sentence of eternal damnation.

Via 'Faith in America':
Religion-based bigotry is the foundation of anti-gay attitudes in our society and in the minds of a majority of Americans, particularly persons of faith. Religion-based bigotry is not synonymous with bigotry. It is a uniquely vile form of bigotry as the prejudice, hostility and discrimination behind the words are given a moral stamp of approval.

Via Soulforce:
We recognize that oppression is most often rooted in religious belief and ideologies of power in which women, people of color and non-gender conforming (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) people are subjugated and subjected to the violence of exclusion. You will find us most often in dialogue with religious leaders, denominations and institutions who discriminate in polity, policy or practice. We are committed to decriminalization of sexual minorities by all church and state sanctioned organizations worldwide.

While some might claim that the above organizations are biased, or working to advance the gay agenda, there is no shortage of respected Christian writers who also acknowledge that religion is complicit in LGBT teen suicides.

Christian author and blogger John Shore writes,
We very often find conservative Christians defending themselves against the accusation that the theology in which they believe–and specifically their belief that homosexuality is a sin against God—ultimately contributes to that which informs, motivates, and encourages the bullying of gay teens.

Elsewhere he writes:
If you’re a Christian who believes that being gay is a morally reprehensible offense against God, then you share a mindset, worldview, and moral structure with the kids who hounded Jamey Rodemeyer, literally, to death. It is your ethos, your convictions, and your theology that informed, supported, and encouraged their cruelty.

Presbyterian minister and blogger, Mark Sandlin writes writes:
Oh sure...we [Christians] have “softened” our approach, saying things like “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but we fail to recognize that what we are calling a “sin” and the person we are calling a “sinner” are one and the same. A person whose sexual orientation is homosexual, or bi-sexual, or queer can no more separate themselves from their sexuality than a heterosexual person can. It's like saying “hate the toppings, love the pizza.” It's just not the pizza without the toppings. We just aren't loving the person if we don't love the whole person.

I suspect the “softening” of the language we use has everything to do with making us feel better and very little with making LGBTQ folk feel better, because it certainly doesn't make them feel any better. As a matter of fact, the love/hate (emphasis on hate) relationship that the Church continues to push on this group of people only serves to push them into closets and into even darker places, which sometimes leads to suicide. The Church and its approach to this issue are at fault for most of the hurt, anguish, self-doubt, abuse and death associated with being LGBTQ. Not very loving. Not very grace filled. But it certainly leaves us in need of forgiveness.

A Call To Action

Religion is responsible for so much good in the world. Religious organizations help feed the poor, build homes for the homeless, provide aid to the sick, and raise money for many wonderful causes. It is also important to note that many religious folks reject religion-based bigotry, and fight for LGBT rights every day. Many churches openly welcome members of the LGBT community, and many are directly involved in organizing campaigns against anti-LGBT attitudes and legislation.

However, far too many sweep religion-based anti-LGBT ideology under the rug. We often fail to speak up and denounce religious leaders or organizations which use the pulpit to debase the LGBT community. We avoid confronting the fact that we bury our gay teens in the cemeteries of churches which perpetuate the attitudes that lead to the deaths of more teens.

The least we can do for the teenagers who have taken their lives, and for those who might be on a similar path, is to rethink our association with institutions whose ideologies are at odds with our own. We need to speak up and demand that these religious organizations and leaders re-evaluate their attitudes on homosexuality.

We need to evolve to the point that we do not take scripture literally. I would like to see us reach a point when we, as human beings with evolved minds and the capacity for empathy, reject the dogma that we see as harmful and archaic. We have done this with so much of scripture, yet we hang on to the Bible's archaic and obsolete take on the nature of sexual orientation and gender.

We are capable of rejecting the Bible's treatment of women (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-15), or advice on disciplining children (e.g. Proverbs 22:15, Deuteronomy 21:18-21). We have let go of the Bible's examples of keeping slaves, polygamy, or the killing of others with different religions. Yet, so many seem incapable of doing the same with regard to homosexuality, an orientation determined by a combination of genetic, hormonal, environmental, and biological factors, and which is not a choice. Why would we choose to condemn, discredit, and belittle these folks based on cherry-picked instructions from the Bible, while dismissing other scripture which makes no sense to us in modern society?

Morality Evolved, And Continues To Evolve

The precursors of human morality can be traced to the behaviors of many other social animals. Our morality predates scripture. It predates the concept of God.  As evolved human beings with the capacity for determining what is morally right and wrong, we owe it to ourselves, and to humanity, to allow ourselves to point out flawed morality when we find it, regardless of its source.

We are fully capable of determining what does and doesn't cause suffering in others. Morality is one of our most basic instincts. We shouldn't be afraid to use it. We must question religious dogma which asks us to go contribute to the suffering of other human beings. Most humans reject stoning, slavery, and human sacrifice -- all smiled upon by God somewhere in the Bible. We have moved beyond such barbarism, because our morality has evolved since biblical times.

Human beings and human morality continue to evolve. Why postpone our progress?

Why on earth would we resist a path that guarantees less suffering and more happiness for our fellow humans?


  1. "demand that these religious organizations and leaders re-evaluate their attitudes on homosexuality"

    Ironically, just like those "conservative" faux-Christians who are trying to FORCE others to conform to THEIR idea of what's right, you are going at the problem the wrong way. Instead of trying to change the minds of those who will never support you, you must engage those who WILL support changes and do so with LEGISLATURE. You cannot force anyone to like someone else or their choices in life. You cannot force a bigot to "come to his senses". The best you can do is to take away his power to "rule" BY LAW and continue to gather supporters for furthering more social justices. How do you garner support for a cause? Let me tell you what does not work for intelligent and sensitive people - using the same bullying and alienating tactics as those you are fighting. Do you not see the irony in shaming and guilt-tripping people into feeling compassion for those who have been shamed and guilt-tripped? It's like smacking your kid for hitting his sister! What the hell kind of mixed message is THAT?

    The anti-religion movement will not be successful as long as they continue to be as close-minded and isolationist and ARROGANT as those they despise. Fighting fire with fire has never worked (in the long run) and it won't work here. Fight against social injustice, no matter who is blocking it. Fight against discrimination in ALL forms and stop trying to blame Christianity for every wrong in the world. So busy railing against those you can't change, you are blind to those who would help.

    I agree there are some outdated and dangerous ideas presented in the Bible. But trying to live as Jesus did, which is the goal of all Christians, does not include forcing others to do anything. That is why I state that I view those who are "enforcer" types as faux-Christians. A true Christian may not agree with you but he will try to keep an open heart and try to love others. When you strike him, he will present to you his other cheek. Jesus was by no means a doormat, but he did not force himself, or his ideas, on anyone. THAT is a true leader.

  2. This is how progress is made. Look around you. Look at the oppressive regimes which have been toppled because of the demands of the people who disagreed with the oppression.

    Slavery was once condoned (it was condoned in the Bible as well). Sure, we fought over it, but people also changed hearts and minds through the denouncement of the enslavement of people.

    Civil rights were won in part by the people rising up and demanding that they be treated with respect, and as equals.

    You say that 'you cannot force anyone to like someone else or their choices in life.' I disagree wholeheartedly. I know many, many people personally who have changed their viewpoints on many things -- things that went against their religious views, such as evolution, and equality for LGBT people. It is done with education and reason and exposure.

    Yes, legislation is helpful, but you must gain critical mass before legislation is often possible. Why do you think that our legislators spend so much time debating? Sure, they do like to hear themselves talk, but they also hope that they can sway others, through testimony, to see their side of the story.

    Your analogy of smacking a kid for hitting his sister does not hold up.

    In the case of LGBT equality, it is the attitudes, the bullying, and the discrimination which is harmful. These attitudes and these actions harm others.

    Calling out those who discriminate and oppress a group of people is not the same as discriminating and oppressing a group of people.

    Would you say that protesting slave owners and asking them to re-evaluate their attitudes on slavery is just as bad as keeping slaves?

    How is it arrogant to stand up for those who are being harmed? Is it arrogant to stand up to a store owner who refuses to serve Asians? How is that even remotely arrogant?

    You are making the mistake of claiming that religious views, no matter if they are oppressive or harmful, are immune to scrutiny. They are not.

    That's not how tolerance works.

    The UN has a wonderful declaration on tolerance:

    Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

    Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.

    Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.

    Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one's own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others.

  3. "It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others."


    That means you don't get to do it, either.

  4. I don't get to do what, exactly? I don't get to oppress, cause harm, and deny the rights of others?

    You are correct.

    You are missing something crucial in this argument. The right to practice ones' religion does not in any way entail the right to deny rights, to oppress, or to cause harm to others.

    It is at this very moment when your right stops and my rights (and the rights of others begin to be infringed upon).

    The UN declaration on tolerance is very clear in regards to this:

    "It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments."

    "Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions."

    If a religion requires the subjugation of women, I am not setting aside tolerance if I condemn and protest that particular religious practice/belief.

    If a religion requires honor killings, I am not setting aside tolerance by condemning and protesting that particular religious practice/belief.

    If a religion requires the oppression, the denial of rights, or the causing of harm of human beings based on their sexual orientation, I am not setting aside tolerance by condemning and protesting that particular religious practice/belief.

    Tolerance does not in any way require that anyone tolerate social injustice. It requires that we uphold social justice.

    That final sentence above is in reference to those who impose views that are not in compliance with the UN's definition of tolerance.

    It does not mean that I am not tolerant if I impose my pacifist views on the fundamentalist Muslim organization that blows up a daycare center.

  5. The differences are very clear as night and day

  6. I'm sure this is probably be redundant, but it is not bigotry to call a bigot a bigot. If someone is trying to deprive others of their rights, it's not wrong to try to prevent them from doing so just as long as you're not trying to deny them their rights in the process.

    And religious belief has only ONE right attached; the right to believe freely without discrimination - no carte blanche for imposing your faith on others, no blank cheque for denying others their rights, no free pass on side-stepping the rules that everyone else has to live by, and no special treatment or protection from criticism or ridicule ...