Dan Savage is right: the religious right exploits LGBT suicides

[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.


10 Comments on “Dan Savage is right: the religious right exploits LGBT suicides”

  1. Mark says:

    Evil is a very strange adjective, and a very difficult category: it depends on humans and human society for its existence: the lioness devouring the zebra, and leaving a baby zebra without a parent, condemned to die, does not kill the zebra because she’s evil (or because the zebra “deserved” to die). It is simply a matter of survival, and the zebra in turn destroys the grass, a living organism as well, to feed herself.
    And yet we humans do have a different way to organize themselves, and have reach a point where many other factors other than survival have become part of our life: killing another person is simply an act of evil in most circumstances (obviously, self defense being an exception). Hurting or abusing another person is also an act of evil. But as such they rely on human consciousness and social organization to become such… Thus, I rarely speak of “pure” evil, since that seems to imply evil is an entity outside of human control… and yet, what these people are doing is, definitely, the most absolute evil a human being can do. They are aware of what they are doing and yet have chosen no to assume the real consequences of their actions, or the implications of their “Christian” values, and have made a choice in life regarding the way they relate to others, like LGTB people. Clearly, they have also forgotten to read the Bible, the set of documents they place in the center of their violence against others: Christ did not condemned those suffering from terrible diseases that, at the same time, were portrayed as the result of terrible choices in life(of course, this does not imply that HIV/AIDS is the consequence of a choice in life, but rather is simply a commentary on how the Bible describes some people suffering from epidemics). The Bible actually does not talk about homosexuality and does not condemn it (not even Paul, who is often tagged as the strongest supported against homosexuality): in the original versions in Greek and Semitic languages there is not a single mention of these claims about homosexuality, and when Paul talk about homosexual practices he is condemning the white, Roman Master who buys boys and rapes them, and their right over the life of such boys. Yet these people have chosen to ignore the true, and have launched violence against everybody that is not like them–including members of their own communities who decide to actually read the Bible. Yet, they keep telling everybody they are the “good ones”, on the side of God, and people keep believing them…

  2. presentlyhuman says:

    I read the book “Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture” and there was this quote in it:

    “It’s the perfectly impenetrable circular logic. Guilt proves that God objects and lack of guilt proves that you’ve rejected God.”

    Which sort of fits with this. Depressed and suicidal – it’s because you’re doing something wrong. Happy with it? It’s because you’ve given yourself over to sin and are virtually irredeemable.

    In their minds, they’re right. There is no other option – so everything reinforces their opinion, and what doesn’t, simply just takes the route I’ve often heard, “They’re actually depressed/broken/damaged over this, they’re just in denial.” And since the “rightness” of scripture comes before anyone else, even people’s lives, then they’ll use anything, including others’ deaths, to justify their beliefs.

    • Grace says:

      It seems to me that much of evangelical/fundy logic is circular. It’s the same thing with dealing with good and bad circumstances – when good stuff is happening, God is blessing you; when bad stuff is happening, God is testing you – but the bad stuff doesn’t come from God, he just allows it to happen to you so you can trust in his sovereignty, blah blah blah.

      The secret depression thing is big in how they talk about women who have had abortions, too.

      And since the “rightness” of scripture comes before anyone else, even people’s lives, then they’ll use anything, including others’ deaths, to justify their beliefs.

      Exactly. Funny, Jesus had some pretty harsh stuff to say about that kind of approach. They clearly don’t believe that “Depart from me you evildoers” could ever apply to them.

      • presentlyhuman says:

        Yeah, that’s actually where I heard the argument originally – was that all women were always depressed after having an abortion, even if they didn’t know it. Though I have yet to get an answer when I ask in return, “Would you like it if someone said, ‘Oh how you say you feel, that’s not how you *really* feel, I, someone doesn’t even know you, understands your emotions far, far better.”

        One of the biggest reasons I’m in this faith-crisis kind of state is because I spent the year after I graduated high school reading the gospels over and over again. It’s hard to see things in the same way again. (Though I had a pastor, in response to people who were disgruntled with the church for that very reason respond with “You can’t just follow Christ’s teaching and example to be a Christian!” Really, because I kind of thought Christ-follower was the whole point…

  3. Mark says:

    I absolutely agree with you, presentlyhuman. One thing that I do have to say is how incredibly amazed at the fact that even if they do claim to follow the scriptures in their daily life and for ethical grounds, they really have not read them! And let’s not go crazy and assume they would actually bother to read more faithful, intelligent translations of them that the currently used… even if you read a bad translation, how can you possibly support and anti-gay reading when, 2 paragraphs bellow of one of the 3 supposed mentions of anti-gay expressions in the bible, it also says that men have a right to sell their sisters, mothers, and mothers in law into slavery for profit? If you claim to be faithful to scripture you cannot just follow one paragraph and ignore the other! Of course, backing up slavery openly these days would not bring a lot of followers to them…

    • presentlyhuman says:

      I once got into an argument with someone because I made the point that there is no way to support capital punishment using the Bible – considering we aren’t consist with who we would put to death as they were in the Bible. Most circular logic argument I’d ever been in – it’s easy just to accept what you’ve been told is right and wrong then reexamine and look at things from a different perspective, or trying to see the validity of one’s beliefs.

      • Grace says:

        No, it’s totally easy to figure out who to use capital punishment on: all the people white conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists hate the most. Duh!

        *ahem* in all seriousness, yes, that’s another good example of the religious right’s circular logic.

    • Grace says:

      Of course, backing up slavery openly these days would not bring a lot of followers to them…

      Well, there’s your answer! And there is no doubt in my mind that many of these same people would still be defending slavery today if they could get away with it – and in fact, many still do in roundabout, coded language.

  4. Beady Sea says:

    Growing up, I was told about depression / unhappiness in the LGBT community, and this was evidence that what they were doing was wrong. It was even accompanied with the disclaimer “Of, course, they’d say it’s how people _treat_ them that makes them unhappy” — but that aspect of it was dismissed as an obvious smokescreen to distract from their desire to continue in sin.

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