A study at the University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium found a link between religion and gay and questioning youths. This study was recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. A survey of 21,247 found 2.3 per cent identified as gay or lesbian, 3.3 per cent as bisexual, and 1.1 per cent were questioning their sexual orientation.
The study also indicates, as has been revealed in other studies, that LGBTQ youth reported that they had attempted suicide at least once in their lives, a higher rate than straight people. The rates of suicides ranged from 14 per cent to 20 per cent for LGBTQ young people compared to 5 per cent for straight youths.
They were also asked about the impact on religion in their lives, and 38 per cent said religion was important to them, compared to gays and lesbians who indicated religion is not part of their lives.
Those who are questioning and religious were three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts. The findings are disturbing and, according to reports, not surprising. If religion is thought to be protective, the opposite is true, depending on the religion.
The problem is that religions, generally speaking, condemn the LGBTQ community and that their sins will not be tolerated. One cannot approach religious leaders in a positive sense, if that person is already deemed a sinner. Consequently, help will not be forthcoming unless one denies their sexual orientation or true gender identity, or expression.
Most world religions are vehemently against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals, but suggest they can be supportive. However, they will not accept LGBTQ people as who they are. This hypocritical, double-edged sword is overwhelming, give with one hand and take with the other.
One of the authors of the study, John Blosnich of the West Virginia University said, “It can be very scary to be caught in your space where your religion tells you that you are a sinner just for being who you are. Sexual minority people may feel abandoned, they may experience deep sadness and anger, and they may worry what this means for their families, especially if the families are religious too.”
The feelings are real and if that sadness and anger becomes too much to cope with, anything may happen, including suicides. The religious organizations that adhere to anti-LGBTQ exclusion should think about the damage being done to minds of young people who are attempting to be themselves due to cruel and archaic doctrine. Our young people are our leaders of tomorrow, the ones who will be travelling the long road to equality. They must be supported, and if that means separating from their religion, then so be it rather than having their world turn upside down which could lead to horrific consequences.
The questions remain, why do many religions not care about the well-being of LGBTQ members, and why do they not care about the mental anguish that engulfs these young people? Will the religious teachings come to embrace equality and rid us of horrendous consequences as teens, especially, come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identities or expression? Where will these lead for the present and the future generations, knowing that lives are in turmoil and with dire consequences?
LGBTQ people have always been on this earth and will remain. It is up to those religions that condemn LGBTQ folks and cease to make positive change, embrace instead of reject, love instead of hate, make religious beliefs inclusive for all, yes for all, bar none. Then and only then will the suicides stop. Abandon the discrimination, save lives!
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Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His column appears Wednesdays in The News.