Patrick Anderson shares how his Christian upbringing inspired some very harmful views about homosexuality, but he is now trying to make up for past wrongs. I thank Patrick for having the courage to share his moving story in this post. I’m sure many former believers (including myself) can relate to the unlearning required from the bigoted messages taught to us by our religion. It’s not our fault that we were fed these messages while growing up, but it is on us to work on our biases and be the best allies we can be moving forward.
Hello, Beautiful Readers!
As many members of the secular movement know all too well, a big part of being out about your secularism is fielding questions about why you’ve changed. Individuals who have known you your entire life are shocked at your apparently sudden and complete overhaul in attitudes, opinions and beliefs, and demand to know what caused this unfortunate conglomerate of regressions. As a newcomer to social media I’ve been experiencing a great deal of this lately, on a wide range of topics; but I’ve felt especially moved to write about why my beliefs concerning LGBTQ equality have changed. In order to be honest about this, I’m going to write openly and candidly about something I have never discussed with anyone, ever.
I grew up in a fairly religious household in a small town in southeastern Georgia. As you might imagine, casual homophobia was part and parcel of my upbringing. Partially because of religion, and partially because of culture, I came of age firmly believing that anyone who was not totally and explicitly heterosexual was not only aberrant, but ultimately condemned to an eternity of torment in Hell. While I was never taught to act violently towards members of the LGBTQ community, I did learn from some members of my family and fellow church members to keep my distance, and to only interact with them in order to let them know the sinful nature of their ways.
When I was a senior in high school, there was a young man whom I will refer to as Chris D. who was brave enough, as a thirteen year old in a small southern town, to live as an open bisexual. Along with many of my friends and classmates, I teased him; I ostracized him; I “lovingly’ tried to explain to him how his “choices” made him an abomination in the eyes of God, and felt not only justified but completely vindicated in doing so. I soon graduated and thought little more of Chris D.
A few years later, when I was a sophomore in college, I learned that Chris had committed suicide. I believe that he was fifteen years old.
According to the CDC, LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers. I know that there are many reasons why an individual decides to take their own life. I know that, at the time of his death, Chris was probably not thinking of me. I know the chances are infinitesimally small that he remembered me at all. But I also know that I, if even in a small way, contributed to his death.
While there is currently no definitive answer as to why the suicide rate is so high among LGBTQ teens, research indicates that it is due to depressive symptoms and hopelessness. I contributed to those symptoms and to that hopelessness. And I didn’t have to. I could have stuck up for Chris. I could have tried to help him. But I was convinced of bad ideas, and my ignorance ultimately facilitated immense harm to another human being. That is something I have to live with for the rest of my life; I’m fighting back tears as I write about it now.
As a secular humanist, two of the beliefs that I hold to be indispensable are that I am responsible for making the world a better place whenever possible, and that I am responsible for making amends where I have caused harm whenever possible. I know that nothing I can do will make amends for the way that I treated Chris. But I also know that I have endless opportunities to learn from the mistakes of my youth. When I see so many heterosexual, cis-gendered males who feel culturally and religiously obligated to perpetuate discrimination towards LGBTQs, I give myself permission to hope that by reaching out to them I can prevent them from making the same mistakes I did and thereby honor Chris’s memory. When I see so many LGBTQ youths facing discrimination, I give myself permission to hope that by reaching out them, I may be able to show these young people the dignity, respect and basic humanitarian decency that I refused Chris during his short life. I know I can’t bring him back; but I deeply hope that I can make my small corner of the universe a better place for people like him.
This is, of course, only a single drop in the overflowing bucket of occurrences that changed my attitude towards LGBTQ equality; as is the case with so many other things the change was a long and gradual one. Christianity taught me that homosexuality was a sin, and that I was required to treat LGBTQs as abominations; as an atheist and a secular humanist, I’m free to love and respect everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And I’m free to take responsibility for the harmful actions of my ignorant youth by acting differently, and by trying to be (however failingly) not only a better ally, but a better person. I’m incredibly grateful for that, and want to take full advantage of the second chance I’ve been given to be a good man every day.
Thanks for listening, Beautiful Readers : -)
Featured image from Wikipedia