I don’t do controversy usually or very well on Becky’s blog. I realize that I tend to fall a little more (sometimes a lot more) on the liberal side of the spectrum, but I also don’t really share my opinions so often and I hope that you all know me to be someone who’s more likely to converse, discuss and respect your beliefs than try to push my own.
But on a day like today, controversial or otherwise, I have a few things that I want to say. I will try to keep it on the less controversial side of things, although it’s a touchy topic.
It’s National Coming Out Day, which is basically kind of a fake holiday (let’s face it–a lot of our holidays or days are pretty much fake occasions) meant to bring attention to the L(esbian)G(ay)B(isexual)T(ransender)Q(ueer/uestioning) community, their struggle for equal rights (including the right to marry legally), and the social struggle that goes along with a young person or an older person having the courage to declare what he or she knows to be true about him or herself.
Here’s why it’s important to me:
I work with teenagers. Teenagers are a vulnerable demographic when it comes to sexual identity and orientation. We live in a society where sexuality is used to sell EVERYTHING. Sex is everywhere. The teenage years are confusing anyway, but there’s so much pressure to be sexy and figure out what is sexy and engage in conversations and activities that explore sexuality.
For some teenagers, this seems easy. They make decisions easily to engage or not engage in sexual activity. They date or they don’t date. They giggle about boys or high five about girls and it all just seems so easy for them.
For some teenagers, this is not easy. They are confused–confused about who they are, what they are supposed to do, how they can live up to parental or social expectations and the feelings they have inside of them. They don’t date because it doesn’t feel right, or they do date because they are trying to force it to feel right. They hear conflicting words and messages from society around them and they realize that the way they feel doesn’t match up with the way everyone else feels.
They question their sexuality, they may or may not turn to trusted adults or friends for help, and very often they struggle silently.
I have a teenage girl who visits my youth group. She’s 17 and she’s been struggling for awhile, but she believes she is gay. She and friends who are helping her say (and please know that I only have her/their perspective, and that ultimately I believe that how she feels about the situation is what really matters) that her church and her parents have turned against her. She told me her parents want to have her exorcised (again, her words because I have not talked to her parents about it). She’s lonely, confused and scared. And she’s hurting because the people who matter so much to her are treating her like she’s possessed (at worst) or sick (at best).
Some of you, at this point, want me to share Scripture with her. Leviticus, Romans…
You know, the older I get, the more I’m not as certain I actually understand what the Bible says or how it all fits together. A lot of what used to be clear cut black and white doesn’t quite seem as easy as it used to. I still take Scripture as authority, I still believe the words of Scripture and use them as a standard in my life…it’s just that there’s so much more to it than picking and choosing verses and believing you know exactly what they mean or what the author intended.
But that’s not really what I want this entry to be about and the bottom line is that my young friend has heard those Scriptures. If I quoted them for her, I wouldn’t be the first one to quote them and at this point, it wouldn’t make the situation any better.
I do quote Scripture, by the way. I quote passages about God’s plans for her life and Jesus’ redemption for all of humanity. Because no matter what you believe about homosexuality, that’s where you should start with anyone. God’s love trumps everything.
Here’s the thing–the incidence of suicide among gay teens is incredibly high. In the news earlier this month, we heard the reports about the college student jumping to his death because some fellow students taped his private interactions with another man.
9 out of 10 gay teens report bullying at school. One third of all teens who have committed suicide in the last 30 years have identified as something other than heterosexual.
Secrets and silence kill. We all need to speak up and be stronger voices of love and hope for confused teenagers (and even for confused adults).
As the Youth Director at Presbyterian Church, here’s what I do in hopes of making the journey easier for teenagers:
1. I don’t allow for any bullying in my youth group. Does it still happen? Yep, it does because I can’t be everywhere or hear every conversation. Do I do my best to keep it from happening? Yep, I certainly do. It is easier in a small group, by the way. Also, I recognize that it’s easier with my group because they currently are a very loving group of students.
2. I don’t allow “gay” to be used in appropriately. When we say the word “gay” in such a way that it means “stupid,” we are calling people who identify as homosexual “stupid.” I connect the dots for the students.
3. I don’t allow for impressions that are not appropriate. I have youth minister friends who do a “gay” impression. There have been kids in my youth group who do impersonations as well. It’s not appropriate or helpful.
4. I don’t shut down conversations. If students want to talk about the topic, I let them talk about it. “That’s not appropriate” someone will say when someone else says “So and so is gay.” It may not be appropriate if it’s gossip. It’s not inappropriate if it’s honest conversation.
5. I try to make our group a safe place for kids to be themselves. It’s hard with so many different personalities sometimes, but that’s the goal. This is also easier in a small group.
6. I try to be someone who listens when kids and parents want to talk.
My goal isn’t ever to push any agenda. I completely respect what parents want to teach their children about the topic, what my confused denomination wants to teach about the topic and what is appropriate for each age group. My goal is to create an environment where teenagers don’t have to suffer in silence and where teenagers can understand that no matter how they struggle with their sexual identity, their identity in Christ is secure.
Feel free to comment and add your thoughts. I know it’s a tough topic–it’s a tough topic for me, too.