How Can You Help Save the Next Jamey Rodemeyer?

Letter o’ the day:

Hi, John. Thank you for taking your time to read and maybe answer this. I’ve been following your blog for a little while and everyone here is so passionate. In light of Jamey Rodemeyer’s suicide, I have been wondering what more I can do to help with this.

I am an 18-year-old college student with no power to make anyone listen to me. Going into churches makes me very nervous at the moment. I feel like they will look at me, and all they will be able to see is my sexuality, not me; they will see me, a lesbian, only as an unrepentant sinner, and not as someone who is trying to live a Christ-like life.

My question to you is: how can I get more involved in preventing more cases like Jamey’s from happening? Should I swallow my fear of the church and begin speaking up? I’m not sure what else I should do. I appreciate your time and any suggestions that you could offer. Thank you.

Dear Sweet Young Woman Who Wrote Me This:

I deeply appreciate your sensitivity to the Rodemeyer tragedy; thanks for sharing with us the degree to which it has moved you.

Wars are won by all kinds of people contributing in all kinds of ways. Front-line soldiers are necessary, yes. But victory also takes all those who work in support of those soldiers: who sew their uniforms, feed them, construct their barracks, process their paperwork, maintain their communication systems, etc., etc. Those people are as necessary to victory as any front-line soldier or general could be.

In the fight for full religious and societal equality for gay people, serve in whatever way works best for you. I have no idea what that way might be: you, and you alone, can discern that. But you must put forth the effort to make that discernment. If you really want to help create a world in which no more gay teenagers are so trashed by low-self esteem they end up convinced the world would be a better place if they eradicated their own existence, then it is incumbent upon you to get serious about discovering how you might actually help to bring that world about.

If you’re afraid to go to church, don’t. (Or, better, find a church near you that is gay-affirming, and start going there: such churches need you at least as much as you do them.) We need you feeling positive and empowered, not frightened. Don’t ever put yourself in a position of being frightened. Challenged, yes; frightened, no. Being frightened means you’re being bullied. And the last thing we need is to give bullies another victim.

Follow Christ. Which is to say, ask where Christ is leading you: where he needs you; what he wants you do to; how he wants you to serve his purposes on earth.

I love that you’ve asked me how you might best serve the cause that so many of us these days hold so dear: it’s flattering to me, and stirs in me all kinds of desires to both protect and empower you. But I don’t know you. You don’t know you. None of us knows ourselves with anywhere near the depth that God know us. We like to think that we’re the world’s leading experts on ourselves, of course. And in a great many ways we most certainly are.

But in the ways that most matter, we tend to know billy-badoinkers about who we are, or what we’re supposed to do.

For that kind of true and steady knowledge, we need God.

So ask God! Settle yourself; close your eyes; breathe deeply, and with the most humble and purest heart you can muster (‘cuz, you know: what are we, angels?) ask God how you personally can best help fight against all that which ultimately led to the suicide of young Jamey Rodemeyer.

People say that God works in strange and mysterious ways.

I personally have most definitely not had that experience: to me, God is so overt about his desires—about what exactly he wants you to do—that he’s almost obnoxious about making that clear.

So find out for yourself how God wants you to help prevent young people from sharing Jamey Rodemeyer’s terrible fate.

Pray.

Ask.

Listen.

Do.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://a-bright-blog.blogspot.com Jason Bachand

    Thanks again for speaking with conviction and clarity, John. This is a fight worth fighting.

    It’s funny, someone recently posted on Jessica Ahlquist’s Facebook page (she’s a high school student currently fighting with the ACLU against public school prayer in Rhode Island) asking the reverse question. The poster wanted to know how he could articulate a moral position for sexual equality without reverting to a religious position. I’m feeling inspired to respond hypothetically on my own blog. I suppose there’s an elegance to the fact that a moral question can be approached in different ways – though I’m still baffled by the theistic position on most ethical concerns. Cheers.

  • A’isha

    John, your final four words are simply brilliant. That’s how we should go about all of life, I think. And obviously the rest of your advice was great too.

    I just wanted to add to the letter-writer one tidbit. Some people in church will only see you as a lesbian and not as a follower of Christ trying to do your best. That’s their problem and their loss. Remember exactly who you are in Christ, how God made you. He made you wonderful just the way you are. We all are created in his image. Keep that in your mind in all your dealings as you try to make a difference. It will help you stay strong.

    Thank you for your willingness to help prevent any more of these senseless suicides. We need so many more people willing to stand up and say this has to end. Blessings to you.

    • Jill Joiner

      Very well said A’isha. I think you have shown what the loving community of Christ truly looks like. It is indeed there loss and they have lost a sweet caring person.

  • Tricia Sturgeon

    John you ROCK!! I love what you said about not putting yourself in a position of being frightened. That is sooo true. We ALL have VALUE! My friends and I on facebook have started a group called “Paws Up” where we encourage teens to love who they are, and give others a chance to get “involved” in whatever ways they can and feel comfortable doing. Its about giving people HOPE! A sense that they have purpose and meaning to their lives, no matter what the bullies say to the contrary. I love you John, love what your doing. Keep it up! :)

  • Tricia Paws Up Sturgeon via Facebook

    Got it John and shared it on my page and also on my “Paws Up” group page. I LOVE YOU sooo much John! Thank you for being the awesome person you are!:)

  • http://www.jameyslaw.org Chad Jeremy

    John,

    As always I loved the way you answered this letter. Always the right words at the right time… People can help still if they wist to. Simply go to the website http://www.jameyslaw.org and sign the petition. Its a small step, but it will make a world of difference..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lori-Knight-Whitehouse/100000074218394 Lori Knight-Whitehouse via Facebook

    Just reposted this, John. Thanks for sharing it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.conard Tim Conard via Facebook

    amen, john…

  • Frank

    True love would show itself by telling someone not to accept who they are but what they could be in Christ. Homosexuality is not how God made you. God made us male and female to be fruitful and multiply. Sin made everything else.

    Love first, don’t judge as we are all sinners, but don’t deceive anyone either by telling them that God made them gay. It’s just not true.

    • Christy

      Frank, you are certain of what God does and does not do and why God does it?

      • Frank

        I am certain about what God tells us in scripture about sin and sexuality because He is perfectly clear. The very fact that there are people who actually believe pro-gay theology after it’s been debunked ad naseum is shows us that people will create and twist anything to justify there own beliefs and recreate God in their image.

        I don’t wish to get into this here on this post because it will only distract from this tragedy and that’s not my intention. No one should be bullied for any reason and any person who takes their life because they do not feel either Gods love or ours is our collective failure.

        My only point is that you are doing no one any favor by deceiving them.

        • Christy

          What if, by chance, it is anti-gay theology that is deceived?…. as it too has been “debunked ad naseum” and “shows us that people will create and twist anything to justify there own beliefs and recreate God in their image.” What if?

          • Frank

            Christy are you suggesting that everyone has been wrong about Gods word for thousands of years and only recently are people starting to get it right? Do you not see the arrogance and hubris of that position?

            As I said this post is not the forum for this so I will not respond here further. I am happy to post elsewhere to continue this.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Frank: I very much look forward to you keeping your promise to cease commenting on this matter here on my blog. Thanks.

          • W. Lotus

            And this is why that sweet young woman is afraid to go to church. Way to go for driving out the very people you claim to “want” to “help”.

          • Allie

            Everyone got God’s word wrong about the Sun going around the Earth instead of the other way round for thousands of years. Everyone got God’s word wrong about slavery being a pretty cool deal as opposed to a sin and a shame for thousands of years. I don’t see why you would think “everyone” couldn’t be equally wrong about homosexuality.

          • Christy

            Thank you, Allie.

          • Christy

            It is an act of humility to admit when we are wrong…..an act of compassion to put others before ourselves and our own interests. I was wrong. And I, who once couldn’t justify my past theology with taking a job that would educate the medical community about the latest information regarding HIV and AIDS research because I might have to work with people who made me feel uncomfortable, have repented for being wrong…..and now I work to right those wrongs.

            The first step to spiritual growth is the willingness to ask ourselves, “What if it’s not everybody else out there who needs to change? What if it’s me? What if I’m wrong?” And then have the courage to follow that train where it leads……and that far and distant God suddenly becomes very present and shows us that the only person we are in charge of changing in this world…..the only one over whom we have any power or control…..is ourselves. When we surrender to this…..we surrender to What Is.

          • L.SS.

            woh, has the bible been in english for thousands of years?!

          • Christy

            Also an excellent point. Thank you, L.SS.

          • DR

            Yes. That’s what is being suggested. That you and others, just like many were wrong about Jim Crow law being supported by “scripture”, are also wrong in this instance. There is no difference here. People twisted Scripture to support it then and it’s the same thing that’s happened here now and those of us who are Christian are correcting it.

        • DR

          I don’t wish to get into this here on this post because it will only distract from this tragedy and that’s not my intention. >>>

          But you can’t help yourself and you did it anyway. It’s so repulsively self-absorbed when those of you can’t actually take *one* moment and focus 100% on the actual tragedy that’s caused by homophobia and consider for a second , the timing where you need to remind everyone what you believe God’s Word to say is so shocking. It’s truly one of the most self-absorbed things I’ve ever seen. The lack of tact and timing you choose to display is kind of scary – you seem to believe that God supports jamming “You’re a sinner!” like a huge bull in a babydoll china shop at any given opportunity. And before you say it, I don’t care what your intent is, or was. Start paying attention to your impact.

  • Scott Rose

    The young woman should tell the gay bashers in her church to take their gay-bashing Bible, cut it up into little pieces and then stick it down their throats and choke on it. Then, if she’s really interested in preventing gay teen suicides, she should start working with empathetic elected officials to get the public schools fully and swiftly to enforce their anti-bullying policies.

  • Mike

    Dear Sweet Young Woman – if you can do nothing more than save ONE person from taking their own life and you can help them understand that God loves them just as they are, the way HE created them, you are doing God’s work in the world . . . . . become active, maybe not in a church, maybe in a church, but it will be well worth the effort . . . . . . Mike

  • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

    John,

    Fine advice, the only thing I could add is this woman is attending college, I wouldn’t doubt that right where she is at now, there are potential Jamey’s right under her nose on campus. I believe God has her right where He wants her, to find the Jamey’s on compus that are hurting so much that they are considering suicide.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yes, Brian, superb point.

  • Stephen McBride

    One of the things I always have to challenge in classrooms in the UK is a particular phrase denoting something as being uncool, bad, etc. I don’t if it’s common in the USA.

    Basically, students will be frequently be heard to coment “that’s so gay!” about something they dislike. And each time I hear it in a classroom, or at tutor time in the morning, I challenge it. I couldn’t tell you if we have any gay students at my school, because, if they possess a modicu, of self preservation, they’re not going to openly decalre their sexuality and risk a kicking.

    My school has a stringent bullying policy in place, inlcuding homophobic bullying. If incidents are encountered, they are dealt with. Firmly. What I find infuriating at work however, is staff using the above phrase themselves, and often in the hearing of students. Again, I challenge it, but I find it hideously depressing that such a bad example is set.

    • Allie

      The Oatmeal had a wonderful response for kids who say “That’s so gay.” He suggested a big smile, and saying, “Yes, I like it too!”

      It’s not just a British thing. If you play video games online at all, you will hear it constantly. Most of these kids aren’t thinking about homosexuality at all; they don’t consciously think, “I hate gay people so I will use that term as a pejorative.” Any more than someone who says “Jesus Christ!” is thinking about religion. But I can well imagine that for someone who is gay, to hear it used in that sense must be exhausting. One problem with getting people to stop using it is that there’s not really a word which means exactly what it’s come to mean in gaming – “lame” just doesn’t carry the same weight. And anyway I suppose that’s insulting to people with bad legs!

      When I was moderating a chatroom for gamers, I found that the best response to “That’s gay,” was “Hey! I’m gay!” Without fail this would get the offender to stop and apologize, even if they knew me quite well and knew that I’m married to a person of the opposite sex. Sometimes it would draw the response, “Really?” to which I would say, “No, but you had no way of knowing that.” Only once in hundreds of such exchanges did I run into someone who insisted on his right to insult gay people after thinking about how it might hurt a real person’s feelings. Most kids are ignorant, not cruel.

      • Diana A.

        1) I think that expression was initially used in “Sout2h Park” although I could be wrong.

        2) Allie, I find your experience with the kids in the chatroom interesting and especially your conclusion that most kids are ignorant, not cruel. If this is the case, how can we teach kids to think twice about how they treat other people? I’m speaking as one who was ridiculed and ostracized by my peers from the fifth grade through graduation from high school. How can we teach kids that bullying is completely unacceptable?

        • Allie

          Well, it helps that I was pretty respected there, not just because I was a moderator, but because I do game art for a living. I’m not sure another teenager would have gotten the same response. And I’m sure another adult who wasn’t perceived as a member of the group – a parent, say – would not have gotten the same response.

          I don’t know a large-scale way of fixing the problem, but on a small scale, being genuinely interested in and friends with young people is the only way I know of to get them to want to do anything.

          • Diana A.

            “…but on a small scale, being genuinely interested in and friends with young people is the only way I know of to get them to want to do anything.”

            Yes. I can see how it would be. Thank you.

  • JH

    John, lovely response to the letter writer, and if I may, I’d like to add something.

    In the past, we had to hide ourselves and many of us still do have to hide, but the fact is that as more of us come out and let our friends and family know that we are queer and we always have been, the tide of anger, fear, and hate has turned. Recent surveys show that a majority of Americans believe that LGBT folks should have the same civil rights as hetero folks. Those same studies also show that an ever growing number of Americans actually know queer people in their day to day lives. Those two things are closely linked.

    When people only know what they hear preached at them or the shock value video clips you see on some news stations, it’s easy to fear us… Imagine taking a 76 year old grannie to a Gay Pride Parade. All the noise, the glitter, the glam, and yes the overt sexuality would be more than a bit shocking. For many people, that’s all they see about us. They don’t see the happily committed couple that’s lived together for almost twenty years living on the other side of town. They don’t see those of us who choose to live quietly.

    Pride Parades have a place, sometimes people need a shock to get them to wake up, but those of us who quietly live our lives, fitting in with the mainstream culture need to step up too.

    My personal walk has been about slowly letting my world know that I am queer. I’ve told my friends, my coworkers, and will eventually tell my family.

    I encourage you to do the same. Even if all you do is let the people around you know that you are queer, and you’re not something to fear, a monster trying to destroy their way of life, you will be playing a large part in the battle to save the lives of people like Jamey.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Janet-L-Wortham-Morgan/1079064835 Janet L Wortham-Morgan via Facebook

    Wonderful John!

  • Lymis

    I’m a gay man of a different generation – I am 51 – but along with all the other advice I would give your writer is that at this point in her life, she needs to give at least equal attention to herself and her own support structure. I know she really wants to help other Jameys, and at least part of that is best served by taking the long view in her own life.

    I’m thrilled to see young people committed to making the world better. And big, dramatic things are amazing, even the kinds of things that start small and snowball into real social change. But from the very beginning of the gay rights movement, the single best indicator of someone’s support for gay equality has always been that they personally know someone that they care about who is an LGBT person.

    It’s wonderful to be an 18 year-old who wants to make a difference – and many truly do! – but at the same time, she needs to prepare herself to become the 25 year-old or the 35 year-old whose happy and healthy life is more of a witness to the world than any of her words could be. And the wonderful part of that is that in many ways, taking care of herself, forming healthy relationships, and being happy, however God leads her to interact with formal religion, will be a huge part of that, so it can be a win-win situation.

    Certainly, join groups, volunteer, and speak out. But at the same time, she needs to make sure she has friends and a close social circle. If she is going to speak out to other Christians, she can start doing her homework and delve deeply into the Bible verses and stories that are used to bash us and understand the arguments of those who don’t interpret them that way (the fact that she knows your work is a great start!).

    We never really realize how important our being open and genuine with those around us is. Back when I first came out, I was poised for all the people around me to start asking questions, or making insults, or being rude. It never happened (or not much). But what I did find out was that all my closest friends were getting constantly barraged by people who didn’t have the courage to talk to me, but wanted to know about me – including a lot of potential allies who were afraid to talk to me but figured my close friends would automatically be experts on all things gay. So instead of confronting homophobia directly, for years, I ended up continually educating my close friends – who ended up doing most of the talking I had expected to do.

    And, again, especially at 18, it’s easy to assume that all the work of outreach needs to be directly to troubled teens or hostile straight people. But a lot of gay people who literally survive grade school and high school still survive as bitter, bullied, and damaged, and being a friend to other gay people – especially a friend who hasn’t lost a lifeline to God (whether formal religion is ever part of the discussion or not) is another way to help the Jameys of the world, by helping there be more and more other healthy and happy gay people visible in the world to inspire hope.

    • Allie

      On the subject of older generations and being out: my late grandmother was an actress. She did TV commercials and local live theater for years. She was a very extroverted, outgoing, social person, constantly surrounded by friends, and all her friends were actors, actresses, costume designers, etc.

      My family is from Memphis. During the 60′s my grandmother, who was white, attended Civil Rights marches and rallies. She fought for the rights of others and always raised me to do the same.

      Once, when I was a teenager, I told her about a story I was writing that had a gay character in it. She told me she believed that being gay was a sin and she didn’t approve of homosexuality. I was shocked. This wasn’t the grandmother I thought I knew. Then I realized, listening to her, that she had no clue that more than half of her close friends were gay! This was during the 80′s. The people in the theater crowd weren’t closeted, exactly – they were relaxed enough in their behavior that I had asked my mom about them when I was only a little girl. But they weren’t out, either, and so it was possible for her to pretend not to know. Pretend not to know that my godfather and his ‘friend’ who I had been brought up to call Uncle were a long-term couple. Pretend not to know that her own best friend was a lesbian. Tell me that our dear friend who died of AIDS had “cancer.”

      I was too stunned at the time to say much. And really it wasn’t any of my business to out all of her friends if they hadn’t outed themselves. I think I said something about being gay not hurting anyone and changed the subject. She died not long after. To her dying day, as far as I know, unaware that her hurtful beliefs applied to her nearest and dearest.

      My godfather never came out to his family until after they died. He brought his boyfriend to his mother’s funeral. Can you imagine having a partner, a spouse, a husband, an entire life, for your whole life, and never being able to tell your mother about it? Never having her congratulate you on your happiness, never sharing holidays with your whole family? Having to hide that much of yourself? That’s awful.

      So, I think Lymis is right, that one of the most important things you can do is stand up and be counted. Let others, straight and gay, see who you are. And I would add from my own experience that thinking ahead about what to say in difficult situations is important. Thinking over that long ago conversation with my grandmother, I wish I had spoken up more clearly – but I was thrown, I wasn’t ready with a response. Practicing doing and saying what you believe makes it easier.

  • John Dornheim

    I’d tell her to find a church. There are many that will be supportive, they are waiting for the opportunity. There are many clergy wanting to be supportive, they are waiting for someone to come forward.

    If her campus does not have a gay straight alliance, she should start one.

    Contact the Trevor Project, Believe Out Loud, and To Write Love on Her Arms. There are many groups out there willing to help.

    None of us are ever alone no matter how it might feel at any given moment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryterry17 Mary Knox via Facebook

    Thank you for this post! your response was just perfect!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sharon-Aldridge-Kaufman/1328865837 Sharon Aldridge Kaufman via Facebook

    What a bright, thoughtful, sensitive young woman you are, looking for ways to help others while still trying to find your own place in the world. You might want to check out the Gay Straight Alliance. They have resources for young people from kindergarten through college. Just do a search for the organization on line. I’ll be praying for you.

  • http://nosuchthingasabully.com Kelly Karius

    John, we’re doing this. https://www.facebook.com/bully.stakeout?ref=ts and this. http://nosuchthingasabully.com

    and maybe you would be interested in this clip of my co-author, Ron Graham talking about the Good Samaritan. And how we can be good Samaritans.

    Blessings John…we’ll use your post at the bully stakeout today and tomorrow!

    Kelly

  • mike moore

    Dear Amazing Young Woman,

    I think you’re mistaken about one thing, and John’s blog is your proof: You, fledgling dyke, already have your first Super Power! You spoke, and we all listened.

    And now we have all learned a lot, because of you.

    If you’re not overwhelmed yet – there are a ton of great thoughts and ideas here – then I offer one more practical idea to ponder …

    Look around the college campus and town you live in … is there a homeless/street-people presence? I ask because often lesbian and gay kids, who’ve been thrown out of their homes or abused in the system, end up on the streets.

    By helping and/or befriending one or more of the these kids, the ones who are around your age or younger, you might save a life, if only by showing kindness.

    Since most 18yo college students have limited time and money, reaching out can be as easy as making a couple of sandwiches and offering them to a kid(s) who looks hungry. Maybe a couple of bucks or $5 card to a MacDonald’s. Or a printed list addresses of shelters and food kitchens (though street kids probably know more about them than you.)

    You don’t have to say much at all. We wear a tiny buttons or symbols – the rainbow, FCKH8, bad tees like “I’m not gay but my girlfriend is” – to send the unspoken message about who you are and why you’re doing this.

    Also, a lot of cities have both underground networks – which always need help, front-line and support – that get more involved with housing, feeding, and helping kids to find a way to live independently, rather than being sent back to hostile homes, being put in Child Services, or living on the streets.

    If reaching out to kids who loiter on campus or on the street seems like something you might try, then please know: this can also be very dangerous. Be very careful.

    If you’re off-campus, then try to find a friend to accompany you. Stick to daylight hours, never follow someone you’re helping inside a building you don’t know and trust (public library – OK; scary apt complex, NO) … stay outside around open businesses and/or busy streets.

    I Hate to say this, but don’t trust the kids.

    Many have learned, in terribly hard ways, to be very manipulative, and they will push your sympathy buttons, try to get more $, rip you off for anything they can sell or use … don’t carry your credit/ATM cards, extra cash, laptop, expensive watch or jewelry you might have … wear kicks and pants/shorts, and keep your phone in front pants pocket.

    On the flip side, they probably wouldn’t trust you, either. Don’t judge drug use and the selling of sex. These are, unfortunately, part of the turf.

    Trust is definitely a two way street. Everyone needs to earn trust over a long period of time. Never bring these kids into your dorm room or apt.

    I know this is a pretty intense idea to toss at you, and so remember … if it’s only about a nice young woman who gives out 2 or 3 sandwiches, every now and then, on campus, you may still be saving a life. That kid may not even be gay, but you still made a difference.

    Sorry if this is too heavy, and this sure isn’t for everyone …. but there are many Jameys out there committing slow suicides, and given your earnest letter and everyone’s comments, I wanted to put this on your, and everyone’s, radar.

    With a ton of love, and even more admiration and respect for you all,

    mike

  • Albert

    Hi my name is Albert, and I’m really new here but I think that I have had enough of the conservative crap interpretation being preached at the church I am attending. It’s one of those law and gospel denominations. And also one of those “Love the sinner and hate the sin” types. What a duplicitous bunch of crap.

    What finally put me over the edge was here in Michigan, in the Legislature there is an anti-bullying bill being held up because the typical conservative viewpoint towards the phrase “sexual orientation”. Because if the bill passes as it is, they would have to acknowledge that the “gay lifestyle” is a “normal” lifestyle. Forget about the point that kids are being harassed to death because of abuse in schools. These type of Christians are still living in Old Testament times. I have plain figured out that these folks are just not living the way as Jesus wants us to, and when it is advantageous, I’m looking for a church that does accept gays where all can worship with praise. And mainstream religion is wondering why their congregational memberships are falling. Get the LOGS out of your eyes! Anyways, I expect to learn a lot from conversing with the more steady folks and probably from drive by folks, so it will be an exciting experience of ideas.

    Best Regards


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