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Is There a Link Between Conservative Christian Churches and Gay Teen Suicide?

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Many people believe that conservative Christian churches that spread anti-gay message contribute to gay teen suicides.

Image (c) Flickr user Rogiro
Question: Is There a Link Between Conservative Christian Churches and Gay Teen Suicide?
With the rise in the profile of the gay community and with increased rights for GLBT individuals, there has also been an increase in something far less positive: anti-gay rhetoric from religious leaders in many conservative Christian churches.
Answer:

Many people believe that there is a clear link between GLBT teen suicide and anti-gay messages from religious leaders.

In fact, a survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute, which asked 1,017 Americans their views on religion and homosexuality found that 2 out of 3 Americans believe gay people commit suicide at least in part because of messages coming out of churches and other places of worship!

Of course some conservative Christians disagree that they are to blame. Jim Daly, the head of the Christian group, Focus on the Family, blogged in a piece for CNN that Christian churches are not at fault. He argued,

"To violate the dignity of another person, in any form or fashion, is to contradict the very basis of Gospel-centered living. And to suggest that an orthodox understanding of Christianity encourages abuse against homosexuals is a sad misreading of the very tenets of the faith."

That seems like a pretty weak claim to me, especially considering the facts on the ground. As gay self-help speaker, Aaron Anson, wrote in a piece called Religion, Family, and Gay Teen Suicides,

"As I listened to the It Gets Better message produced a month ago by Eric James Borges (who recently took his life), I could hear the pain of abandonment in his voice as he spoke about growing up in a deeply religious -- and deeply prejudiced -- home. This appears to be a common thread among every gay suicide I've had to ponder. Deep in the fabric of the pain that pushes them to take their own lives is hate, more than likely 
"justified" by the misguided religious beliefs of others.

Most media attention tends to focus on peer bullying as a major factor, and I agree with that to an extent. But often overlooked is the impact of the hateful bullying that takes place right in our own homes. Dogmatic religious beliefs are the most often used defense against acceptance of gays...The emails are from gay youths thrown into a reparative therapy of the worst kind: rejection by siblings and parents. Many are left homeless on the street, with all family communications cut off. They're uninvited to family events, and parents feel that their actions are justified by religious dogma -- it's the Christian thing to do."

After working on this site for many years, I am all too familiar with the sad role religion has played in the lives, and deaths, of far too many gay teens. Teen after teen shares horror stories of family and church rejection suffered after coming out as gay. Others feel that they simply will never be able to come out because they know that this rejection would be the outcome in their religious communities.

Just scroll through some of the comments left on my post, Am I Going to Hell for Being Gay? Or read the testimonials from gay teens on Gay Teen Experiences With Religion, and you will hear some pretty horrible stuff.

Here are some examples of the kind of things teens are saying:

  • "In my family the only people that know I'm bi are my sisters and one constantly sits and tells me I'm going to hell for going against our religion."
  • "I just recently came out to my parents and my sister. My life will never be the same. My sister treats me as a leper and my parents, well...my dad stays quiet and my mom keeps shoving the Bible down my throat, desperate to know if I am truly as much of a sinner as they tell me."
  • "It wasn't my choice, and since coming to terms with being gay, I've tried to understand where I stand with God. Part of me believes the people around me that say gays will burn in hell for their sins, but the other part believes that God made me this way and that I am perfect in His eyes. I don't know what to believe. I feel hopeless. All I want is to be close to God again. I feel so empty without Him."
  • "I have been raised a Christian from day 1. My mom is very strict and although she denies hating gay people she calls them disgusting and when she found out I was a lesbian she told me she would rather see me dead than as a homosexual."
  • "I'm wearing a mask and unsure which way to take up - be a Christian and live my life alone till I die? or discard Catholicism and live a sinful life?"
  • I am so scared about coming out. My parents are conservatives and my dad is one of those people who believes all gays should get AIDS, die and burn in hell. I used to think my mom would be fine with me being gay, but recently she has been seeming more and more hating towards gays. I am Christian, however, I've been reading the Leviticus scriptures and every time I cry for hours, wondering, if god believes all gays should die then why did he create us? I do realize there is no changing me. I pray every night god will miraculously make me straight and I now realize that is not happening."
  • "I went to a United Pentecostal Church for 16 years. I am now 17. Being gay was out of the question. If you were gay, they could exorcise you for a demon of homosexuality."
  • "My parent are Christians and so am I. I very much believe in God and know he loves me. My dad hates gays and thinks we are all just accidents and that we convince ourselves we are gay. I can't stand it. I've contemplated suicide and running away, but I can't tell my parents I'm gay. Even as I write this I'm hiding and writing it on my iPod."
These are just a handful of the experiences that teens have shared on this site, and they are a stark reminder of just how damaging anti-gay messages couched in religion can be. Simply put, this situation is just not okay.

Religious leaders need to step out of the dogma and see the effect of their rigid interpretations of faith. Because, really, interpretations are just what they are. And GLBT Christian teens need to know that:

  1. There is nothing wrong with who you are.
  2. It is completely possible to be Christian and gay.

If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal please get help immediately. One great resource is the GLBT suicide education and support organization, Trevor Project

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