Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Price of Hate and Compromise

Tonight I sat down to check messages on my computer and I found myself overwhelmed with incredible sorrow as I read the following post, “CA Teen Filmmaker Commits Suicide After Making ‘It Gets Better’ Video.”

The article goes on to say that Eric James Borges a 19-year-old resident of Visalia, CA was, “Not accepted by his birth family, Eric James was striking out on his own, trying to deal with his personal situation, but also wanting to help others. Sadly even involvement with the Trevor Project was not enough to help him navigate the turbulent waters of young adulthood.”

Eric grew up in Visalia, California, a town I know very well because I lived there for 15 years. One year 1989 as associate pastor at St. Mary’s (the wealthy White parish) and 14 years as pastor of Holy Family Church (the poor Latino parish) located at 1908 North Court Street in Visalia.

The website for the City of Visalia speaks of the pro-South culture of Visalia during the Civil War that alarmed the Federal government enough to build a military installation in 1862 to prevent an uprising, centered in Visalia, in favor of the Confederacy.

Visalia, like most rural communities in the USA, is socially conservative. I recall walking down Main Street about ten years ago; a new shop had opened up called, “Prim and Proper.” Another priest, also assigned to Visalia quipped, “That’s Visalia.”

There is much that I loved and still love about Visalia, but there exists a dark side to most conservative rural towns in America. They are very wonderful places to live IF you happen to belong to the majority and conform to conservative ideas/values, or at least appear to conform. Eric’s story is chillingly familiar because it is the story of far too many of us.

Most of us become aware of our sexuality at puberty. Our physical attraction (sexual orientation) slowly “dawns” upon us uninvited, it simply emerges as we grow from children into adolescents. The greatest fear for a young LGBT person at this point in their life, is that they would be rejected by the very people that they love the most in this world, their family and their friends. As survival mechanism LGBT children adapt by denying who they are, they learn to lie about themselves to their parents, siblings, friends and classmates.

The price of all of this is ultimately self-hatred. The Center for Disease Control’s 1999 Youth at Risk Behavior Study, found that one-third of gay adolescents attempt suicide. One-Third! Not reflected in those statistics are the abuse of alcohol and drugs by LGBT youth. Not reflected in those statistics are the large numbers of gay teens that are driven from their homes, or emotionally alienated by parents practicing “tough love.” Parents attempting to force their children to be something they are not, heterosexual. All too often parents have been misled into adopting this tough “love” by clergy.

The fact that the hierarchy of many religions, including Catholicism, promote these attitudes towards LGBT people and makes them accomplices to this moral evil. The prejudice, emotional and physical violence, alienation of affection between parents and their children, the resulting despair and tragic suicides can all be traced back to religious authorities who willfully disregard the insights of psychology.

Pope Benedict XVI, just this week, made the absurd and unsubstantiated statement that; gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined "the future of humanity itself".

In the USA those states that have Marriage Equality laws have substantially lower divorce rates that those that prohibit Same-sex marriage.

Consider the following report from the BBC,

“A UK HIV charity said there was a clear link between happiness and health.
Research has already suggested that gay men are more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts than heterosexual men, and that social exclusion may be partly responsible.

Same-sex marriages are legal in six US states, with Massachusetts the first to allow them in 2003.”


“Researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health surveyed the demand for medical and mental health care from 1,211 gay men registered with a particular health clinic in the 12 months prior to the change, and the 12 months afterwards.
They found a 13% drop in healthcare visits after the law was enacted.
There was a reduction in blood pressure problems, depression and "adjustment disorders", which the authors claimed could be the result of reduced stress.”


“A spokesman for the Terrence Higgins Trust, a UK-based sexual health and HIV charity, said: "There is a known link between health and happiness.
"It's no surprise that people who are treated as second class citizens tend to have low self esteem, which in turn makes them more likely to take risks.
"Whether this is drugs, alcohol abuse, or unsafe sex, treating gay men unequally has lasting repercussions for their health."

Tragically, society (like our President) is “evolving” too slowly to have saved the life of Eric James Borges, 19, of Visalia, California. Hopefully, his death will outrage us to speak louder, work harder and fight more uncompromisingly for full federal equality and protection. For the human dignity that is every person’s birthright.


William said...

I was moved to tears.

Allison KLeinsteuber said...

I'm an art educator at one of the Visalia High Schools. I started a GSA club 3 years ago, because I couldn't lose any teen. I'm deeply saddened that Eric's family disavowed him. This is exactly what Christ would NOT have done. It was difficult starting the club in this environment, but it has been worth it and change has occurred. Thank you for making this young man's life worth knowing about. He has touched many lives and will continue to help others. Blessings!
Allison Kleinsteuber

Anonymous said...

Then why do so many gays become clergy? Why? Do you just like getting dressed up for work that much?

Father Geoff said...

Dear “Nixon is Lord,”

I cannot speak for everyone who has made the decision to become a member of the clergy. In my particular case, I had a conversion experience as an undergraduate student. My sexual orientation was not my motivation for deciding to abandon pre-law studies and applying for seminary. That said, I do believe that being a member of a minority group that is targeted for hatred and discrimination does force a person to consider existential questions that a member of the privileged majority culture is not forced to consider.

Such a thirst for understanding, justice and truth could lead to any number of career choices; for example, psychology, sociology, law, teaching, journalism, art, as well as becoming a member of the clergy. As far as making a career choice based on uniform, I think that regardless of sexual orientation, that would denote a rather juvenile level of psychological development. While anything is possible, I consider it rather improbable that such a person could survive four years of undergraduate studies, four years of postgraduate studies, various internships, field assignments, faculty evaluations, and psychological screenings, if in fact that was their primary motive for seeking ordination.

Anonymous said...

from Chris Morley
That's a tough video to watch.

The hard time many gay teens face, together with the absence of gay-friendly sex education, poor school practice and policies to deal with homophobia and bullying, can lead to multi-faceted problems that harm bi and gay men throughout their lives.

The Catholic Church's own responsibility and complicity for much of this is considerable and shameful.

No-one has collected data on or studied the association between religious background and HIV and other harms to gay teens, but my long experience in working with people affected by HIV in Britain has always left me struck by the considerable number of Catholic gay lads and men I met who end up with HIV. This is explained by much more decades of instructions not to use condoms to protect against HIV infection and transmission. Ambivalent statements recently are too little, too late.

Growing up Catholic and gay creates toxic levels of low self-esteem and under-prepared lads lacking vital gay-friendly sex education and with long-term psychological damage caused by antipathy to homosexuality in the school and faith environment.

Gay teens (Catholic or not) face a life time of vulnerability to poorer mental health, substantially higher rates of teen suicide extending into later life, significantly more problematic and long term drug and alcohol misuse, very significantly worse rates of STI & HIV infections, various self-harming behaviours, and eating disorders.

In a decade working on HIV policy and practice in NW England, using probably the world's most detailed regional HIV statistics data-set spanning the last 15 years, other info sources and my organisation's own care records, the evidence was starkly plain to me.

The more vulnerable and socially excluded you were, the more likely you would, sooner rather than later, get HIV, and then have poorer health prospects living with HIV, and be more likely to have compounding health problems.

Factors like a history of childhood abuse or neglect, being in the child care system, low socio-economic status, your class (being working/blue collar), lower educational attainment, minority ethnicity, being a migrant, living in low income postcodes, living in social housing, are all tellingly associated with much higher rates of HIV infection and poorer life quality and health outcomes.

Although we lack data on religious background, my extensive HIV experience in Britain leads me to add Catholic and fundamentalist churches and faiths into this toxic mix.

I was raised Catholic and attended a junior seminary for five years before escaping and emerging as gay. The Vatican and hierarchy bear an awful responsibility for much of the damage to our gay and bi brothers.