I am the daughter, granddaughter, niece and relative of more than ten evangelical Baptist and Methodist ministers in Alabama and Georgia. I am also an openly-gay married woman and the Alabama State Director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to achieving equality for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) Americans.
To me, these are not mutually exclusive identities, but rather ones that are intricately linked in the same pursuit: of equality and equity.
As a part of my work to achieve full legal equality for LGBTQ Alabamians, I prioritize the value of dialogue and conciliation above drawing hard lines, particularly related to theological differences. But there is no room to do that with this week’s “Nashville Statement.”
It is deadly theology.
On Tuesday, a group of more than 150 conservative Evangelical Christian leaders gathered at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission national conference – including prominent members of the Trump-Pence administration’s Evangelical Advisory Board – released a vicious, anti-LGBTQ manifesto attacking LGBTQ people as immoral and sinful, asserting their opposition to marriage equality and denying the dignity of transgender people.
The ugly manifesto was released as the attention of most of the nation’s religious leaders was focused on helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. Although the statement received immediate and widespread condemnation from scores of national religious and political leaders, my heart broke as I read the document early Wednesday morning.
My heartache was not so much for myself; I’ve heard all of these condemnations (and then some) before.
Instead, I ached for the thousands and thousands of LGBTQ youth across Alabama—in every town, county, and legislative district—who are suffering, even to the point of death, as a result of the communal shame and self-hate nurtured by theology at the heart of the “Nashville Statement.”
The national statistics on LGBTQ youth harassment and self-harm are sobering. In 2012, HRC’s Growing Up LGBT in America found that LGBTQ youths’ three top concerns were non-accepting families, school bullying problems, and the fear of being out or open. In 2017, an HRC Foundation post-election survey of more than 50,000 youth found that 70 percent of respondents reported witnessing bullying, hate messages, or harassment during or since the 2016 election, and that half of transgender youth reported feeling hopeless or worthless most of the time.
The Trevor Project reports that for LGB youth, the rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater than non-LGB youth. 40 percent of transgender adults report having made a suicide attempt; 92 percent of those individuals reported having attempted before the age of 25.
Studies also tell us, however, that family and community acceptance can literally save the lives of LGBTQ youth and young adults.
The Family Acceptance Project has found that LGBTQ youth with highly affirming families have a low risk for suicide attempts, while LGBTQ youth who face high levels of rejection are eight times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetimes.
Herein lies the most deadly reality of the “Nashville Statement,” which in Article 10 states:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
Growing up, I knew I was gay around age 12 and understood in my early teens that if I came out, I would likely never be accepted by my family of faithful Christian ministers. In fact, the only story I’d ever heard about another LGBTQ person in my family was of a family member who committed suicide in the 1970s. The unintentional message was that if I came out, suicide might be the way my life ended, too.
Whether the “Nashville Statement” intends it or not, their message to LGBTQ persons and their families is similar.
Thankfully, my family has been gracious and generous in their willingness to journey with me and reach their own places of understanding and acceptance around my sexual orientation, marriage, and career.
Their steadfast love has made all the difference. I am lucky.
September marks the start of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. My prayer is that the “Nashville Statement” will be a challenge to all LGBTQ-affirming Alabamians that it is more essential than ever to speak up and stand with your LGBTQ family and friends, and to love your neighbors as yourselves. You may save a life.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re a young person and need to talk to someone, call The Trevor Project’s 24-hour crisis hotline for youth at 1-866-488-7386.
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