April 05, 2008

A Personal Story About GLBT Suicide

This article was forwarded to me by one of my MySpace friends, Straight Ally, with this comment:

The main reasons I work in PFLAG is because of my son. In high school he tried to kill himself several times. I want families with LGBT family members to have the support they need to keep other kids from getting that depressed.

This link will take you to an article on LGBT teen suicide. The article features my son's story. http://www. gaylesbiantimes. com/?id=10953

He's almost 23 years old--he survived and he's doing great! God bless.

Ron Goetz
Proud PFLAG Dad

I'm thankful that Ron's story has a happy ending. Many similar ones do not. God bless Ron for working to change that, but first he had to change some of his attitudes. This excerpt from the story address that.

It was after his high school talent contest that the despair set in.


Jonathan, then an ambitious 16-year-old with dreams of being a religious or political leader, got up from his seat in the school auditorium, walked into a secluded storage closet and locked the door behind him.

He pulled a plastic shopping bag over his head, wrapped duct tape around it to seal out the air,
and waited to die.

Six months earlier, he’d tried pills – muscle relaxants, he thinks.

Before the pills it was something else. He can’t remember. “I’m really good at blocking out painful details,” he says.

What he does recall is that he didn’t believe his own ambitions were compatible with being gay – an orientation he was increasingly aware of.

“I grew up in a Republican, conservative family, and I’d wanted to be a pastor or a statesman,” Jonathan, now 22, recollects. “But, after realizing I was gay, everything I’d built my life around came crashing down.”

At the time, Jonathan was an active member of his church. He sang with the congregation’s Praise Team and had, as president of his school’s Bible Club, boosted membership 300 percent, from 10 to 30 members. “We made it a lot more fun. We had guest speakers, pizza parties. ... I’d learn everyone’s name, and so it was just a very welcoming environment,” he reminisces.

But after he told some people at school he was gay, a school adviser asked him to resign as president of the Bible Club.

And when his pastor heard of Jonathan’s sexual orientation, he told him he couldn’t be on the Praise Team, and he couldn’t sing any solos. “We can’t have a practicing homosexual in any form of church leadership,” the pastor told the young man who had been considering following in the pastor’s footsteps.

“At that point, I wasn’t even having sex, and I told him that,” Jonathan says. “[But] he said that people in the congregation had seen me on TV at gay Pride.

“I felt betrayed. What about me had changed other than that I was being honest?”

Failing to find role models at school or church who accepted him, Jonathan ventured into Hillcrest’s GLBT community, where he hung out at what was then the Living Room CafĂ© and dated a few men in the neighborhood. But his first forays into a place he’d hoped to find belonging left him discouraged and alone. He’d hoped to find the type of love and commitment his parents had, he says. His parents’ then 26-year-old marriage was cozy and they often held hands or stole kisses in public. But “most gay men I would date were just interested in flings.”

So Jonathan went into the closet, and he taped the bag shut.

Every 16 minutes in the United States, a person commits suicide.

Disproportionately, they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

“We have definitive statistics that tell us that LGBTQ youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers,” says Charles Robbins, executive director with the Trevor Project, a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hotline for GLBTQ youth.

For Jonathan’s father, Ron Goetz, the statistic hit too close to home.

A mild-mannered, soft-spoken man, Goetz speaks purposefully about his son’s three suicide attempts – to school groups, other parents with GLBT kids, and (one gets the impression) possibly to anyone who will listen, about his family’s close call. Goetz is a frequent panel speaker with Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and, as is clear from the careful way he chooses his words, as is clear from his candor and from the discernment with which he articulates his emotional and intellectual response to Jonathan’s suicide attempt, his son’s suffering profoundly affected and changed him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been homophobic. But I used to make…,” his voice trails off and he looks down at his hands before continuing. “I did make, some homophobic remarks that I deeply regret, because I know the damage I did.”

Goetz says he had just wanted to make people laugh. But he also says he now sees it doesn’t take much to impart the idea that it’s not OK to be gay.

“I know for a fact that [our] pastor did not rail against gays and lesbians, for example. He never preached a sermon specifically denouncing LGBT people or the lifestyle or the gay agenda or anything. But the problem is, is that it’s very common, even if you’re not railing, to lump these three things together: murderers, adulterers and homosexuals. And my guess is that you only have to hear that a handful of times and it registers. The pastor doesn’t even need to say it per se. The homophobic kinds of remarks and teasing that I did was pretty much done in ignorance, because I really had not been sensitized to the issues. I did not know what was at stake.”

What’s at stake when a child attempts or commits suicide is often not solely the child’s life but the survival of the family. Numerous suicide bereavement support organizations cite the shame, blame, rage, shock and depression family members may experience after a suicide or a suicide attempt – feelings that can threaten family unity. “If Jonathan had completed his suicide, there’s no way of predicting what would have happened. These sorts of tragedies break up couples,” Goetz says.

Perhaps because Goetz was willing to examine how his, albeit covert, attitude towards homosexuality may have contributed to Jonathan’s pain, and to reflect on how religious and political beliefs in their home may have influenced their son, the Goetz family has survived and strengthened.

There is much more in the story about the issue of suicide among GLBT teens, and I strongly encourage you to click on the link above and read it in its entirety.

Thanks to Ron Goetz for sharing this story with me and giving me permission to print his e-mail.

April 04, 2008

A Dream For the GLBT Community

Todd Ferrell, President of "The Evangelical Network," honored the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assasination by embodying the spirit of his "I Have a Dream" speech in his dream for the GLBT community:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, America's social and civil rights leader, had a dream. A dream where one day his life, the lives of his children and friends would no longer be judged by the color of their skin. Where one day, the white and black man could live as one. That dream lives on today. And on a day such as today, I too have a dream.

I have a dream of the day when anti-gay commentaries from unthinking people with large churches, national platforms, "Christian" television programs, or are a member of some "Christian" organization who think they know the "truth" about gays and lesbians will be silenced. . . .when their motivations will be revealed and God's truth will be shown forth.

I have a dream that the whispered gossiping behind people's backs in temples, cathedrals, churches and synagogues of "did you know that so-and-so was lesbian? Did you know that such-and-such was gay? will be called out by congregants walking in the truth of who God is.

I have a dream where Politicians who strive to pass laws of exclusion will be stifled and be removed from office and no more will we be blamed by the Moral Majority people who profess that gays/lesbians are the reason for the World Trade Center disasters, Hurricane Katrina or whatever the disaster of the moment is.

I have a dream of a day when suicides by gays and lesbians raised in a homophobic society will cease. And no more will so-called "Christians" feel so sorry for their families because of the shame associated with having a gay son or lesbian daughter.

I have a dream of the day that our gay and lesbian national leaders, who are clueless of what is in the Holy Bible about homosexuality, will awaken to the Good News of the Gospel for our community and no longer will our community feel their only hope is found in atheism or agnosticism.

I have a dream of the day when our military and their "don't ask, don't tell" line will be dropped because of their homophobia.

I have a dream of the day when ex-gay leaders will wake up and recognize the lies and half-truths they so righteously defend. I dream of the day when these people don't wake up and say, "it has been four years, six months and 22 days since I have been with a man sexually." And then the next day waking to say, "it has been four years, six months and 23 days since I have been with a man sexually." I dream of the day when people finally embrace the scripture which states: "I have come to give them life and the more abundantly." Where is the abundant living for them when they wake up just to drudge through one more day?

I have a dream of the day when junior and senior high school students no more are called "faggot" or "lesbo" in the hallways and gyms. I dream of the day when parents and teachers no longer tolerate it and call it out.

I dream of the day, I dream of the day!

I hope straight allies can embrace Todd's dream and help to make it a reality in our lifetime!

April 03, 2008

Sometimes, you are surprised at what the Spirit will do!

I just had to share with you all about what happened at BCF on Sunday! We had a wonderful, anointed service and it was incredible.

It's interesting to me that there are so many people who don't believe you can be gay and Christian. All you had to do was walk into our church that day and you would have seen with your own eyes the glory of the Lord that encamped there! God has given us a precious gift in that He inhabits our praises. The Holy Spirit never fails to come on the scene when two or more of us are gathered in His name.

I would encourage any of you who don't have a place to worship to visit the website or any of the other gay friendly church sites listed on Affirming Christian Network's site and download a worship service. Then, ask a friend or family member to come to your house for some time with the Lord. You'll be glad you did.

April 02, 2008

Philanthropy Gravitating Toward GLBT Causes

GLBT activism is here to stay, and wealthy people are realizing that and bequeathing an increasing amount of their estates to support their future activities.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

On a recent Thursday morning, Joseph Rosenthal, 77, drove from his barn-red, four-story house on Buena Vista Terrace to a lawyer's office in the Castro, where he quietly transferred a substantial part of his estate to the endowment fund of the Horizon Foundation, a grant-giving organization for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"I have almost no family living at this time," said Rosenthal, a retired librarian. "Certainly, not having children prompts one to consider other options, such as supporting charitable organizations in the area of my particular interest."

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement has traditionally depended on smaller, grassroots donations for specific causes. But more aging philanthropists like Rosenthal, whose generation was the first to be "out," are making end-of-life gifts to help secure the future of the community.

"If I had died in 1980, I would have had no idea that the HIV epidemic was around the corner," said retired venture capitalist David Gleba, 45, who has contributed more than $250,000 to the Horizon Foundation. "After I am gone, I would like to see the part of my estate continue to work in succeeding the younger generation."

Helping insure equality for generations to follow is a wonderful way to leave a mark on society.

You can read the rest of the Chronicle article here.

April 01, 2008

Sad times...

I am saddened today as I write this post in memory of three little children who were drowned by their father this past weekend. It turns out that this man was a regular attender, maybe even a member, of a large church in Virginia and he and his estranged wife and their children were known to my brother and his wife and my niece. The kids were in a church program called Awana, which is much like a Christian version of girl and boy scouts. They were ages 6, 4, and 3.

This situation made me wonder how in the world something like this could happen. I'm angry that yet another person with psychological and emotional problems was allowed access to children alone. How many stories like this one are going to have to surface before the courts will wake up to the fact that you can't look at someone and know whether they are a danger to themselves or others?? When are they going to do things to make sure children and spouses are protected, even if it means an inconvenience for the potential agressor?

The other thing that disturbs me about this story is the fact that the family went to a mega church. Now, I wouldn't blame the church for the family's problems, but I do wonder what kind of support they are getting if the situation was so bad. Apparently, the father has lived away from the home for two years with regular visitation. You'd think that someone would have tried to help. On the other hand, mega churches can't be held responsible in any way for people's choices or actions. All I'm saying is that it's difficult for me to see how anyone who attends a mega church can expect to have a personal relationship with anyone in church leadership. It seems hard enough to have any personal relationships of any consequence when you go to church with thousands of people every week!

So what's the answer? For me, it's attending a church that is small and intimate. For others, like my brother and sister-in-law, they seem to like the programs that the mega church can offer and they have made friends of some of the folks there. It just seems to me that mega churches are not a place that can really get down to the nitty gritty with people who have real problems.

What do you think?

March 31, 2008

It only takes a little interest to make a big impression on someone who has been cheated out of the love and affirmation of their own parents, a common problem within the GLBT population. Here is an excerpt from a man who took a small step forward to support his lesbian daughter and had his eyes opened wide:

My conversion to gay activism — on behalf of family values, as it were — took place more than 20 years ago. But the experience has taken on new poignancy in light of today’s passionate objections to gay equality on purported moral and religious grounds.

On October 11, 1987 — a date now annually commemorated as National Coming Out Day — I took part in the national gay and lesbian march on Washington. My daughter had come out as lesbian a few months earlier, and since we live in the Washington metro area, her mother (my ex-wife) and I decided to attend, mainly out of curiosity.

We were astonished to find ourselves part of a sea of some 600,000 demonstrators, nestled in a relatively small delegation of about 150 parents. But some of the parents were from as far away as California, Colorado and Washington State, and many carried signs reading, “We love our gay and lesbian children.”

As we began to march, we heard a sort of mysterious rumble that seemed to grow in volume, and we looked at each other with some concern. Then it dawned on us — as the noise reached a crescendo into a resounding roar — that it was in fact a heartfelt ovation for our little band of supportive parents. The deafening din followed us all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.

We were profoundly touched by the ovation — but even more by the tear-streaked faces of many of those cheering us. Dozens of young men and women rushed out sobbing to hug us and thank us for, in effect, serving as stand-ins for their own, less accepting parents.

It was that powerful response, borne of a senseless rending of the young people’s own family ties, that triggered my personal commitment to combating parental ignorance, primarily via participation with PFLAG.

I had a somewhat similar conversion experience myself, not with children but with members of my church family. After I grew to know and love them and understand the discrimination and hatred they had dealt with, I was moved like the writer of this article was.

I believe very strongly that most open minded people who have (or make) an opportunity to share that type of experience would react in a similar way.

Here's the rest of the article from the Washington Blade.

March 30, 2008

Back Online and Catching Up

Pastor Brenda, Sharone, Erica and I are settling into our beautiful new home and are finally reconnected to the Internet. I've been plowing through my backlog of e-mail and links and I've plenty of stories to share with you over the next few days. Look for some extra posts as I catch up on things starting tomorrow.