Outing homophobia's deadly consequences
'Don't ask, don't tell' epitomises what is wrong with public policy and attitudes that treat homosexuality as unacceptable
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 October 2010 22.14 BST
Don't ask, don't tell. This is the policy of the United States on homosexuals serving in the military. Don't ask a person if they identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and certainly don't breathe a word about your sexuality if you happen to fit into one of those groups. If you do, expect to get kicked out.
This isn't news. DADT and its damning message have existed for more than a decade. What is new is that just last week the Obama administration indicated it would appeal a recent lower court decision to ban the law as unconstitutional. President Barack Obama wants congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell", keeping it out of the hands of the more conservative-leaning courts which, Obama believes, will ultimately uphold the law.
While the political and legal wrangling over DADT may be confusing, the law's message remains intact: "If you're queer, keep it to yourself."
This may be why, just days later, the president filmed a three-minute video asking LGBT teens to hang in there. "You are not alone," he tells them. "Things will get better."
President Obama's message is one of more than 5,000 that have sprung up on YouTube in the last few weeks in an attempt to combat what appears to be an epidemic of gay teen suicide in my country. Since September, at least five youths have taken their lives, all of them queer-identified, and all of them victims of harassment. These kids were taunted in school, beaten and shunned. One, an 18-year-old Rutger's student, killed himself after a tryst was secretly filmed then dropped onto YouTube.
The rash of suicides has drawn attention to some frightening facts about being gay in America. According to a survey done by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, almost 85% of LGBT kids are bullied in school. A Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey indicates that gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and a report out of the University of Pittsburg Medical School reveals that LGBT teens are 190-400%more likely to become drug and alcohol addicted.
For some, like Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern, these statistics bare evidence to arguments against the LGBT "lifestyle". Homosexuality, according to Kern, is a deadly disease "akin to cancer… and more dangerous to the US then terrorism". "It is not an equal or valid option," says New York gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino. And earlier this month, Boyd Packer, the second highest-ranking authority of the Mormon Church, told more than a million viewers that LGBT children will not get better until they reject "unnatural and unholy", impulses that guide them toward same-sex relationships.
In light of these kinds of comments, and laws such as DADT, I have to wonder, is it being homosexual that is killing our children, as Kern and others suggest. Or is it homophobic attitudes and laws that make being identified as LGBT deadly?
Being gay in America is not like being black or Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim, or any other ethnic or religious group victimised by discrimination. Being a gay kid in my country is isolating. Most LGBT children do not have a community to turn to – let alone parents willing to accept their child's sexual orientation. Most churches don't accept that there is a biological basis for homosexuality; some go so far as to equate it with drug use and stealing. "Pray gay away" has become a catchphrase among the zealots who make their opinions known from Capitol Hill to our children's classrooms. One doesn't have to look long online to find the vitriol that so-called adults track into the homes – and minds – of kids trying to find their way.
Some say it is easier being gay in the US today than in the past, when even the topic of homosexuality remained in the closet. They point to TV shows like Glee, which features a young gay teen and his struggles against bullies. And it is true that, in some cities, the LGBT-identified have a greater sense of freedom and safety. But unlike the US's neighbours to the north and south, which have made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, the United States has no such federal protection; nor does the federal government recognise gay marriages. And, of course, there still remains "don't ask, don't tell".
To think that laws like DADT or the homophobic comments of political and religious leaders do not spawn fear, hate, hostility, and humiliation is not only ignorant, it is dangerous. Fortunately, their voices are not the only ones in the choir. The "It Gets Better" project has had over a million viewers since it was launched earlier this month. The various films are remarkable for their honesty and depth of emotion. They give a clear view into the realm of prejudice, and they lay blame precisely where it needs to be placed – on the adults who teach their children to hate, and on each person who condones the discrimination of homosexuals with a shrug of the shoulders, or worse, a belief that this discrimination is somehow moral.
In this day of "don't ask, don't tell", we must do its precise opposite. Ask why LGBT kids are killing themselves, and tell the truth about the reasons.
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