Dan Savage is right: the religious right exploits LGBT suicidesPosted: October 2, 2010 | |
[Disclaimer: I’m aware that Dan Savage has written a lot of problematic stuff about trans people, and other groups – this isn’t an endorsement of any of that but rather a riff off this one column.] Dan Savage writes a fantastic, brutally honest reply to an anti-gay Christian who took offense at the idea that conservative Christian parents encourage anti-gay bullying and that the religious right uses gay suicides to perpetuate its agenda. He responds, in part:
The religious right points to the suicide rate among gay teenagers—which the religious right works so hard to drive up (see above)—as evidence that the gay lifestyle is destructive. It’s like intentionally running someone down with your car and then claiming that it isn’t safe to walk the streets.
Which is why I argued that every gay teen suicide is a victory for the religious right. Because, you see, your side does use those suicides to “perpetuate [your] agenda.” . . . [They] will point to this recent spate of gay teen suicides . . . they’ll gleefully use these tragedies to justify what they like to call the “Christian, pro-family agenda.” (ht Joe My God)
The whole response is very worth reading in full. And Savage is absolutely right. The religious right does exploit tragedies and difficult circumstances among LGBT people for its anti-gay agenda, and many on the religious right think that LGBT people deserve to suffer. This is probably most clear how the religious right has historically talked about HIV/AIDS. My partner and I were both explicitly taught growing up that AIDS was God’s punishment on homosexuals for their perverse and ungodly lifestyle. My partner was even told that the sudden emergence of AIDS and the fact that no one knew where it came from was a modern day miracle, and evidence that biblical accounts of God’s miracles were true. These days most conservative Christian leaders seem to have decided that unabashedly and publicly stating that AIDS is divine retribution for homosexuality is bad for PR. But they still believe it. After all, it’s right there in the Bible: “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.“ (Romans 1:27).
There’s no compassion, love, or grace in this teaching – not for HIV+ people or those suffering from AIDS, not for LGBT people. People on the religious right don’t deny the horror of HIV and AIDS, but for most it’s no more than a tool to prove that God hates homosexuality, that God is on their side. It’s not a call to action or a call to care for people who are suffering (you know, kinda like Jesus taught?). It’s evidence that when LGBT people suffer, they brought it on themselves. They deserve it.
And that’s the same attitude that underlies the prevailing attitude on the religious right towards the issues of suicide, bullying and abuse, and other issues that disproportionately affect LGBT people. The religious right also exploits and crows over these problems as “evidence” that being openly gay or trans is a “destructive lifestyle.” As a kid and teenager, I also heard countless times that higher rates of suicide and mental illness were proof that homosexuality was a perversion (just homosexuality – the existence of trans people was never even mentioned). They were proof of the divine judgment that Romans 1 promised. There was, of course, no entertaining the shocking notion that institutional and societal homophobia and transphobia might have anything to do with the prevalence of these problems among LGBT people. No. They were just evidence that LGBT people should never be accepted for who they are, that they were justly punished by God and should also be punished by society for not conforming to heterosexist and cissexist norms.
And this is why there’s no number of suicides that will convince groups like Focus on the Family that programs specifically addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying are legitimate and necessary. They don’t want suicide, or drug use, or mental illness rates to decrease among LGBT people – not when they use these as anti-gay and anti-trans propaganda. They might mouth platitudes about tragedy and condolences when yet another life is lost because of homophobia or transphobia, but in reality, they don’t care that these bigotries kill people. They don’t care that these bigotries train their straight, cis children to believe that visceral hatred and verbal, emotional, physical, and even sexual violence are perfectly acceptable responses to gay and trans people. They don’t care that these bigotries, as Dan Savage puts it, drive real, living gay and trans children and adults to suicidal despair.
They think trans, gay, and bi people deserve to be alone, deserve to suffer, and deserve to die. That’s the truth.
If any one thinks I’m being unfair or hyperbolic about this, just google “homosexuality destructive lifestyle” and see what pops up. See if you can detect any genuine sadness, care, or concern in the lengthy descriptions of the issues that affect LGBT people. See if there’s any attempt at all to suggest concrete ways to prevent suicides or to address mental and physical health issues affecting LGBT people. You won’t find any, because there aren’t any. “Don’t be gay or trans” is neither helpful or realistic advice, and is precisely the attitude that creates and perpetuates the self-loathing and despair that fuel these problems. It’s hateful “advice” and not at all loving (as, incredibly, I was taught this attitude towards LGBT people was). It’s “advice” telling gay and trans people they should annihilate themselves. It’s no wonder that so many gay and trans people do.