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Crisis of Hope for LGBT Youth Continues
Noah Baron, 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Our Jewish values compel us to address the mistreatment of LGBT youth.
In 1997, 14-year-old Robbie Kirkland took his father’s keys, unlocked the gun cabinet, removed a gun, closed the cabinet, and went to his attic, where he laid down on a mattress and shot himself in the head. Yet until 2010, the media largely ignored the epidemic of suicide and hopelessness among LGBT youth. Last September, media outlets reported the suicides of Billy Lucas (15 years old), Cody J. Barker (17), Seth Walsh (13), Tyler Clementi (18), Asher Brown (13), Harrison Chase Brown (15), Raymond Chase (19), Felix Sacco (17), and Caleb Nolt (14), who all took their own lives because of anti-LGBT bullying and a sense that they had no future.
Because of these suicides and too many others, columnist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better Project, a campaign to tell LGBT youth that the world is changing, and that they can look forward to a time in the near future in which they can live openly and without fear. Joining countless others, including President Obama, celebrities, athletes, and individuals across the nation, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released its own “It Gets Better” video (you can watch it below). In addition, the RAC has been working to make life better for LGBT youth – by advocating on Capitol Hill to pass legislation to protect our nation’s children, ensure equal protection under the law for LGBT individuals, and oppose bullies, big and small alike, who target the LGBT community for harm.
Unfortunately, since last September, the media coverage has abated, but the number of LGBT individuals driven to suicide by bullies and that portion of society that tells them that they are worthless has not decreased. In fact, it is estimated that 30% of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth have attempted suicide at some point – a rate that is three times that of their heterosexual counterparts. One study estimated that by age 21, more than 40% of all LGBT individuals have attempted suicide.
So, why do so many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids take their own lives? The answer is clear to those whose eyes are open: These kids see teachers or other adults who may ignore their pleas for help, they hear politicians strip them of their rights and equate them with pedophiles in the public sphere, or they endure vicious denunciations of who they are from their religious leaders.
Our nation’s bullies were not born homophobic, and our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children were not born with an enduring sense of self-loathing – shame and homophobia, like racism, are taught, and our society is a classroom. When our states consider constitutional amendments implying that gay relationships are worth less than straight ones, our children hear them; when our politicians demonize gay people as predators for the sake of votes, our children hear them; when religious leaders claim that homosexuality is somehow a “defect” that can be “cured,” our children hear them.
Let it be known, our children listen to our leaders, and when our leaders say that it’s acceptable to hate people for being who they are, our children hear that too. America’s bullies have received the message loud and clear from anti-gay politicians, religious leaders and smear campaigns during state referenda: that hating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is OK; that treating them as less-than is acceptable. In 2009, nearly 20% of LGBT youth were kicked, punched, or beaten in their schools – merely for existing.
It is time that our leaders send out a message of hope rather than hate.
As people of faith, we have a responsibility to prevent the suffering of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters. It is written, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds” (Leviticus 19:16). As Jews, we believe in the inherent dignity of all people, for we read in the Torah, “God created the human beings in [the divine] image, creating [them] in the image of God, creating them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). As human beings, we have a responsibility to ensure that each new day is brighter than the last for those who come after us.
This is not a political issue; this is a moral issue, a fight for life. I urge you all – no matter your stance on marriage equality, regardless of whether you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican – to work to stop bullying in your communities. All children deserve a childhood, a place of learning where they feel safe, and the right to live their lives with dignity.
IMPORTANT: If you are in crisis, feel isolated or alone, or are considering suicide, call the Trevor Hotline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).
AJWS offers On1Foot as a resource to the community out of our desire to encourage and enrich the ongoing conversation about Judaism and Social Justice. The statements made and views expressed in this work are solely the responsibility of their authors.
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