Tightening the noose on young American gays

September 01, 2005|By John Crabtree-Ireland

MANY OF US have been shocked and appalled by a compelling photo of two gay teenagers having their necks being put into nooses by hooded officials just moments before they were executed by hanging July 19 in a public square in Mashhad, Iran.

For many young American gays, the 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 persuade many gay teens to slip the noose of self-destruction around their own necks.

The Iranian boys who were killed were arrested for having consensual sex with each other - jailed at 14 and 16 years old. Whereas most Americans bristle at the thought of executing minors, many of those same advocates are willing to participate in assaults on the self-identity of American youths.

Parents across our country enroll their adolescent boys and girls in "reparative therapy" and "transformational ministry" programs designed to eliminate gay inclinations, identification and activity.

Reparative therapy is rebuked and considered destructive by virtually every medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Association of Social Workers and the American Academy of Pediatrics. These programs often succeed in destroying children's self-esteem and in teaching them to hate themselves. This is an execution of innocence, and it has dire consequences.

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 gays 15 to 24 years old are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and that gay kids constitute nearly one-third of successful youth suicides.

Anti-gay sentiment bleeds into schools at the earliest stages. Words such as "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 35 states.

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 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 Web sites 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.

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, actor and documentary filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles.

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