The brutal killing of Matthew Shepard near Laramie, Wyoming in October of 1998 alerted the nation to the dangerous extremes of homophobia. Matthew met two young men at a lounge and was offered a ride in their car. After admitting he was gay, he was robbed, beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die. Matthew, a 21-year-old student at the time, was found and rushed to a hospital, where he died five days later. By the time of his funeral, contentious pro- and anti-gay fever created dangerous tension in Laramie and elsewhere.
In 2010 a string of teenagers, and younger, suicides was climaxed in the news by the suicide of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old student whose sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was posted on the Internet. A few days later he jumped off a bridge to his death.
Instances of homosexuality and homosexual practices by no means new, but the rash of suicides related to cyberbullying regarding sexual preference has placed the issue of homosexuality, particularly among teens, in the public spotlight.
Recent statistics on homosexuality among youth are hard to come by. A Time magazine October 2005 Article published in entitled “The Battle over Gay Teens”http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1112856,00.html noted the striking increase inyouth publicly disclosing their homosexual preferences. This article cites a Harvard study and book (The New Gay Teenager by Ritch Savin-Williams, 2006) concluding: “The average gay person comes out just before or after graduating high school.”
With this surge in recent years of younger teens declaring their sexual preferences come many implications ranging from social to political, to theological and spiritual concerns.
Many complex issues raised by this public health concern, particularly as they relate to teens themselves. Most mental-health professionals agree that trying to reject one’s homosexual identity and impulses can often be detrimental-and has seen to lead to depression-and even suicide.
88.9% of students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) frequently or often at school, and 86.5% reported that they felt distressed to some degree by this.
72.4% heard other homophobic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “faggot”) frequently or often at school. 62.6% heard negative remarks about gender expression (not acting “masculine enough” or “feminine enough”) frequently or often at school.
61.1% felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 39.9% because of how they expressed their gender.
84.6% were verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) at school because of their sexual orientation and 63.7% because of their gender expression.
40.1% were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 27.2% because of their gender expression.
18.8% were physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) because of their sexual orientation and 12.5% because of their gender expression.
52.9% of LGBT students were harassed or threatened by their peers via electronic mediums (e.g., text messages, emails, instant messages or postings on Internet sites such as Facebook), often known as cyberbullying.
In such a climate, “coming out” as homosexual, particularly during teenage years is obviously not an easy thing to do. (See our articles on Bullying for more on this).
In addition to the implications for youth themselves, homosexuality among our nation’s teens has far reaching implications for social policy.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. In your opinion, is this a matter that needs to be discussed in religious institutions and in the public arena?
2. Given differing and strong opinions on this issue, along with its complexity, how do you think homosexuality among young people can be discussed?
3. Can a person or organization believe that homosexuality is wrong without violating a person’s rights and human dignity?
4. Is homosexuality a threat to family and society?
5. What should parents and/or families do when a family member declares his or her sexual preference for the same gender?
1. A half dozen or more suicides in one year, directly attributed to being bullied for their gender identification, should make this a matter of public concern.
2. Beyond the sensational final solution these young people chose, is a great wave of distress among many who hare questioning, or have others questioning who they are sexually.
3. There are many reasons why many are afraid to discuss this issue. But when youth are crying out for help, church and society must respond.
4. We must find a way to discuss this matter across strongly help perspectives.