Religious Homophobia, Gay Youth, and Unconditional Love

Today I watched “The Bible Told Me So,” a documentary about religion and homophobia. Two things struck me especially. The first was the section where Chrissy Gephart came out to her father, Dick Gephart, and the second was the absolute damage done to young gay and lesbians by religious homophobia and organizations like Focus on the Family.

Here is the transcript of the section on Chrissy Gephart’s coming out to her father, a prominent conservative politician. If you want to watch it in the documentary, start at 56 minutes.

Chrissy: The one thing I said was I can’t do this to my dad. What his family was like was such an important part of his political life. And I knew that being gay, being a lesbian, does not fit in to the perfect political family. We have to fit the cookie cutter mold of the wedding dress and the and the man and the woman and have children and get married. I just remmeber thinking, it’s not even an option. People say, why didn’t you come out earlier? If something’s not an option, you don’t consider it. I said, I’m just going to make this go away, I came up with all these different excuses. It got to the point where I was so unhappy. I had sort of a, a moment where I was like, if I want to be happy, it’s going to mean losing my family. And that was the decision I had to make.

I felt an instant bond with Chrissy hearing this, because I had to make that choice too. I, too, knew that I was choosing between my happiness – my freedom – and my family.

Chrissy proceeds to go to a restaurant with her parents and tell them that she is gay.

Chrissy: My dad was bawling. He proceeded to tell me how a parent will do anything to protect their child and that it’s an unconditional love.

Gephardt: Unconditional love, which is what I believe we have for our children, means exactly that. There are no conditions.

Chrissy – And he was all emotional and he said, you know, I love you no matter what and mom and I will be here for you no matter what. I mean, just hearing the words, we will always love you was the most amazing thing to hear, because I think that’s what every child’s fear is, that your parents will disown you, I mean, it’s a real fear, I mean, a lot of people, it happens to them.

I do not understand this! I do not understand it because I have not experienced it! In fact, I have experienced the opposite. This is, I suppose, how I wish my parents had reacted to my changing beliefs, or even how they should have acted. All I wanted to hear was “we disagree but we accept you nonetheless,” but that’s exactly what I did not get. Hearing Chrissy’s story hurt, but it was also good because it offered hope – for every parent who puts conditions on his or her love, there is a parent who truly loves unconditionally.

That might very well be a theme of this documentary. You see Christian parents who reject their gay or lesbian children, and Christian parents who accept their gay and lesbian children. One lesbian young woman committed suicide after being rejected by her lesbian mother for her sexual orientation. One young man’s sexual orientation caused his parents to reevaluate their beliefs and begin a movement to change the teachings of their denomination. It was amazing to see just how much parental response matters in the lives of gays and lesbians. I guess I’d known, but I hadn’t seen it so clearly before watching this.

The documentary also talks about Focus on the Family and the damage its teachings do. I don’t think I’d ever thought about this directly before. I mean, people are free to believe as they choose, and I’d always seen the consequences of religious homophobia largely in terms of efforts to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. I’d never thought quite this directly about how the teachings of Focus on the Family and other groups effect teens growing up in homophobic religious homes or churches. Did you know that a gay teen commits suicide every five hours?

I have a gay friend who grew up in a Southern Baptist family. He knew by high school that he was gay, but he hid it. He tried to take his life. He swallowed a bottle of pills, but it only knocked him out for several hours and left him alive. Why did he try to kill himself? Because of what his church told him. Because of what Dr. Dobson said. Because of what his parents believed. Because of what he believed because he’d been taught it.

It’s sort of like how people approach the Duggars. I hear all the time, “I think they’re crazy, but they have the right to live however they like.” It’s the same with the approach people often take to homophobic individuals: “I think they’re crazy, but we do have freedom of religion and freedom of speech int his country.” The problem with this approach is that these individuals effect those around them – especially their children. We can say that the Duggars can live as they choose, but what of Jill or Jessa, trained to be homemakers and to remain under their father’s authority? We can say that we have freedom of religion and that that extends to the freedom to believe homosexuality is sinful, but what of the young gays and lesbians who grow up in these homes? I don’t have an answer to this problem, of course, I just think it’s important to keep in mind and an interesting conundrum to mull over.

So there you have it – my random musings on a random documentary. :-)

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • shadowspring

    I recently purchased the video "Through My Eyes" from the Gay Christian Network. Every Christian should watch it. It opened my eyes to exactly why gay is not a choice or a sin or an abomination, it's just a thing. After thoroughly "Focus(ing)on the Family" all through the 90s and most of the Naughts, I was not thinking straight about this issue. When I started getting labelled "liberal" by Karen Campbell and Virginia Knowles, I was at first offended. But I really owe them a debt of gratitude, because in labeling me they made it okay for me to go see what being a liberal really meant. Those fellow home school moms ostracized me without bothering to even ask me what I thought, meant, or believed. Having that happen to me opened my eyes to how I had been doing that to others for years.One of the issues I began looking at was the gay issue. I really didn't find any satisfactory answers, but when I saw the promo for this video, I knew I had found my answer. Person over doctrine, that's how Jesus lived. He was all about people, not dogma. So I ordered the video, and listened to real people- Christian youth- talk about their lives.Wow. I have changed 180 degrees. I am now searching FOR an ELCA congregation, rather than wanting to distance myself from them. People before me figured it out, and I want to hang out with that kind of smart! It can only do me good.

  • Ginny

    I loved that documentary… I have often wished I could get my mother to watch it with me, because I think she would be deeply touched by the stories of different families, and it might give her a platform to soften her own beliefs about alternative lifestyles.It has been very strange to me, coming to see the incredible damage that Focus on the Family does. Dr. Dobson was a trusted authority in my household growing up, and we listened to Adventures in Odyssey over and over again. I always saw Focus as a loving, warm organization that helped nurture me and my siblings… I still have some cognitive dissonance as I see the hatred and bigotry coming out of that organization toward gays.

  • Anonymous

    I'm sorry your parents were not able to be so accepting, Libby Anne. My parents are in some ways a lot more fundie than yours, but when I came out atheist (simultaneously with my sister) they reacted quite well and we still get along really well, though with some awkwardness with the way they constantly talk about God stuff as if I just did not quite get the point of Jesus… Hopefully your parents will come around.Re: Focus on the Family, yeah, it's been super odd to change my emotions, not just opinions, about them so much. My family and friends circle has always been so extremely conservative that I don't even know of anyone who is gay, although I am sure I know multiple people who are. It broke my heart to watch that video recently of a soldier coming out the morning DADT was repealed – his fear beforehand SO reminded me of what I went through before telling my parents about being atheist. It was pretty cool how his family responded.

  • Anonymous

    I think it's kinda sad that even people who aren't religious are completely prejudiced about LGTBQ people and lifestyles. It's very hard, specially for teenagers who, as it is, have a high rate of suicides and suicidal thoughts because of their sensitiveness, unbalanced hormones and mental and physical growth process. A normal high-schoolboy feels the necessity of assert himself, his "manliness" and his identity and this can mean crushing other people lifes. Being diferent and specially being gay is like having a bullseye in the back all the time and it's unfortunately not only a religious matter but simple fear. You can hear all the time young people joking that if a gay guy comes they are going to have to have their backs to the wall. My friends who are pretty accepting in general made those kind of jokes and when one of my best friends came out to them, they apologised for making those jokes. It was nice of thema and we were all friends so we knew there wasn't any bad intetion but still… I suffered serious bullying in High school for other reasons but at least I did have a supportive mother to help me. Religions or society that deprieve these young people of a supportive system I don't know if they should or shouldn't be protected by the freedom of speech… Critizising and opinions are good for the world, hate speech is a crime where I live.

  • Glen

    You touched excellently on what is essentially an offshoot of a larger issue. Yes, we have freedom of speech, but when does freedom of speech become brainwashing one's children with harmful ideas? I would argue that most, if not all, conservative Christians practice child-raising in a fashion harmful to the children. This isn't because I disagree with their beliefs; I have friends who grew up in households of varying religions and remained relatively unscathed. This is because conservative Christians have a specific mentality of not allowing children to think for themselves. "Raise up your children in the way which is right" basically translates to "use every weapon at your disposal, including guilt and fear, to make your children extensions of your ideology."Yet another reason the USA needs to stop pandering to religious nutcases, and implement comprehensive rights for children into the legal system. Europe has done it, why can't we? Apparently America is full of people who think it's their right to instill fear, hatred, and guilt into their children.

  • africaturtle

    watched the whole thing! So moving, so inspiring, so challenging. I was raised on Dobson and Christian radio. Now dobson is too liberal for my mom who has gone to reading more of the "early church fathers" and stuff from the "plain church" (which is fully QF and patriarchy all the way). Anyways, as i've said here before (i think) i am in the process of sorting through the christian evangelical upbringing i had which taught loud and clear "homosexuality is an abomination" and "gay people choose to be". I still have not really come to terms with these issues. I have had friends who "came out" and i never really "flinched" (somehow you "just knew" anyway, right?) but it was in conflict with my "moral" teaching and then even amongst gays it seems to be debated as to "how" you end up gay. I was of the impression for long time (don't stone me, i'm just being honest about where i come from!) that gays were either "perverts" =adults who were looking for more and more deviant practices to "turn them on", because regular sex got boring. Or they were that way from a young age but it was due to some sort of "parental failure" (i.e.passive father ) or sexual abuse. So i believed what Focus on the Family said that these people just needed therapy and spiritual healing and they could "change". I NEVER EVER once questioned WHY a person who knew they would face so much opposition would actually choose to be this way. In fact i couldn't understand that question until i myself started going through my own deconversion process and I (like you, libby) started seeing similarities between the two stories. See, i also always thought (was taught) that atheists were either 1. completly ignorant/arogant and refused to see the truth of the bible or 2. they were bitter against god and so in rebellion. I first had my own questions and discovered other peoples own deconversion stories and realized that for many people they would have preferred ANYTHING other than coming out as "Atheist" because for them it really meant losing all their family and friends…and suddenly THAT I could identify with and so many things are now making sense to me in a way that they never did before. It's really amazing. Thanks for posting this link. The story of the girl that commited suicide was the saddest part but one i hope the most people will actually make it to the end to hear (her mom was also the most "fundamentalist" of all those interveiwed) I reposted it to FB… hopefully someone might be challenged. And if you haven't seen it, check out the SingleDadLaughing blog that is covering this exact same topic this week!

  • Cluisanna

    First, was the mother of the lesbian girl who commited suicide really a lesbian too or is that mistake in the text? If she really was a lesbian, how the hell did that whole situation happen? I think the whole problem with religion in general is that since it is so illogic in itself people only continue to believe if they either don't know about the real world or if they have been taught to reject the facts. And this is what Christian parents are good at – shielding their children from the facts and telling them lies, but never, ever teaching them how to think for themselves. This is why it is in many countries forbidden to homeschool your children. Maybe the USA could think about that, too.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to just throw in my two cents here and say that first, I agree that it's a terrible thing to raise children with prejudice, fear, and guilt.However, I would also like to point out that not all Christian families who are considered "conservative" raise their kids that way. There are many, many Christian families who do teach their kids to think for themselves, and who do still accept their children if the children come to different conclusions. Of course those parents teach kids what they believe is truth (all parents instill beliefs in their kids), but there's a difference between doing that and keeping your kids from learning how to think.I guess this is just coming from my own experience. I was raised in a conservative Christian home, but I was never taught fear or guilt. As an adult, I'm a little more liberal than my parents. I know they worry about it, but there is NEVER any question of them rejecting me, and we don't even talk about it much. I have a lot of friends from conservative Christian homes who have had the same experience.I think there is conservative, and then there is CONSERVATIVE. You'll find that many of the people who homeschool are in the CONSERVATIVE camp, and many (like my family) who are conservative send their kids to public school.

  • Retha

    Some of the things American unbelievers (and believers who don't regard themselves as fundamentalist) say about Christians/fundamentalists, baffles me. Like the Christians hate gays part.(BTW, I am South African.) When I was 15, I was one of several girls in my high school class who got converted at the same camp. For about two weeks, we were friends only with our little converted group. And then we started being friends with whoever in our class was rejected for some reason. Our first new friends were the two boys picked on by the class bully. I later found out both were gay. Did we befriend them to preach to them? No – we befriended them to know they are not alone. (And because we ourselves disliked the class bully, for living in the opposite of "love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and other people as yourself." His enemies was our friends.) In my world, it was the mockers and scoffers of Christianity who were rude with homosexuals. But on the Internet people assume the opposite. I've even heard commenters on my blog accuse me of hating gays, and then accusers can give no evidence that show it. (Sometimes, baseless accusations have made me feel that some accusers are Christophobic- they fear Christians and see the worst in them even if it is not there.) In real life off the Internet, nobody has ever accused me of anything like homophobia. Because they have no reason to.In short, this post is one of those things I cannot relate to my experience of the church. (Sometimes, I get the idea that the American church is an anomaly, and all Americans need to go to a few other countries – first and third world, places where many call themselves Christian and where the church is a persecuted minority – and talk to Christians there, before making a generalization of what Christians are like.)Cluisanna's comment is another one of those things that don't sound like the religion I am familiar with at all. I don't doubt that she knows some illogical believers, but all religion is illogical? There is a reason why William Lane Craig wins "does God exist" and "is there evidence for the resurrection"debates – he has more facts that make the affirmative position likely.

  • Libby Anne

    Retha, I am curious, what of the death to the gays bill that keeps coming up in Uganda? It literally states that all gays must be killed, and it keeps almost passing, and might still. I've actually heard of quite a lot of homophobia in Africa, not sure whether it is religiously or culturally motivated. Am I missing something?

  • Brawne Lamia

    Libby,In regards to the Death Bill in Uganda, from my understanding, it's partially cultural and partially religious. I think you're very much right in that there is a decent amount of homophobia, however, Retha is from South Africa, which officially supports LGBT rights, and is culturally fairly different from Uganda. Ugandan branches of the Anglican have been known to be more conservative than other branches, especially in terms of LGBT issues (see their reaction to American Episcopalians and the gay priests and bishops). I don't know much about other areas of religion in Uganda, but do know they have a large evangelical and pentecostal movement. Retha, In regards to the post, I think Libby Anne is fairly aware of the differences between Christians. Many in the US do support LGBT rights, but not typically the ones that Libby was surrounded by and the the ones that she writes about in her blog, because the blog deals with the problematic elements. I have traveled to areas where Christians were in the minority and persecuted (not legally, but culturally), but that didn't stop some (Just some) of them from being just as radical and intolerant as the ones in the US.

  • Libby Anne

    Retha, if I am point out, I did state that the video shows both Christian parents who reject their gay and lesbian children and Christian parents who accept them. I think that alone should make it clear that I'm aware that not all Christians "hate gays" (actually, I don't think any Christians "hate" gays – at least not because of their religious beliefs – rather, many conservative Christians believe that the best way to love gays is to lead them out of what they see as a destructive, ungodly, and harmful lifestyle). Also, if you watch the documentary (as I clearly did), one person highlighted was Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. And finally, I've mentioned before, but I have taken a good number of religious studies classes and am actually studying the religious history of America in graduate school. So yes, I'm not ignorant in this. :-)

  • Retha

    I can't answer you about Uganda. It is thousands of kilometres from where I live, they speak languages I don't know, and the place don't appear in the news. That law gives the death penalty for gay acts with children, gay rape of the mentally handicapped, drugged gay rape, gay incest and spreading Aids. It also gives for the death penalty for repeat offenders – people previously found guilty of homosexual acts and then doing it again. (Some on the Internet speak as if they want to simply kill anyone with a gay orientation.) I don't know why people claim Christianity is the guilty party here, either. I could remember that the last time I looked up this somewhere, Uganda listed "religious reasons" as one- not the first – of a list of several reasons why they make this law. The list also included cultural reasons, if I remember right. And several religons – animism, Christianity and Islam – is noticable in Uganda, and I don't know if Christianity is the one to blame, as some bloggers did without motivating their reason. In short, don't ask me about that law. I don't know who is to blame.Not about Uganda but about the rest , I have heard of people treating gays badly. I just never saw that overlapping with sincere Christianity, in anyone I know in real life.

  • Retha

    Brawne Lamia and the comment after hers was posted while I composed the previous answer. It sounds like BL knows much more about Ugandan religion than me. Posting after her don't mean I am arguing her. It only mean this is the first time I read her.And Libby, I can see you don't think that. If my comment gave a wrong impression, I am sorry.

  • Libby Anne

    Retha – I honestly don't want to start an argument over this, I just thought I'd comment that it sounds to me like you're inching toward the No True Scotsman fallacy: No "true" Christian would ever be homophobic, so anyone being homophobic is not a "true" Christian. Just because you don't think homophobia and Christianity go together doesn't mean there aren't plenty of honestly sincere Christians who believe they go hand in hand.

  • Cluisanna

    "I don't doubt that she knows some illogical believers, but all religion is illogical?"Yes, insisting that there is a being (or several beings) that can't be seen or heard or detected in any way (i.e. that can't be proved), and calling this a ultimate truth (not a possibility or a hypothesis) is one of the most illogical things humans are capable of.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Retha,If the people who flame you on the internet and accuse you of hating gays do so baselessly (meaning they are not actually reacting to any actual homophobic statements ever made by you) then they are wrong. It's not fair to generalize about what "all" Christians are like and they shouldn't stereotype you or tar you for the offenses of other Christians.But I still have a hard time swallowing that the fact that many people equate Christianity and homophobia is "baffling." The Christian Right in America has consistently been the biggest block to full civil rights for LGBT citizens in America. The Catholic Church officially endorses homophobic attitudes and policies (and implements them in places where it really counts, like charities and hospitals that a lot of people rely on.) Many powerful supporters of the so-called "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda cite Christianity as a primary motivator. There's nothing baffling here. If you are not personally homophobic and you have never perceived homophobia in your milieu, that's great. Many Christians can say the same thing and I don't think they're being discounted by Libby or anyone here. But it can't be denied that homophobia is institutionalized in a lot of Christian churches, communities, and political coalitions. It doesn't make it any more okay for people to make presumptions about you because of your religion, but it's still true. I'm a big Dan Savage fan (he's a gay, ex-Catholic columnist and activist) and he often talks about Christianity (and religion in general) and homophobia in his column and on his podcast and has gotten plenty of disgruntled responses from his liberal Christian readers and listeners. His message to them is "Don't be a "NALT." NALT= "Not all like that!" Basically, if you're upset about the perception of Christianity (or any religion) as homophobic, take your grievances to the highly vocal, highly powerful homophobic Christians, not the people that are rightfully angry at them and the damage they do. Stand up to them. Speak out against them. Be louder than they are. That's how things will get better for both gay people and liberal Christians and other religious people. I agree with Dan.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Petticoat Philosopher and the rest. In my country the Catholic church has a campaign against gay people and gay rights with gigantic demonstrations (but then they cover up the pedophilia cases by the clergy) and I can't even imagine how things are in South America or Ireland…

  • Retha

    Libby – I never said that no true Christian would be homophobic. But here is my take on the no true Scotsman fallacy: (All in all, Christ did not endorse anything that can be called homophobia. The closest he came was mentions of sexual immorality, which was not aimed particularly at gays. As such, gay bashing is not Christian, meaning Christ-following. But it is possible to be simultanously a Christian and something which Christ did not mention. I, for example, am a Christian and a computer user.) Cluisanna – no, I believe in a Jesus that was seen and heard and is still detected. But believe what you want to believe. Right now, facts won't sway you.Petticoat Philosopher – I stand up to people who use Christianity or the Bible as an excuse for bad. Most of my Biblical Personhood blog prove that, for example. If I don't use it against "highly vocal, highly powerful homophobic Christians", it is because it is not a form of bad I get to do with. Those who do – they should speak up against it.

  • Glen

    @Retha: I'm curious, there are facts that demonstrate Jesus' current involvement? Please, make your case, I'm curious. I'm guessing you've got personal testimony you're trying to pass off of as evidence, but maybe you'll surprise me. After all, you did mention "facts." ;)

  • boomSLANG

    "I'm curious, there are facts that demonstrate Jesus' current involvement?"I, too, am curious about these "facts" about Jesus. And incidentally, claiming to know that someone won't accept facts is a thinly-veiled ad hominem attack.And then there's this…"There is a reason why William Lane Craig wins 'does God exist' and 'is there evidence for the resurrection' debates – he has more facts that make the affirmative position likely."Assuming that there's a "winner" of a theological debate, it could be for the simple reason that WLC is a better debater and/or a better public speaker than the person he is debating, that he is perceived to the "winner" in *some* cases.

  • Cluisanna

    Thanks, boomSLANG and Glen. Yes, the thing about religion is that you can't have a debate about it like you would have about a matter of opinion. Either you prove that your God exists, or, well, you don't. Sure, you can have a debate about whether humanity is better or worse off with religion, and you can have a debate if it is okay to tell your children that anything at all is the ultimate truth, but you can't debate facts. Also, regarding "And incidentally, claiming to know that someone won't accept facts is a thinly-veiled ad hominem attack." Yes, I agree – if you don't provide those "facts", it's just an insult.

  • fishfinder

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • lucrezaborgia

    This documentary is one of my favorite. It's very personal and does not go out of its way to be confrontational or over the top to prove a point.Some other good documentaries on this subject:"One Nation Under God" It's a bit dated but still is relevant and powerful"A Jihad for Love" is a Muslim perspective and they interview people in Europe, South Africa, and Iran."Trained in the Ways of Men" is a documentary on a transgendered woman who was murdered by 4 men when they found out she was born a man.

  • Anonymous

    Anon @901Re: IrelandIt's great you mention Ireland actually, especially with the topic of this discussion. Ireland has been cracking down on the Catholic Church, they're not happy with the organisation at all(because of the decades of abuse cases and the privileges they demand etc) and have made moves to close their Catholic Embassy. This is what happens when even a Catholic country is unhappy with the organisation as a whole, they stand up to them and change things for the better.