Growing up, when a black child is confronted with racial bigotry and discrimination and needs a sympathetic shoulder to cry on or sympathetic voice to give them support and comfort, the child generally has a parent they can turn to. Most black children have atleast one black parent, a parent that likely suffered from the same bigotry and discrimination, if not worse. Likewise, a Jewish child confronted with religious bigotry and discrimination generally has a Jewish parent to whom they can turn to. For the gay child however, this generally is not the case. A gay child generally does not have a gay parent that has has similar experiences facing the same type of bigotry and discrimination. Indeed, the gay child may well face bigotry and discrimination from their own parents if their sexuality is revealed.
When I first heard that sentiment expressed many years ago, it was like being hit by a ton of bricks. I wish I could remember exact wording of how it was said. I don't even remember who said it, though I believe it was either Ellen Degeneres or her mother Betty. It is this lack of a natural support mechanism that makes surviving childhood difficult for so many gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered.
A few days ago kredwyn posted an excellent diary on remembering the human faces to the victims of McClurkin's war, focusing on the plight of Zach, a Tennessee teenager sent to a reparative therapy camp by his parents, and Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student pistol-whipped and left to die 9 years ago this month. While I can't recommend it enough and makes a great starter, it didn't go far enough in my opinion because of two deficiencies: it didn't get into the meat of the disturbing problems of gay teen suicide and gay teen homelessness. What makes Donnie McClurkin a dangerous man and why Senator Obama was totally and utterly wrong for giving McClurkin legitimacy and a forum at which he could spout his bile unchallenged is the fact that McClurkin is an active contributors to both these problems.
Growing up gay can be a very lonely and painful experience because a gay child does not have that sympathetic lifeline almost universally and readily available to the children of racial, ethnic and religious minorities. Add a religious community hostile to homosexuality and a school system afraid to or prohibited from teaching about homosexuality, and you have a recipe for suicide, or at the very least suicide attempts. A gay teen that does come out to his or her parent(s) also takes an extreme risk. I hope we can agree that unconditional love should be a responsibility of every parent to their child, but we all know that isn't true sometimes. Gay teens are all too often kicked out by their parents and left homeless and thereby vulnerable to a host of other dangers, suicide included.
better or worse Donnie McClurkin is a role model in the evangelical black community and undoubtedly has influence over way both young gay blacks and black parents view homosexuality. Spouting off the lie that someone can be an "ex-gay", "pray away the gay," and find their way to heterosexuality through God gives parents an impression that "if Donnie McClurkin can do it, so can my sinning child that claims to be gay." It is likely to induce parents to subject their child to torture, aka reparative therapy, an thereby increase the risk of depression and self-loathing that leads to suicide.
Reliable suicide statistics are difficult to track and measure, a problem that is further compounded with you start trying to measure the reasons they occur. Not all suicides have a not of explanation left behind. Still more can plausibly be attributed to accidents and don't get counted at all; however, based on the best data the experts can come up with, gay and lesbians account for up to 30% of all suicides by 15-to-24 year-olds and several studies show they are two to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight cohorts. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services put it at 2 to 3 times as likely in a 1989 report and a 1997 study put the figure at 6 times more likely by age 25 and 14 times more likely by age 20.
According to the APA:
[T]he experience of gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers is often one of isolation, fear of stigmatization, and lack of peer or familial support. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth have few opportunities for observing positive modeling by adults due to the general cultural bias that makes gay, lesbian, and bisexual people largely invisible. It is this isolation and lack of support that accounts in part for the higher rates of emotional distress, suicide attempts, and risky sexual behavior and substance use that gay, lesbian, and bisexual students report compared to heterosexual students. Because of their legitimate fear of being harassed or hurt, gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth are less likely to ask for help. Thus, it is important that their environments be as open and accepting as possible, so these young people will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns.
"Reparative therapy" exacerbates these issues. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation." The Amercian Psychiatric Association goes further saying
The potential risks of "reparative therapy" are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone "reparative therapy" relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.
What's scarier is the fact that some "Suicide Hotlines" created for gays and lesbians are nothing more than fronts for churches' "reparative therapy" programs. And legitimate suicide hotlineshave seen attempts to have their government funding cut or done away with.
So if the child survives the torture or reparative therapy but "fails to be cured" (even the reparative therapy groups themselves claim only about a 20-30% "success rate"), too often the child gets kicked out by their parent(s) or runs away to escape the torture. A report by the National Coalition on Homelessness and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force this past January reported that 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youths in this country are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. The report found
According to one study, 50 percent of gay teens experienced a negative reaction from their parents when they came out and 26 percent were kicked out of their homes.4 Another study found that more than one-third of youth who are homeless or in the care of social services experienced a violent physical assault when they came out,5 which can lead to youth leaving a shelter or foster home because they actually feel safer on the streets.
Life on the street for these children is understandably difficult.
According to the NGLTF Report, homeless LGBT youth are three times more likely to participate in survival sex than their heterosexual peers. Survival sex is defined as "exchanging sex for anything needed, including
money, food, clothes, a place to stay or drugs."
Other in the field echo this concern. "Our gay homeless youth tend to engage in drug use and prostitution more, they tend to experience rape and sexual violence more. They’re just the invisible kids. They contract AIDS more than the heterosexual homeless population. They’re at a higher risk of suicide," says Melissa Larsen, Homeless Youth Policy Coordinator at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Utah (source)
And many shelters do not offer gay children the support or protection they need. The NGLTF cited the story of Dilo Cintron who recounted how the"staff at one [New York City] shelter he used were so unsympathetic that they once walked by without intervening while he was being assaulted in a laundry room." The report also cite other egregious treatment of gay youth by the staff of other shelters:
At one residential placement facility in Michigan, LGBT teens, or those suspected of being LGBT, were forced to wear orange jumpsuits to alert staff and other residents. At another transitional housing placement, staff removed the bedroom door of an out gay youth, supposedly to ward off any homosexual behavior. The second bed in the room was left empty and other residents were warned that if they misbehaved they would have to share the room with the “gay kid.”
Funding at the federal level has failed to keep pace with the problem and needs to be addressed when the Runaway, Homeless and Missing Children Protection Act is reauthorized in 2008.
I'll cut this diary off here as it is already getting too long, but I hope this begins to address the reasons why so many GLBT activists here on DKos are so piping hot mad over Senator Obama's inclusion of an ex-gay. As I stated in a comment in an earlier diary, if any subset of the GLBT community is more loathe by the GBLT community than Log Cabin Republicans and the "non-gay" gay Republican hypocrites (eg. Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Richard Curtis, Bob Allen, etc) it is ex-gays for they are the far more poisonous and dangerous to not just the progression of gay rights, but to the very survival of gay youths.