December 17, 2010

Gay support groups in public schools aren’t the best solution

By Christopher Stefanick *
It’s hard to imagine the confusion of a teenager who is convinced that he’s gay. More unimaginable is the pain he must experience if he’s bullied for having effeminate characteristics. Since July, at least four teens and one college student who considered themselves gay ended their lives after being repeatedly bullied. It’s safe to assume that there were more factors that led to these suicides, but bullying certainly played a key role, and it highlights the sad reality that many schools aren’t doing enough to protect kids —and that includes kids with same-sex attraction.  

The Church agrees with gay-rights activist groups in that people with same-sex attraction, “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity (and that) every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358). In the words of Pope Paul VI on tolerance, “The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life or religion” (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, 5). But when it comes to school bullying, most gay-rights groups go beyond protecting teens to promoting homosexual behavior. Such groups are more active in schools than parents might imagine.

Groups like GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) have done extensive work to protect teens with same-sex attraction from bullying. They provide training and resources to more than 4,000 gay-straight alliance (GSA) student clubs in high schools and colleges across North America.  And the recent bully suicides have been turned into talking points to encourage the proliferation of GSAs. The Canadian government has even recently taken aggressive steps to ensure that such clubs find a home in Catholic high schools, though some school districts have stood with their bishops in rejecting this proposed solution to the gay bullying problem.  

The good news is that GSAs have been shown to help decrease bullying. The bad news is that, enmeshed in their efforts, there are “dogmas” of the gay-rights movement that are arguably as harmful as bullying, albeit in more subtle ways.  

To sum up a few of these dogmas:
•    Sexual desire is equated with personal identity.
•    Since desire is identity, teens need support “coming out” and announcing their sexual preference to the world in order to fully embrace their “true selves.”
•    Abstinence is unrealistic.  Teens need to be taught “safe sex.”
•    Schools, and society at large, need aggressive policies to stop “heterosexism,” that is, traditional Judeo-Christian ethics that would identify heterosexuality as the norm in sexual behavior and desire.  

How are these dogmas harmful?  

Regarding the belief that sexual desire is identity: If the goal of these clubs is to help people with same-sex attraction feel less isolated, making them feel inherently “different” from everyone else isn’t the way to do it. Mother Teresa, who started New York’s first AIDS hospice, refrained from calling people “homosexual,” instead she called them “friends of Jesus.” It’s helpful to remember that “the orientation of an act is homosexual or heterosexual but the person is not” (Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops). In other words, homosexual desires and even activity do not define a human being.    

The identity dogma can end up being a gay recruitment tool. Many well-balanced adolescents experience a passing phase of same-sex attraction. And some teens who have experienced sexual abuse or who have a deep “father wound” might be temporarily repulsed by the opposite sex until they address their wounds. I’m not saying that same-sex attraction is always passing or curable. But if adolescents make the mistake of identifying self with desire, homosexual activity might seem inevitable to them—and they’ll be at a higher risk for giving in to their desires. If they do, what could have been a passing phase for some might end up being a life choice. (I am not implying that all those who teach this dogma are intentionally recruiting teens.)

Equating sexual desire with identity makes homosexual activity seem natural. You can’t help but do what you are. This belief, coupled with the dogma that “coming out” is healthy and necessary, and the “safe sex” education provided in GSAs, sets the stage for sexual promiscuity, which only exacerbates the problems these clubs are trying to battle: teen depression and suicide. Studies show that sexually active boys are two times more likely to be depressed, and girls are three times more likely to be depressed, with 12- to 16-year-olds being six times more likely to attempt suicide. It’s safe to assume that homosexual activity carries the same risks to a teen’s fragile emotional state.  

Finally, the dogma that natural law and Judeo-Christian ethics is “heterosexism” or “homophobia” can isolate teens from anyone who disagrees with them: “You are different and they are bigots.” And, of course, one doesn’t even consider a bigot’s viewpoint. A challenge from parents or pastors to live in sexual integrity and virtue might be dubbed “hate speech.” Remember, the Church calls ALL people to live chastely. No doubt, the Church’s challenge for people with persistent same-sex attraction to live a chaste life is no easy path, but it’s certainly not “hate speech.” As difficult as a chaste life is for people with persistent same-sex attraction, it’s easier than the host of emotional and physical problems that active homosexuals are at a disproportionate risk for enduring.  (Studies show these risks are the same in places that are fully open to homosexuality. See www.narth.com for research.)

Parents, pastors and counselors need to respond with compassion and support when a teen trusts them enough to tell them they have same-sex attraction. (Your local “Courage” chaplain can give you advice in how to do so. See www.couragerc.net for more info.) That response needs to include protection from bullying, but it does not need to include the encouragement of a homosexual lifestyle. There are plenty of highly effective programs available to help schools prevent bullying that are not also saddled with an agenda. Such programs, rather than GSAs, are a good way to ensure that teens with same-sex attraction receive an education with safety and dignity.
Speaker and author Christopher Stefanick is director of youth outreach for YDisciple. Visit him at RealLifeCatholic.com.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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