By Derek Penwell
When I got to the office one time, I had a voicemail from a young man I’ve never met before. The message began, “My name is Benjamin. You don’t know me, but one of your colleagues referred you to me.”
He went on to say that he’d done some research on DBCC, and the ministry we’re involved in advocating for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people. He wanted me to know how much he appreciated our efforts, and how encouraging it is to hear about a church that actually cares for folks who’ve traditionally experienced only heartache at the hands of the religious establishment.
Felt good. Nice to have your work affirmed by a stranger … unsolicited. Put a smile on my face.
He proceeded to relate a bit of his story. He came out to his parents when he was twelve. Being religiously conservative, they did what they believed best—they put him in “reparative therapy”—”pray away the gay.” The whole thing damaged him so badly that he’s assiduously avoided church ever since. I could hear the bitterness in his voice.
Over a very short period of time, I went from feeling, perhaps, a little too self-satisfied at the initial compliment to feeling awful for this young man’s trauma.
Then he said something that struck me as both profoundly sad and strangely hopeful: “I can only wonder how my life would have been different if there’d been a church around that had loved me for who God created me to be, instead of trying to change me from what it feared I represent.”
I started thinking about the Suicide Prevention Workshop we held a couple years ago. Turns out LGBT young people are two and a half times more likely to contemplate suicide than their straight counterparts. More frighteningly, I found out that those same LGBT youth are eight times more likely to attempt suicide.
Why the significantly higher rates?
Bullying, of course. But bullying is something that frequently happens … to a lot of kids. Perhaps even more deeply than bullying, though, LGBT kids experience rejection and isolation at the hands of the very people kids are supposed look to to love them and keep them safe.
Their parents kick them out of the house at alarming rates, making homelessness among LGBT youth twice as likely as among straight youth. The churches they attend often brutalize them in the name of “love.”
Young people are dying at an alarming rate, in order to allow some folks to retain the purity of their personal sense of integrity. That this integrity costs the lives of children is apparently a price they are more than willing to pay.
I realize that the motive for this stringent vision of purity is rooted in what its possessors would term love. And, I should point out, there is something to be said for saying “no” in the name of love—addicts, for example, often require the love found in “no.” And those who affirm reparative therapy, I suspect, would prefer to see same gender sexual orientation as an addiction to be conquered.
Unfortunately, though, reparative therapy is not “AA for the gay.” For one thing, AA actually works, whereas reparative therapy, at least according to the medical and scientific community, does not.1 But the problem has less to do with the fact that reparative therapy is ineffective, than with the fact that it does damage.2
LGBT young people having to find their way without the people and institutions charged with caring for them struck me today as I spoke with a pastor about his church. It seems there are some young adults in the church who would like to have conversation about how the church can become a place of welcome to LGBT people. Apparently, the older people in the church think such a conversation would be dangerous, afraid people will get angry and leave. After all, there are so many more important things in the world.
As the pastor spoke, I thought about Benjamin. I thought about all the LGBT young people going through hell because the people they trust to watch out for them have belittled and abandoned them. And I wondered how life would be different if there were churches around that loved these kids for who God created them to be, instead of trying to change them from what church people fear they represent.
I pray to God we find out.
To wit: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, National Association of Social Workers, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO): Regional Office of the World Health Organization. ↩
See above note. ↩
By Derek Penwell
Let us imagine that you live in a circle of eight houses, seven of which have fertile gardens in back -- enough to feed a family. Unfortunately, however, the eighth house has a patch of swampy land that makes growing a garden impossible. Consequently, the people that live there spend their lives on the edge of starvation.
In the middle of this circle of houses is a commons that everyone uses to supplement their own gardens. But the gardening done in the commons, split eight ways, is only enough to give each house a little extra produce to sell for “nice things.”
The sharing of the commons is a tradition that has been passed down to homeowners in the neighborhood for generations. Nobody even questions it. The commons arrangement is just the way things are.
However, one-eighth of the commons doesn’t give the family with swampy land enough subsist on.
But that’s the way it goes, right? Life isn’t always fair. There has to be winners and losers.
Then one day, you’re having a cookout at your house with the bounty harvested from the commons. You’ve invited over a friend, who just happens to be a surveyor. She’s interested by the layout of the neighborhood, and the almost perfect solution of a commons. She thinks this is a great idea.
On her way to the bathroom, however, your surveyor friend happens by an antique survey map of the neighborhood hanging in your study. She begins to inspect it closely, as supper is being prepared. As she looks, she notices that the commons isn’t really a commons at all. In fact, the land that the neighborhood has been using freely to supplement each one’s income is actually a tract that legally belongs to the house with the swampy land.
You immediately realize the implications of this discovery: For years, because of a longstanding tradition, everyone in the neighborhood has been fattening their pocketbooks at the expense of the family that lives on swampy land. In other words, you realize that you’ve been getting rich on the back of the neighbor who can least afford it. You have an epiphany: Your neighbor’s family has been starving, while the rest of the neighborhood has taken the proceeds for itself -- the proceeds that rightfully belong to the starving family.
You feel awful. But it was tradition. Nobody knew any better. That you probably should have been more compassionate toward your neighbor all along is beside the point. Now you know.
The moral question is: Having finally realized that you’ve been treating your neighbor’s family unjustly all these years, what are you going to do about it?
- Stay quiet about it and keep the arrangement the way it is. It appears to be in your best interest economically just to keep your mouth shut. Why say anything at all if it’s only going threaten your otherwise comfortable existence?
- You could privately admit to one or two neighbors that -- if it were up to you -- you’d just restore the commons to its rightful owner. You’re humane, after all, you don’t necessarily want to see anyone starve. But then you might continue by telling your friends that, though you’re personally pulling for the family with swampy land, you’re afraid that if you say anything publicly about the injustice, one of two things might happen: 1) your other neighbors might get mad and vote you out of the neighborhood association; or 2) they might just think the whole arrangement is falling apart and vote to disband the neighborhood association all together. And boy howdy! You could never live with yourself if you were the person who submarined such a great arrangement, which seems to meet the needs of so many people.
- Or you could say, “Now that I know an injustice is being committed, I can’t keep quiet about this practice that threatens one of my neighbors, even if speaking up about it makes everyone else angry.”
Whatever you do, though, now that you know your neighbor is suffering unjustly at the hands of people among whom you live and work, morally you occupy a different place than before the surveyor pointed out the inequity.
So, let’s bring this home for the church folk:
If you happen to be a follower of Jesus who believes LGBT people have suffered injustice at the hands of the church, your response to that injustice -- whether you stand up publicly to speak against it or not -- (as difficult as it is to think about) is a moral question.
If you come to believe as a result of your faith that disproportionately imprisoning and killing young African Americans is an epidemic that is just a public manifestation of institutional racism, how you respond to the shooting of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, et al., makes a difference.
If in the course of your life as a Christian and a participant in the great American commons you become convinced that people arriving to participate in that commons from other countries deserve to be treated with dignity and hospitality, whether you choose to stand beside them in the face of hatred is not a matter of moral indifference.
“What will my congregation/denomination think if I publicly name this injustice?” is certainly a question worth asking. But the more pressing moral question has to do with thinking that that question is more important than “What’s my moral responsibility to people facing an injustice that threatens their dignity, their careers, their living arrangements, their ability to be parents -- and in some cases -- their lives?”
True moral knowledge of injustice without action makes you part of the problem. If you don't think so, ask the folks in the swampy land.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Chris Hartman, Fairness Campaign Director
(502) 640-1095; @FairnessCamp
Dr. Noell Rowan, BSW Program Director, UofL Kent School of Social Work
(502) 852-1964; NLRowa01@louisville.edu
"Aging Fairly" Series Includes FIlm & Lecture on LGBT Elder Issues
April 28, 4 p.m., UofL Chao Auditorium; June 9, 5 p.m., Douglass Blvd. Christian Church
(Louisville, KY) As part of its "Aging Fairly" series, the Fairness Campaign is partnering with KIPDA Mental Health and Aging Coalition, the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work, The LGBT Center at University of Louisville, Mad Stu Media, Faith Leaders for Fairness, and True Colors Ministry to present showings of Stu Maddux's award-winning documentary film on LGBT aging, Gen Silent.
Each film showing is coupled with a brief lecture by Dr. Noell Rowan, BSW Program Director of UofL's Kent School of Social Work, who will reveal findings from a groundbreaking Hartford Faculty Scholars research project, Resiliency and Quality of Life for Older Lesbian Adults with Alcoholism. The series is free to the public with refreshments and will be shown Sunday, April 28, 4:00 p.m. at UofL's Chao Auditorium in the basement of Ekstrom Library and Sunday, June 9, 5:00 p.m. at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, 2005 Douglass Boulevard.
The film showing and lecture series is part of the Fairness Campaign's ongoing efforts to promote awareness in the community of LGBT aging issues and disparities among older LGBT adults. As chronicled in Gen Silent, many older LGBT people struggle with going back into the closet as they fear prejudice and unfair treatment in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. According to Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, a joint study by the MAP Project, Center for American Progress, and SAGE, 8.3% of LGBT elders reported abuse or neglect by a caretaker due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, senior lesbian couples have almost twice the poverty rate of senior heterosexual couples, LGB older adults have 11% higher alcohol abuse rates than their heterosexual peers, and 72% of LGBT seniors are hesitant to engage in mainstream aging programs for fear of being unwelcome, among other staggering statistics.
"With more than 1.5 million LGBT seniors living in America today, and with that number ever increasing as more Baby Boomers join those ranks, caring for and better accommodating the needs of our LGBT elders has become an increasingly urgent issue on the Fairness Campaign's radar," shared director Chris Hartman. "In the coming years, we will be deepening our partnerships with these and other organizations--like Elderserve, Inc.--to best serve Louisville and Kentucky's LGBT seniors."
WHAT: "Aging Fairly" film and lecture series
WHEN & WHERE:
Sunday, April 28, 4:00 p.m.
UofL's Chao Auditorium in the basement of Ekstrom Library
Sunday, June 9, 5:00 p.m.
Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, 2005 Douglass Boulevard
WHO: Dr. Noell Rowan
KIPDA Mental Health and Aging Coalition
University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work
The LGBT Center at University of Louisville
Mad Stu Media
Faith Leaders for Fairness
True Colors Ministry
"The story of Peter and Cornelius is a tough passage just to the extent that it asks us to do the difficult work of continuously discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit. Where is God going? What kind of new thing is God up to? Who is it that makes us uncomfortable, whom God is busy trying to welcome into the fold?
"It’s a lot easier to sit back, point out the rules, and say, 'This is the way God’s always done it before.' But God is bigger than our attempts to box God in. God cares about establishing a a reign of justice and mercy, not about making us feel comfortable."
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Haven't read Rev. Penwell's article on Huffpost Religion yet?
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Louisville’s PRIDE FESTIVAL…my third…as I have only been active in the LGBTQ community for about 4 years. The festival began with the parade on Friday evening. My church, Douglass Blvd. Christian Church, has participated for several years now. I experienced real joy as I marched alongside some of our gay and straight members, carrying our banner of support. I have been involved in church music ministry for 50 years, and experience real joy at being part of a faith community which welcomes and affirms ALL people gathering to worship and fellowship, regardless of gender, age, color, creed or sexual orientation. It brought sheer joy to my heart to witness the smiles of people watching, knowing that many of them were not members of the LGBTQ community, but there to support it. On Saturday, I volunteered, along with some other church members, at our booth…passing out information about DBCC, and engaging in conversation with those who stopped by. I felt great joy in my heart as I heard person after person express thanks that we (representatives of the church) were there with our support. (And lest I forget, there were other churches there as well. Hopefully, next year, there will be even more.)
The balance of the afternoon was spent walking around the festival, meeting old friends, making new ones, and taking in all that the festival had to offer. While there, I could not help but notice the others who had come. As I walked, I saw outfits of every color of the rainbow. People in long pants, short pants, underpants, t-shirts, no shirts, crazy hats, crazy hair, nipple rings, ear gauges, tattoos, lip rings… you name it and it was there. I heard some comments about how the news media only seemed to film and photograph the ones who dressed and behaved in such outlandish manner. I was asked, “Is that the message that we want delivered to the larger Louisville community about the LGBT population?” What about those who choose to be less conspicuous about their “gayness”? After all, the LGBT community contains not only those who blatantly flaunt their homosexuality, but those who dress and act in a more conservative manner. The fact is: we are lawyers, doctors, teachers, servers, sanitation engineers, accountants, students, real estate brokers, managers, construction workers, nurses, bartenders, etc. I would daresay that those in the “straight” Louisville population cannot go anywhere in the area without some contact with a member of the LGBTQ community, and may not even realize it. Some of us are noticed, while others are well-hidden. We are black, white, Asian, Indian, and of mixed descent. We are teenagers, baby boomers, and members of the X and Y generations. Are you getting my point? We represent DIVERSITY, within our own LBGT community.