By Rev. Elaine Blanchard
On Tuesday night, October 19th, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral, I sat with a gathered group of about two hundred people. The Memphis GLBT Community Center invited us to come. We came together to find comfort and strength for the loss and pain involving recent suicides of gay young people. We came together to learn more about the realities of bullying and violence in our homes, churches, schools and neighborhoods. We came because we have been bullied by a culture that is terrified by anything different and by a society unwilling to accommodate anything other than absolute conformity to prescribed ways of being and loving. We came together to learn what the schools are currently doing in response to the violence, bullying and injuries sustained by our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning young people. We came because we are weary of the violence proposed and supported by clergy who insist that God looks forward to punishing and destroying the lives of those of us who have been created as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning people. We came with the hope that our presence might be a support, with a hope that we might act together in helpful ways and make a difference for somebody, somewhere. We came because we care to do whatever it takes to create a safer world for our children and youth who are not heterosexual.
All of us have a choice to make. We choose whether or not to treat others with kindness and respect. We choose what we teach our children. Students go to school filled with lessons they have been taught at home. If students have been taught to fear gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people then they will act out that fear with bullying behaviors. If students have heard their pastor or religious leader condemning gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning people as unworthy of God’s love and acceptance, then students will feel justified in harassing, taunting, humiliating and imposing physical harm on students who are not defining themselves as heterosexual. If students are taught at home that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a personal choice rather than a matter defined at birth, then students can choose to feel justified when they “beat the difference” out of their classmates. If students have been taught by their parents and religious leaders that all people are created by the same source of goodness and that all people deserve respect for who they are created to be then kindness would determine the interactions and relationships at school. When students are accepted and affirmed at home they find it less challenging to accept and affirm others. When students are encouraged by parents and educators to develop a healthy curiosity about the world around them then students learn that it is good to know more about people, all people, and especially those who are not like us. Parents and educators choose to nurture the kindness and curiosity of our children and youth. Or they choose to nurture the fear and hostility that comes from a rigid refusal to experience something previously unknown, to grow and change.
These issues are related to the choices we make regarding the HIV virus and AIDS. It costs too many people nothing to casually and callously blame gay men for the HIV virus. Those attitudes fuel the fire for hostility, bullying behaviors and violence. Too many people trust in their heterosexuality as an absolute defense against contracting the disease themselves. That attitude sets people up for unprotected and unsafe sex with HIV- infected heterosexual partners. We choose whether or not to learn and become part of the solution in our society. We choose whether or not to promote and sustain healthy education, safe relationships and compassionate religious teachings. We choose to push our young people into desperate situations where suicide seems like the only option for escape from the internal and terrible conflict between being true to the self or being true to the longing to belong and be accepted.
The HIV and AIDS epidemic have cost us so much. We have paid for research, medications, treatments, and we have paid the awful price of too many lives lost. It is time to learn from all that we have lost. We can choose to know the truth: All people need kindness and respect. We can choose to be helpful and hopeful teachers. Teach the world around you by your attitudes, your words and your actions. Choose to teach your family, friends, co-workers, counselors, neighbors, and clergy that it is right and good to be kind to others. You would choose nothing less for yourself. Call the Memphis GLBT Community Center if you choose to learn more and become part of the support and solution for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in our city. The number there is 901-278-6422.