recent weeks, many of us have been shocked and appalled by a compelling
photo of two gay teenagers being put into nooses by hooded officials, just
moments before they were executed by hanging on July 19 in a public square
in Mashhad, Iran. For many young gay people in the U.S., this image is a
chilling reminder of their own vulnerability as their families reject them
and communities across the country attempt to legislate against them. In
fact, the myriad anti-gay messages throughout American society convince
many gay teens to slip the noose of self-destruction around their own
Few Americans believe gay teens deserve to die, yet rejection by family and society, intensified by a toxic environment for gay kids in our nation's schools, is killing them. Recent studies show that gay youth (15-24 years old) are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and that gay kids comprise nearly one-third of successful youth suicides. Anti-gay sentiment bleeds into schools at the earliest stages. Words like “faggot” and “dyke” echo through the hallways of schools across America, and few adults are inclined or adequately trained to step in and protect targeted kids. Adolescence is a time of tremendous change-physiological and emotional-and supporting the gay and “questioning” kids as they navigate the perils of becoming men and women will require some extra education and courage from all of us.
By allowing religious doctrine to mix with the powers of the state, we are eroding the American dream for gay kids. After all, what can they expect from their future as they build families and enter careers? It is legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in 21 states. The President openly promotes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and many “morality-focused” groups have been emboldened in their efforts to mobilize people against gay rights. The increased visibility resulting from same-sex marriage debates has led to a steep rise in violent assaults-in cities, rural communities, and everywhere in between.
Religiously affiliated groups in California recently drafted a ballot initiative that the state's Attorney General has titled, “Elimination Of Domestic Partner Rights.” The name of this proposal says it all. Gay and lesbian families are currently excluded from the manifold benefits conveyed by the secular status of marriage, but that is not enough for the initiative's supporters. Under such a law, even the lesser protection afforded by current domestic partner status would be stripped away: no rights to hospital visitation, adoption of children, insurance benefits, or inheritance. These attackers wear pressed shirts and build beautiful websites to promote their agenda, but they are as dangerous as hooded executioners on the gallows. Make no mistake-some of these zealots will stop at nothing to advance their agenda of hate.
Our government does not execute gay teens, but our young people are dying nonetheless. As the pendulum swings further toward eroding civil liberties in our country, we should all take a moment to assess how much we have lost and where we are heading. If gay people are legislated into second-class citizen status, those who would do them harm will surely take it as a cue. Only when we extract religious dogma from all three branches of government, can we begin to reclaim the promise of our democracy for all, embracing society's most vulnerable. By doing so, we can gently loosen the noose that imperils their future.
John Crabtree-Ireland is a writer in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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