Part 1: Time to ‘Name’ What is Ignored

This forthcoming 2 Part Series is written by Kevin Harris – Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.

“Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” -Jesus

As most everyone has heard, recently there has been a tragic string of suicides in the last three weeks that is now up to six teenagers. A commonality in each case is that each teenager was gay or perceived to be gay by those that bullied them. Recent research shows that these cases of bullying were not just isolated incidents.

-9 out of 10 LGBT student (86.2%) experienced harassment at school. (GLSEN National School Climate Survey 2009)

-Sexual minority youth, or teens that identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual are bullied two to three times more than heterosexuals. (Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH 2010)

-Almost all transgender students have been verbally harassed (e.g. called names or threatened in the past year at school because of their sexual orientation (89%) and gender expression (89%). (GLSEN: Harsh Realities, The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools 2009)

While all the recent cases of suicide have been very saddening, my initial hope was that this devastating news would serve as a catalyst to address the bullying and violence that continues to haunt LGBT youth or those perceived to be so in anyway. That it would be a rally call for our society and the Church to rise up and seek to protect those that are suffering silently. But no sooner than I initially heard the news of the deaths did I start to hear parts of the Christian community focusing on rallying to defeat political measures instead of putting all their energy into overcoming bullying while proposing solutions that fall short of effectively addressing the current climate that perpetuates homophobia and this type of bullying.

It is being proposed by some Christian groups that we need to just condemn all acts of bullying without specifically addressing the core issues at the heart of the recent instances of bullying. In a recent interview with CNN, Candi Cushman of Focus on the Family stated that:

“Bullying prevention policies would be most effective if they addressed the far reaching nature of this problem, which so many of American children (30%) are dealing with. So the most effective policies and initiatives would be ones that protect any child against bullying for any reason. The correct focus is to prevent the wrong actions, not focusing on the characteristics of the victims. It doesn’t matter why the victim is targeted, it is wrong to harm them for any reason.”

This philosophy is ignoring the prevalence of LGBT bullying mentioned above and is not going to address the root of the problem. We are not going to be able to get rid of homophobia if we do not actually discuss homophobia. Can we imagine how effective it would have been to say that it didn’t matter why kids were being bullied and did not specifically talk about racism when schools were being integrated in the 60s’? If we do not address the underlying issues, they will continue to manifest themselves in forms of bullying. It is like only focusing on the symptoms while neglecting the disease that is making the person sick in the first place. I agree with Candi Cushman that all forms of bullying must be condemned, but without specifically getting to the heart of the matter the diseases that plague our society like homophobia will continue to cripple and kill our children while the surface level anti-bullying initiatives function as damage control for a few visible cases. By not addressing the specific problems and naming them, we will actually reinforce the context that brought about these suicides.

Much love.

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  • Well said.

  • Br. Michael

    I agree!!! The inhospitality needs to end! Like Bisexual Erasure and Bill Clayton’s suicide and Internal Biphobia. As well, as Transphobia, Intersexphobia, Asexualphobia, Heterophobia, and etc. How we all forget about…. “Loving others as yourself.” Matthew 25.

  • Godson

    Now who’s being political? Bigotry against people because of their sexual orientations—which is something we do not choose—is wrong, but if the problem is bullying why are you pulling in the issue of homophobia? Kids bully others for all sorts of reasons including sexual orientation. Sounds like you are using this situation to advance your political agenda to me.

    • Kevin Harris

      Godson – I’m not completely sure that I understand the claim that you are making. Could you expand upon it a little?

      In my mind, the homophobia that exists in our broader culture continues to perpetuate the bullying that is being talked about. If standing up to say that we should make efforts to combat homophobia, which is defined as “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality” and saying that children should not be bullied for their actual or perceived sexual orientation is advancing a political agenda, then I am guilty of that.

    • Sam

      Ignorance and hatred are the parents of some very twisted children, are they not?

  • Timothy Philipp Gan

    If cases such as these are still prevalent in a country that has made such vast inroads on gay rights, imagine what the situation would be in countries where this kind of love is very much a “love that dares not speak its name”.

    I come from one such country and I am still living here and I have my fair share of confusion, depression and shame over what I thought my sexual orientation was in my youth. But in Christ, I have found freedom, I’m fighting the good fight and though I’m still imperfect, all I can only think about is what I’d would’ve become were it not for some of my closest friends who prayed and supported me through and of course, Christ is the bestest friend one could ever have.

    My point here is that the question of sexual orientation, no matter what your views are or where you’re from, is a subject…a burden I would say, that is much, much too heavy for a young shoulder to bear alone. No youngster should ever have to deal with it in the best years of their lives, not without support from people they can trust. Unfortunately, most of the time, the friends they have are often not the right ones. This is where I think the Church had failed. We often forget that we are called to love unconditionally just as our Father in Heaven has loved us. If the Church had been cultivating love, tolerance and acceptance in our kids and teach them to reach out to their friends, I can’t help but think that the six young lives would not have ended so tragically and prematurely. If they had the opportunity to have friends such as my friends that helped me through, that stood up for me, that prayed and loved me just as I am…

    I’ve been a silent observer/lurker of The Marin Foundation for some months now, coming across it by accident. The work of Andrew Marin has touched me deeply and I knew it was not by chance that God led me to you all. One of my passions is to reach out to the youths of my country and the world with the Gospel, especially the sexually broken and confused. God has opened up my eyes in recent months through the work of His servants such as The Marin Foundation, David Kyle Foster’s PurePassion TV show and also about the existence of Exodus International. Great ministries sorely needed in my country.

    Thank you for the work you are doing for the LORD. Don’t worry about the negativism you will surely get from Christians and non-Christians alike. Christ never promised that the work we undertake for Him is rosy, problem-free road. Have hope that in the last days, when He comes back, we’ll know who’s in and who’s out. Keep the faith, everyone at Marin, and know that the favour of the LORD is upon you and He will uphold you and give you unlimited supply of His grace to soldier on for His glory!

    • Evan


      You’ve indicated that you used to be sexually “broken,” as you call it. You praise Exodus International, a ministry dedicated to pulling people out of homosexuality and into their own version of righteousness.

      Having known several people who went through Exodus and other “gay rehab” ministries, and having read countless accounts, I am completely convinced that it doesn’t work. What it does is either temporarily brainwash gay people, most of whom return to an active homosexual identity, or else these ministries ironically convince them entirely of their homosexuality while simultaneously adding to their shame and self-loathing, or else it changes nothing, temporarily or long-term. These ministries do not work for most people, even if they seem to have worked for you.

      The answer is not “gay rehab,” even with Christ’s help (but is He truly involved in these, besides His name being invoked?) The answer is to love gay people as they are, and let them choose if they wish to deny their sexual/gender feelings in the name of Christ or simply have both– a life in Christ that includes same-sex romance and love. If you force a choice, the odds aren’t great about choosing a threatening external ministry over internal sense of familiarity and love.

  • Liz

    Homophobia is the energy that is behind the bullying of LGBTQ youth that goes on in schools everyday across our country – it is brutal and causing young people to end their lives.

    I am encouraging every parent I know to find out what their school is doing about bullying and promote the idea of showing a new documentary film from SPLC – The film, Bullied, and a teaching kit that compliments the film, is available free of charge to every school in the country.

    I also suggest that parents inform their child’s school that they are teaching their kids to recognize and report bullying and that the school should inform you if your child reports any bullying.

    Parents should empower their children to stand up against bullying by reporting bullying at school when they see it taking place and also reporting it to their parent, who in turn can talk to school officials.

    The parent can talk with their child about bullying, it’s forms, it’s impact, it’s results; what to do when you are bullied or witness someone being bullied.

    I suggest that parents document their conversations with school officials about bullying with a follow up email as some schools have been reported denying conversations that parents say they had with school officials about bullying in general and specific cases of bullying

  • What if we did both?

    I mean, what Candi proposes is very important – that we target the elimination of ALL bullying – regardless. It is very important to also name hate for what it is – a dysfunction, and unacceptable dysfunction of the soul. Naming bad behavior for what it is is very important.

    Alongside of that, name the specific instance of bullying… In other words, acting on any kind of hate is wrong. Acting on this SPECIFIC type of hate is included in that and is also wrong.

    We need to look at the big picture of what is going on – hate… as well as the specific instances of what is going on – targeted, specific hate directed against an individual or community.

    So often I see folks take one side or the other and just wondering why it cannot be both/and? thoughts??? Am I way clueless on this one?

    • Eugene

      Candi proposes a painkiller approach (hate is OK, its symptoms are not). And she’s doing because she wants to ignore homophobia.

      Of course, all kinds of bullying are wrong. But the reasons are different – and they all must be addressed. She says, “The correct focus is to prevent the wrong actions…”, but of course, the correct course is to address the causes. If you have a toothache, will you keep taking painkillers or go to a dentist?