Religious Homophobia, Gay Youth, and Unconditional Love

Religious Homophobia, Gay Youth, and Unconditional Love November 20, 2011

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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