There are times I am almost envious of Millenial and Gen Z LGBTQ youth. Acceptance is more fulsome now than at any other time in American history. There are still struggles and homophobia; this is true. However, they can turn on the television and watch Schitt’s Creek or Will & Grace and see themselves as fully realized human beings.
Us older queers are thankful that our youth didn’t have to live through a Reagan administration that felt AIDS was a punishment from God and deserved no research or treatment. To feel a nation passing judgment on your community, that one is worthy of death because of whom you love, is something no child should have to feel. We Gen X queers, and older, are hardened and battle-tested. Many of us carry PTSD from our childhoods and young adult lives.
Today’s queer youth is not so prepared for the potential of what is rising in America now. They’ve been sheltered from what children of the 70s and 80s fear is on the horizon. Being beaten on the streets, harassed, or threatened was a regular right of passage for our existence. Like today, many of these activities go unreported.
According to FBI statistics, violence against LGBTQ citizens has been rising for the past four years. QANON blames the support of LGBTQ rights for pedophilia. The GOP plank states that gay marriage needs to be overturned as marriage is only between a man and a woman.
In 1991, when I came out, I was told, “No one will love you. You will die alone and probably from AIDS.” At the age of 18, I had already attempted suicide twice. My final attempt would be at the age of 22. As it turns out, I’m awful at suicide. Don’t feel sorry for me. I survived and have used those experiences in productive ways throughout my life. The question is, why did I feel the need to end my life?
Growing up Southern Baptist, I heard from the pulpit, “It’s better to be dead than be gay.” I also was brought up to believe that even Satan didn’t want gay people in hell, but he was forced to take us. There were no positive role models of gay behavior — daily harassment at school and being beaten up only to go home and get the same. Everything indicated, at least to me, there was no place for me in the world.
The 2000s inched its way into carving out a better understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. The national conscience was altered, in no small part, to a show that made people laugh, but more importantly, put a humanizing face on a community that was so scared. That show was Will & Grace.
Although the entire cast was magnificent, who doesn’t love Sean Hayes, I think the fact that Will, played by the incomparable Eric McCormack, was played by a straight man. Even in Hollywood, playing gay was risky, at best. Until then, mainstream actors only played gay, and were well received, if ultimately, they died in the end like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.
The cast told their stories, made people laugh, and made people cry. But Eric showed that being straight, while embracing his character, it was acceptable for men to embrace homosexuality. It was a powerful statement that a straight man played a well adjusted gay character, not embracing death, but life. Minds began to change and adapt.
Will & Grace wasn’t the only show to start showing visibility. Showtime’s Queer As Folk spoke to those of us who had been through the struggle and living the struggle of being gay. Even through those victories, coming out still had a cost. We still hear the chant, “Why does every show have to have a gay character in it.” Or my proverbial favorite of having LGBT content “shoved down our throats.” As if the mere fact of being alive is offensive and for many it is.
Through the Obama years, protections we never thought we’d have took place. We were able to join the military and serve our country. Finally, we were able to get married through the SCOTUS decision that yes, we were a real part of the American experience and equal. As a community, we took a collective sigh of relief, ready to be full-fledged Americans.
That feeling of safety would be short-lived.
Over the course of the last four years, we have seen many of those protections rescinded. Justices Alito and Thomas have vocally concluded that gay marriage should be overturned. Amy Comey Barrett, Trump’s latest SCOTUS pick, agrees with them.
The “spiritual advisers” surrounding Trump are vocally against the LGBT community. Paula White, Trump’s personal spiritual advisor, links homosexuality to Satan. During the 2016 presidential cycle, Senator Ted Cruz spoke at a conference hosted by a man who thinks LGBTQ should be put to death. He would later say he didn’t know, yet, the pastor holding the conference was well known for it.
Amy Comey Barrett has given five lectures to a group that is well known for anti-LGBT views. She says that she wasn’t aware of those sentiments, though their website’s stance clarifies. She never returned the money. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a well known anti-LGBTQ hate group, attended Amy Comey Barrett’s announcement event in DC. The theological rhetoric is returning. The violence is returning. Why is this important? We are returning to a place of telling LGBTQ youth; they have no place.
Saving the lives of LGBTQ youth is being pro-life. Discouraging and even ending this runaway train of hate once and for all will tell them that a nation believes they have value, their lives have value. Creating an atmosphere of hatred that leads to children committing suicide is not pro-family nor pro-life. Allowing GOP leadership to classify an entire community as not worthy of basic protections and a Plank that states you’re not worthy of marriage protection are powerful.
Does this mean all conservatives are bad people? Many conservatives believe that LGBT people should be allowed to be married and have equal protection. But I have a question for my conservative friends, have you written your leadership to demand equal protections? Has your church vocalized that equality is important? If not, I’m afraid to tell you this; your party believes your silence is an affirmation of their policy. How do we know this?
The spiritual leadership surrounding the administration is vocally opposed to LGBTQ rights. Hate groups are showing up to Amy Comey Barrett’s nomination. Republicans pass laws that make it illegal to deny any services to Christians while making it legal to deny LGBTQ services.
There was a saying in the 80s in gay culture that readily applies to our current status: Silence equals Death. Death to Marriage Equality. Death to LGBTQ families. Death to LGBT equality.
All of this means LGBTQ kids will go through the same intense emotional abuse that leads to kids being harassed, beaten, kicked out of their homes, and an increase in suicide.
Thankfully, positive LGBTQ media has been prominent in the recent series Schitt’s Creek. It’s important that we have these positive stories, not just for our community, but for our LGBTQ youth as a model to look up to. Dan Levy’s “I like the wine, not the label,” has provided a wonderful view of how we can be as a people.
As a gay man, watching Pete Buttigieg rise politically was a moment I could never have thought possible. Watching him and his husband Chasten out on the stage gave so many young people so much hope. Now their marriage, like mine and so many, is in danger. What does that tell our LGBT youth about us as a country, about themselves?
Now is a good time on National Coming Out Day to check in with your LGBTQ friends and LGBTQ youth, you may know. Chances are, they’re scared and possibly angry.
Any LGBTQ youth that may be struggling, please direct them to the Trevor Project for help with their situation. www.trevorproject.org or if they need immediate help for feelings of suicide, 1–866–488–7366.
Speak up. Speak out. Save lives.
*Tyler Davis is the author of New America: Awakenings and a blogger.