There’s this charming little moment in the 1983 animated masterpiece-of-nuttery Rock & Rule that really brings home just how far a villain will go to see him- or herself as anything but the bad guy. I found myself thinking of that moment this week when I heard about a recent news story that gave the world yet another reason to distrust and distance ourselves from Christians.
In the movie, one of the villain’s henchmen, a dreamy, sweet naïf named Zip, asks his boss Mok if they’re evil. He’s just seen the term come up on his favorite TV show, and the host of that show has told him to be good and not evil. Normally one gets the impression that Mok wouldn’t answer the question at all, but he’s just taken some very good drugs and decides to expansively answer him:
ZIP: Hey boss, um, can you tell the difference between good and evil?
MOK: (snorts something from his ring) Ziiiiiiip, try to realize, there is no longer black or white, good or evil. We’ve evolved beyond that.
ZIP: Uh, but Uncle Mikey says we should know the difference between–
MOK: We all must have our own personal view of right and wrong.
ZIP: But but but is what we are doing evil?
MOK: Of course not! Remember Zip, ‘evil’ spelled backwards is ‘live.’ And we all want to do that.
ZIP: Yeah yeah yeah, but but Uncle Mikey says that —
Zip’s talking about their current project, which involves kidnapping a young woman to force her to sing a series of notes that will allow Mok to control a very powerful demon (and lead to great profits somehow). Mok eventually gets frustrated trying to deal with Zip’s innocent questions. He rips Zip’s stuffed Uncle Mikey doll out of his hands and tells him that just as there’s no Santa Claus and no Tooth Fairy, there is no Uncle Mikey (implying that the TV host’s admonitions to be good are equally silly–and yes, gang, this is an animated movie that was marketed to young kids. Come for the soundtrack, stay for the confusing sex scenes and demon fetuses).
A Correlation That Speaks Volumes.
The reason I’m thinking of it lately is that in the wake of this news story about yet another reason to support marriage equality for same-sex couples, Christian bigots-for-Jesus are scrambling to avoid looking like bad guys.
One of our readers found this piece initially–it’s really amazing, but not all that surprising. Basically, researchers discovered that there is a correlation between kids’ rates of suicide attempts and a state’s support for equal marriage. Seriously! The more support for equal marriage, the lower the suicide attempts.
It’s no secret that LGBTQ youth try to commit suicide way more often than kids who fall outside of the quiltbag. The CDC discovered that these young people were also more at risk of facing sexual and nonsexual violence and bullying, to report high levels of substance abuse, and to face depression more frequently–and that moreover, these negative experiences were all more frequent in environments where those young people were teased or dehumanized for their orientation.
In a homophobic environment, suicide becomes a very serious risk for young people. It’s now the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24, with the rate of attempts four times higher for LGBTQ youth than for straight youth. The less accepting a young person’s school and home are, the worse things get; every episode of abuse or harassment increases the likelihood of self-harm by 2.5x.
In a very real sense, bigotry is killing our kids, and thus, bigots have very literal blood on their hands.
A Wild Ray of Hope Appears.
The CDC had already discovered that all students regardless of orientation reported the lowest levels of depression and substance abuse in a positive, homophobia-free school environment. That toxic mess negatively affects all kids, not just LGBTQ ones.
Now this study, published by JAMA Pediatrics, reports that states that had laws legalizing same-sex marriage had a much lower rate of suicide attempts by high school kids.
Now, of course, all states recognize that right. But until the Supreme Court decision, the country was a patchwork–some states allowed it, some didn’t, while others forced same-sex couples into infuriating equivalents that weren’t actually the same at all (a situation lampooned to such great effect in South Park). The study’s researchers focused on the year before SCOTUS legalized same-sex marriage, when 32 states had legalized it while 15 had not.
After controlling for variables like unemployment rate, they created what they call “a randomized trial in the real world” to uncover a 7% reduction in suicide attempts among high school kids in general (and a 14% reduction in attempts by LGBTQ students in particular)–which translates to about 134,000 fewer kids trying to commit suicide every year in the United States. In states that didn’t have legal same-sex marriage, nothing changed.
The research team didn’t work out exactly how legalized same-sex marriage might have led to such a stunning drop, nor were they able to measure a state’s level of anti-gay harassment. They were just looking to see if there was a correlation between state support for same-sex marriage and an area’s number of suicide attempts–and there was. They stopped short of declaring some connection or relationship beyond that correlation, but it’s definitely a shots fired opening salvo in the research, in my opinion.
Interestingly, teenagers are very unlikely to get married that young–so the effect isn’t related to the teenagers themselves getting the right to marry whomever they loved. They themselves weren’t taking advantage of that right directly. Even so, just having the right as part of their everyday reality changed their environment somehow to make suicide sound like less an option. Maybe the impact came from knowing they had that hope for the future, that their state supported their rights, and that they had that sense of equality as they went through life; maybe support for these laws translated to less harassment for them on a practical level. Whole new avenues of research appear to be opening up.
I’m not saying anything that most people hadn’t already figured out, of course, but it’s good to finally have some large-scale confirmation of the idea.
But one group isn’t very pleased about those new avenues.
Their Name is NOM… Thanks a Lot.
As one might expect, the only folks who didn’t like the study’s results at all are the bigots-for-Jesus who aren’t ready to stop fighting their culture war. If they weren’t having such a destructive impact on so many people’s lives, I’d call their attempts to save face and walk back this study comical. Instead, knowing that they are doing their level best to destroy families and rip away people’s rights, I’ll just call them pathetically malevolent.
Way back in 2010, a very defensive-sounding Maggie Gallagher, a leader at the time in the bigoted-for-Jesus National Organization for Marriage (NOM), wrote a snide editorial saying that she totally didn’t have “blood on [her] hands.” Blaming those suicide rates on premature sexual activity and childhood sexual abuse, she tried to make the case that really, the worst thing anybody could possibly do is legalize equal marriage. “Don’t blame me for gay teen suicides,” she wrote; “These kids need help, real help,” (emphasis hers), which to me implies that she thinks real help is continued harassment and dehumanization of LGBTQ folks.
No no no, she concludes, it’s not “homophobia pulling the trigger.” It’s all that unapproved sex that gay people keep having and the evil parents who don’t take proper care of their kids so they grow up straight. Don’t blame her. That blood is not on her hands. It’s on the hands of her enemies. She can tell. She had a “moral obligation to find out,” and she did. Totally. And amazingly, she discovered that her culture war was totally and completely merited and necessary.
NOM’s current director of communications, Joseph L. Grabowski, issued a statement saying “It’s always good news to hear that there is a report of decreased suicide attempts for whatever reason – it’s certainly worth celebrating.” BUT… and it’s a big BUT… he totally doesn’t think that the study means his group should change anything they’re doing. At all.
Nope, he thinks that the drop in suicide rates is coming from “caregivers [becoming] increasingly alert to the possibility of suicide among sexual minorities.” Yes, indeed. We’ll ignore that if this is the case, it’s happening because of greater compassion and empathy for LGBTQ people and the suffering they face at the hands of Joseph Grabowski and his merry band of bigots-for-Jesus. We’ll also ignore that bigots-for-Jesus aren’t known for either their compassion or empathy toward those they throw under their culture-war buses.
And we’ll shudder at the very idea of what compassion and empathy from such people would even look like, because we’re pretty sure it would be “I love you. Now totally change who you are because you’re subhuman filth that doesn’t deserve the same human rights that I get.”
The Villain Card.
When the culture war against gay people got really rolling in earnest, Christians’ efforts centered largely around painting homosexuality as some sort of conscious decision that gay people had made in defiance of morality and the public good. Then study after study came out saying that being gay was like one’s race or eye color–it wasn’t something that could be changed, only imperfectly ignored or faked for a while. At that point, most people realized that those bigots were picking on people for something that was just a natural part of the human condition, and the ball began rolling for NOM to get seen as bullies and regressive asshats who were genuinely hurting others in their quest for power.
The bigots in question took two tacks at that point. Some of them drilled down on the “lifestyle choice” idea even though absolutely nothing supports it–not people’s lived experiences, not studies in peer-reviewed journals. (Even “nice Christian” bigots-for-Jesus have to pretend that this is actually totally possible–remember Preston Sprinkle? He couldn’t quite denounce the idea that his elders had held for so long.)
Others went the “fake it till you make it” route by saying that yes, for some reason their god had totally made gay people like that, but obviously his goal was to give them an extra burden to handle in life to make their conversion stories even more impressive (or something; the exact reason changes sometimes but it’s always that lame), so gay people’s relationship requirements are still the same as those of straight people: they must marry someone of the opposite sex and have sex only with that person forever.
In effect, they wanted to force gay and bi people back into the closet and pretend they didn’t exist. They wanted to look around and see only mixed-sex couples, and never have to be confronted by the sight of two men or two women holding hands in public (and thus be reminded of their own loss of power).
Fifty years ago, this demand might even have succeeded. But in today’s climate, the idea of condemning same-sex couples for doing exactly what mixed-sex couples can do any time they want just sounds morally repugnant–as well as unfair and weird. The younger the person is, moreover, the harder they reject Christians’ culture war against LGBTQ people.
And that’s a problem for the Christians who invested so much of themselves into that culture war. They’re suddenly the bad guys in the movie, and they’re not used to seeing themselves that way.
No Actually, We Don’t Want the Thing They’ve Got.
Nobody likes to think that they’re holding the villain card in the game of life. Even people who sympathize with and support hate groups want to believe that they’re good guys–maybe that they are pushed into an uncomfortable realization or a difficult decision, but that they’re essentially good nonetheless. Christians, who have a conceptualization of themselves as the supremest good-guys who ever gooded, have a particular difficulty in accepting their own role in perpetuating evil. It’s usually only many years after the fact that they can accept that their forebears in the religion caused anybody any trouble, if even then.
Like Mok in the movie, NOM’s representatives are going to spin this study to defang it and to make it serve their own interests–even though it’s quite clear that it demonstrates that their group does, indeed, have blood on their hands. They’re able to see the pervasive violence and cruelty that erupts constantly out of their ranks and somehow manage to make that into a case in support of their group’s activities. Their reckless and one might even say ruthless pandering and fearmongering has led us straight to this pass: where TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are creating an environment that is destroying children and causing them so much deep despair and pain that death starts looking like a good idea, and those causing that pain are blind to what’s happening.
People have a raft of biases that they can deploy to keep from seeing themselves very clearly, and that strategy works for a while for a lot of folks. But it doesn’t work forever, and it doesn’t work for everyone. Most people will find such posturing to be rather grotesque and alienating, thus backfiring to make NOM and their pals look even worse than if they were just mindlessly pursuing their culture war against gay people and not even realizing that so many of them were trying to kill themselves after a good dose of Christian love. They usually know that their “love” results in people wanting to hurt themselves; it’s just not enough to make them reconsider their life path as bigots-for-Jesus.
And gang, I’m pretty sure that the textbook definition of comic-book-style villainy is “cares more about expressing disapproval than about refraining from behaviors that hurt children.”
But you remember what happened to Mok at the end of the movie, right? (Right?) In a way, that’s exactly what’s going on here: Christian bigots are getting metaphorically thrown down a pit–not by their victims, but by those who love those victims and can’t stand that such evil exists in the world even another moment, by people who can’t rest until they’ve done whatever they can to make the situation better.
While that’s happening, every single day, every single hour, some bigot-for-Jesus somewhere in America suddenly realizes with a shock that they are the bad guy and that they need to make some very big changes very immediately in how they engage with the world. Indeed, I don’t hear that they’re gaining adherents, except in terms of their own children that are raised to bigotry and perpetuate it because it’s all they know–and even those children are waking up too and then walking away. The culture war is almost entirely an artifact of a rapidly-aging Christian population. The next generation of leaders are probably already trying to work out how to leave that war behind without losing too many tithe-paying sheep from the flock.
I look forward to the day when anti-gay bigots are just a relic of our past, an uncomfortable memory about how a big group of asshats were able to push forward a worldview that was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people–even children!–until they were finally stopped for good.