More than a little rhetorical contortionism is required to follow their logic, but according to several better-known leaders of the religious right, responsibility for the recent wave of suicides of gay teens rests largely with… gay-rights activists.
The argument goes something like this: Young homosexuals who are relentlessly bullied and taunted commit suicide because gay-rights advocates (eager to “recruit” new homosexuals and to make the world gay-friendly) encourage acceptance of homosexuality among normal (meaning straight) children, which confuses them about their own sexual “preference.” That, added to gay-rights activists’ purported efforts to “bully” Christians to prevent them from condemning homosexuality, creates an intolerable level of emotional stress, leading to tragedy.
Five teenagers nationwide committed suicide during a three-week span in September after being bullied, taunted or outed as homosexuals. Seven student suicides — at least four of which apparently involved anti-gay bullying — rocked a single Minnesota school district during the last year. On Tuesday, a 19-year-old Oakland University student who had reportedly been bullied since revealing that he was gay, took his own life. (Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a 40-minute documentary on the subject, “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History,” that is being offered free to schools around the country.)
But even the occasion of these young suicides — something that has horrified most Americans and received intensive media attention — has been taken by some right-wing commentators as merely one more opportunity to bash gays.
“I’m expecting some serious blowback on this,” said Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for government and public policy for the American Family Association, in an Oct. 14 video broadcast, “but I want to suggest that homosexual activists are not wholly innocent in these tragedies, in these horrible suicides by these students. Now, realize that homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they have to recruit. It’s the only way to swell their numbers.
“We, the sexually normal, we can be fruitful, we can multiply, we can fill the earth,” Fischer continued. “Homosexuals cannot do it. They’re incapable of procreation … Now part of the agenda of groups like GLSEN [the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network] … is to urge students at younger and younger ages to come out of the closet and declare a disordered sexual preference for themselves, so you’ve got sexually confused young people.
“They’re trying to get this brainwashing into students of all ages, even starting in elementary school, and what they’re urging them to do is self-declare as homosexuals before they are mature enough to make any sort of rational decision about sexual matters,” Fischer said. “So I’m suggesting that adults that pressure these students to declare a disordered sexual preference when they’re too young to know better, that they share some culpability for those who take their li[ves].”
A week earlier, in an article published by right-wing website WorldNetDaily.com and entitled, “Is ‘gay agenda’ to blame for teen suicides?”, Mission America president Linda Harvey wrote: “‘Gay’ advocacy is growing, now aimed at kids at younger and younger ages. … Kids are urged to ‘come out’ early. That's exactly what several of these young victims did, and such actions are often associated with early suicide attempts.
“As the supporters of homosexuality nudge kids into a known risky behavior … they simultaneously suppress, marginalize or mischaracterize traditional views that discourage homosexuality,” Harvey added.
The next day, Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs for Liberty Counsel, picked up the theme in an article published by the Illinois Family Institute entitled, “‘Gay’ Lobby Shamelessly Exploits Teen Suicides.” Barber asserted that prevention of suicide isn’t the aim of gay-rights activists at all — what they really want is to use the tragedies to increase pressure on the real victims: Christians.
“It makes me physically ill to watch as the HRC [Human Rights Coalition, the largest gay-rights organization] and other 'gay' militants lick their chops and rub their hands together over the tragic suicides of these troubled, sexually confused young men,” Barber wrote. “Before they were even laid to rest, the radical homosexual lobby pounced leveraging these suicides to demand that government codify each of their extremist, social engineering demands. This is political exploitation at its slimiest and it pours salt on the wounds of loved ones. … Their mission is not one of ‘tolerance’ or ‘diversity.’ Quite the opposite: Their goal is to fan flames of anti-Christian bigotry and discrimination, evangelizing on behalf of their own perverted god: moral relativism.”
The answer for “sexually confused young men,” Barber wrote, is for them to confess their sin and repent through Jesus Christ.
On Oct. 11, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins even managed to get the Washington Post to run his op-ed, in which he reiterated the point: “Homosexual activist groups like GLSEN … are exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda of demanding not only tolerance of homosexual individuals, but active affirmation of homosexual conduct and their efforts to redefine the family.”
These perspectives rely on a long- and widely debunked assumption that young people’s natural sexual orientation can be “confused” by mere suggestion or “corrected” by a simple act of will. Harvey explicitly declares, in italics, “No one is born gay.” Fischer’s argument that “gays can’t reproduce” implies, nonsensically, that heterosexual couples only bear heterosexual children, some of whom are somehow “converted” to homosexuality later. Barber’s reference to “sin” implies that homosexuality is just bad behavior that can be overcome.
In fact, every credible scientific study done since 2000 suggests that sexual orientation is a complex and not-yet-fully understood mixture of genetic and environmental factors — and that no persuasive evidence exists that one’s natural sexual orientation can be altered or “confused” by any kind of external influence. In 2009, the American Psychological Association concluded that compelling evidence that someone had gone from gay to straight “was rare,” and that “there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.”
“It’s unfortunate, at a time when most of the country is coming together to recognize the need to address anti-LGBT bullying, that some organizations are still trying to divide us and lay blame with people who are trying to make schools safer for everyone,” said GLSEN public relations manager Daryl Presgraves.
Presgraves said the comments from Fischer, Harvey, Barber and Perkins are not representative of all conservative organizations, some of which, including the Christian Educators Association International, are working with GLSEN on the issue of bullying in schools directed at gays and other high-risk groups. “We are very excited to work with any Christian organization that is willing to recognize that destructive rhetoric isn’t going to solve anything, and who actually follow the teaching of the Bible that says we should love thy neighbor,” he said.