Dana Rudolph

Can Coming Out in a Religious Context Help Bullied LGBTQ Youth?

Filed By Dana Rudolph | October 11, 2010 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: bullying, judaism, victor appell

There's been a lot written on the recent bullying-related suicides. I found this piece by Rabbi Victor Appell, "If Only Tyler Clementi Had Been to a Gay Synagogue," rainbow-star.jpegparticularly moving. Too often religion and LGBT rights are set up as opposites; Appell shows us how they don't have to be, and how "coming out in a religious context" might even have helped some of the youth who have committed suicide after anti-LGBT bullying. Appell himself was the subject of such bullying. Now he is a rabbi and a gay dad, raising two children with his partner.

I am not myself religious, and would not ever say that religion is the best or only answer to bullying. I do know, however, that messages of hate disguised as religion help no one, and can do great damage to LGBTQ youth. On the positive side, religions have the power to offer great comfort and assistance to those within their communities of belief. Some might say they have a God-given duty to do so.

Appell explains:

It is difficult to have a positive self-image when much of society would tell you that what you are is abnormal or that you are a sinner and would seek to deny your civil rights and make your expressions of love against the law. Coming out in a religious context challenges all that. We can learn, in synagogues and churches that welcome us, that what we are is good; that we can love and be loved; that we are created, like everyone else, in God's image; and that God loves us with an unqualified love. Religion has the ability to transform us. With people not only hating us but also trying to make us hate ourselves, we desperately need places where we can learn to love ourselves.

Regardless of your particular religious faith or lack thereof, go read the rest of his piece. Appell makes a point more people need to hear.

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It really depends on the type of Christians. I think we'd have to see which denominations reject the bigoted idea that homosexuality is wrong. I'd start there.

The Rabbi's story is touching and another helpful contribution to the cultural conversation.

Nearly 12 years ago I started attending a Methodist Church here in South Tampa because the two ministers were very welcoming, and I became a close friend of both. Unfortunately, they both left a few years ago, and the church has moved somewhat to the conservative...but not terribly so.

However, I took a resolution to the Administrative Board in 2008 resolving they adopt a non-discrimination statement. I had gone alone, and had sent it out the day before thinking it shouldn't be a big deal. Boy was I wrong. Some of things that group said were beyond hateful, and the meeting devolved into Chaos. But I don't give up that easily.

I have also been asked to teach an adult Sunday School class there from time to time made up of some very long-time members of the church (a couple were founding members). These are people who have helped build that church over many years. I happened to be teaching this past Sunday, and reserved 10 minutes at the end of the class for a point of personal privilege.

I had prepared a handout with pictures and some info about the young men who have committed suicide in the past few weeks, and included some of the hateful quotes from politicians and other public figures from the past few weeks. I told them I could no longer stand by and watch this continue. I reminded them of some of the other Sunday School lessons we've had, and asked them to stand with me at the next Admin Council meeting where I planned to re-introduce the resolution.

I got hugs, tears, and at least four couples verbally committed to be there with me, and to bring friends. I suspect the Admin Council members will take a slightly different tone at their November meeting.

All of us should be applauding your efforts. It takes real courage to stand up in the face of bigotry. It is time for all Christians to say enough is enough. People will stand with us for equality.

Your actions may very well save lives - young innocent lives.


Rabbi Appell's story is a wonderful antidote to the recent depressing revelation that Carl Paladino figured the easy way to win the support of orthodox rabbis was to disparage lgbts. I myself have lost my religion, but I appreciate and applaud those people of faith - of all faiths - who stand and speak against the fundamentalists' ignorant and evil message.

ps - The NYT provided a similar lifeline to me through much of my time in college. Almost every weekend, I took a break on Sunday from my homework to go to the library's newspaper room, take the Sunday Times from the rack, peruse the front page and maybe find a story of interest, then surreptitiously locate the page in the theater section where there was a small ad for a gay play that was running in New York. Somehow, as long as that ad was there, I was not the only queer person on this earth.

Religion does help some people get past the pain of homophobia. Rev. Irene has posted about that before here at Bilerico.

Religion isn't going anywhere, so it'll be interesting to see the ways we deal with it in the coming years.