Suicide has become a topic of national conversation. In recent weeks, four teenagers committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. These tragedies, coming one after another, have forced this country to look at the real harm caused by prejudice and bigotry. While many people would like to believe that the fight for LGBTQI rights is an unnecessary political movement, these recent suicides reveal the depth of despair to which many people in the LGBTQI community are driven. While tremendous strides have been made in forming community for LGBTQI folks, and while gains have been made in the political arena, kids still fear rejection by family, bullying in school, persecution within their faith communities, and even violence. This real danger of being LGBTQI in our country is evidenced in the recent gang torture of three gay men in New York City. Being gay may be easier today than it was 25 years ago, but it is not easy.
On October 8-9, The Vine Christian Ministries in Seattle, hosted a 24-hour prayer vigil followed by a community march called "Take Back the Bridge" to raise money for The Crisis Clinic, Seattle's 24-hour crisis line. A complementary campaign called "Take Back the Bridge for Everyone" was created to highlight the disproportionate number of people in the LGBTQI community who attempt suicide.
The Aurora Bridge is second only to the Golden Gate Bridge as a tool used for suicide. A campaign has been underway to erect a suicide barrier along the Aurora Bridge. The WSDOT hopes that the barrier will be completed by the end of 2010. I was proud to walk with the Take Back the Bridge for Everyone campaign and the Take Back the Bridge campaign on October 9 as we walked along the Aurora Bridge.
The Take Back the Bridge campaign is in its second year. As part of his duties as a firefighter, The Vine Christian Ministries' pastor Heath Rainwater was called out to the foot of the Aurora Bridge during 2009. He watched as a jumper leaped from the bridge. In response to this incident, Pastor Rainwater organized his church to raise money for Seattle's Crisis Clinic as well as raise awareness about the power that lost hope can have on people.
This year, given the recent spate of queer youth suicides, it seemed important to educate the public about the number of LGBTQI youth who contemplate suicide. Thirty percent of youth suicides are related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Seventy-four percent of LGBTQI students feel unsafe in school. Over 1,400 LGBTQI youth between the ages of 10 and 24 complete suicides with an additional 15,000 contemplating suicide. These numbers should frighten us. They should also chastise religious communities that continue to demean the realities of queer youth. And, this is why the Take Back the Bridge for Everyone campaign is important.
Religious communities, families, schools, friends, and mentors have a sacred responsibility to help young people grow and mature into adults. This is true for all kids. All kids struggle with feelings of isolation and despair. Growing up is a difficult process. Differentiating from parents, structuring ethical beliefs, and forming a core identity are hard work for any young person. Add to this the stigma of real difference - of liking boys when the world says you should like girls, of liking girls when the world says you should like boys, of liking both when the world says you should like only one - and a recipe for tragedy is in the works. But this doesn't have to be the case.
LGBTQ suicides can serve as a teaching tool for all kids and their needs, for the important work of suicide prevention hotlines, and of the power of words to heal or hurt. Regardless of your theological stance on homosexuality, I would hope that you don't want young people to kill themselves. If that is true, learn about suicide prevention, about the power of prejudice to kill, and teach your non-LGBTQ young people not to bully or harass others whom they suspect to be gay.
If you are queer and are contemplating suicide, please reach out for help from a safe place. Contact the Trevor Project. If you live in Seattle, please contact the Crisis Clinic at 206-866-4CRISIS. Take care of yourself and know that there are those in this world who want you to thrive and live into the fullness of that beautiful creature God has made you to be.
Last, I want to thank the folks at The Vine Christian Ministries for welcoming those of us who hold very different theologies from them. They welcomed us warmly into their worship space and were gracious in allowing us to walk with them. They embodied a generous spirit of hospitality.
*On the use of "queer" - Queer is a word that has been used to demean and belittle people in the LGBTQI community. Yet, as someone within that community, I feel comfortable in using it as a "catch-all" phrase for the diversity of my community. By the 1990s, many universities had begun to offer degrees in "Queer Theory," "Queer Identity," and "Queer Theology," and the word began to be reclaimed. I recognize that this is a loaded term with which many people will be uncomfortable. Please know that I use it in the most positive way possible. After all, I think I'm a bit queer...and only part of that has to do with sexual orientation.