Sure, You Have Free Speech. But When It Harms LGBTQ Youth, We Need To Talk About the Consequences.

Sometimes the topic of free speech really bugs me.

It's one of the great ideals on which this country was founded, and rightly so. Enjoying that right, however, doesn't mean we shouldn't debate the consequences of our words before we venture to open our mouths. Some opinions inevitably give birth to the severest of consequences.

You and I should never have to feel pain -- any kind of pain, whether physical or emotional -- because of someone else's beliefs.

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It seems that with each passing day, people are more likely to use their right to free speech as an excuse for derogatory comments, beliefs, or behaviors. I've lived most of my life listening to the opinions of those who think homosexuality is a sin, immoral, vile, or unnatural.

I'm gay, and as such, I have been acutely aware of the way society feels toward the gay community.

We hear it every day. We see it in facial expressions, violence, political maneuvering, and deeply entrenched in the language we use. Seeing, hearing, and feeling this pressure each and every day of our lives can be debilitating. Few other minorities experience the same level of disrespect. Many of the opinions expressed on the topic of homosexuality are nothing short of communal bullying.

Research shows that LGBT youth:

·       Experience heightened level of rejection from their families, and are eight times more likely to attempt suicide.

·       Between 30% and 40% of LGBT youth have attempted suicide.

·       About a quarter of students and employees have been harassed based on sexuality.

·       In many states, it is still legal to terminate an employee for being gay. LGBT students are three times more likely to feel unsafe at school than their heterosexual counterparts.

The list is endless.

Many people list those same statistics to insinuate that ours is a sinful lifestyle. In other words, the fact that we are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, or feel afraid, or take our own lives is seen as an inherent part of our nature. To me, of course, this is completely absurd.

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When others dismiss us as immoral or unnatural simply for being; when they make us feel unsafe; when they attack us and beat us and take our lives without remorse; when they tell us that God has no love for us; when they make us wonder whether or not our friends and family will still care about us if they knew the truth; when they place all of that pressure and the unanimous weight of society's continuing and communal belief that we are second-class citizens when compared to our heterosexual counterparts -- when they do all of that, then how can they be so surprised that we are more likely to drink or do drugs or try to take our own lives>

People do those things to kill the pain when they're without hope. And some of us have had pain inflicted upon us every day. Many have us have been left without any hope that it gets better, even though there is another community out there desperately trying to assure us that it does get better (and it really, really does!)

We might drink, do drugs, and take our own lives because we look for escape. Not because it's our fundamental disposition. We were born this way, but we certainly weren't born sad or scared. Those feelings have been reinforced by those whose pointless hatred we're forced to endure.

As a community, we need to make more of an effort to educate those who are biased and bigoted. We need to make more of an effort to protect ourselves from the words and actions of bullies. We need to help one another.

We need to stop empowering those who are biased by turning to drugs or taking our own lives. We need to help our gay friends and family understand that it does get better, and that self-destructive acts will only make the resentment stronger on both sides. Do what you can to help! Even a hug can pull someone out of the pit of despair.

Don't let them hold us accountable for their actions or their beliefs. Seek help. Be strong. And most importantly, be patient. Things are getting better, little by little, day by day.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.