Religious Leaders Must Preach Tolerance and Compassion toward LGBT Community
Rabbi Jason A. Miller
The movie “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” deals with teenage depression and suicide in a very real way, which is powerfully relevant today with the recent wave of teen suicides in the gay community. Each of the four teen characters in the movie suffer from depression in one way or another. And while none of them is homosexual, watching the movie I was forced to consider the responsibility that I, as a rabbi, have in preaching tolerance and compassion toward the LGBT community to eradicate this epidemic.
The high rate of suicide among gay and lesbian teens has been brought to light in the darkest way possible. Communities have been devastated by the news of gay teens being bullied to the point of taking their own lives. The reaction to these tragedies has been mixed. I’m sure that Clint McCance, an Arkansas school board leader, never expected the reaction he received after posting anti-gay rants on Facebook. That a leader in a school system could make such hurtful and shameful comments about his fellow human beings is outrageous. It is up to religious leaders to shift the national conversation on LGBT issues to one that prioritizes human dignity and compassion.
On October 19, as Facebook users across the nation added a purple tint to their profile pictures to publicize the need for compassion toward the gay community and in memory of the gay teens that killed themselves, another tragedy was taking place. At Oakland University, yet another gay teen ended his life after being bullied relentlessly since coming out a few months ago. Less than a week earlier on Oakland’s campus, a lunchtime program sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Center screened the film “Bullied,” a teaching tolerance documentary. The banner advertising the event still hung in the hallway of the student union in the days following Corey Jackson’s death, as if to say “Something more must be done.”
Rabbi Steven Greenberg, a gay Orthodox rabbi, recently wrote a powerful opinion piece in The New York Jewish Week, titled “The Cost of Standing Idly By.” He relates what happened when he and his partner relocated from New York to Cincinnati. Soon after they arrived, the rabbi of a local Orthodox congregation called apologetically to inform him that he and his partner were not welcome to attend the synagogue based on a ruling from another rabbi. Greenberg contacted the rabbi who issued the ruling and shared with him that “people who are gay and lesbian who want to remain true to the Torah, are in a great deal of pain. Many have just left the community. Some young gay people become so desperate they attempt suicide.”
Greenberg was speechless when he heard the rabbi reply, “Maybe it’s a mitzvah for them to do so.” When he asked for clarification, he was told that what he heard was precisely what the rabbi intended to say. In other words, since homosexuals are guilty for capital crimes according to the Torah, perhaps it might be a good idea for them to do the job themselves.
Rather than let this uncompassionate individual silence him or force him to find a more inclusive community, Greenberg came up with a list of three steps his colleagues in the Orthodox rabbinate, and leaders in Orthodox institutions, should take. He encourages them to sign the Statement of Principles, which says that “embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.” Second, he calls on Orthodox institutions to sign a letter, initiated by the LGBT advocacy group Keshet, condemning bullying and homophobia in the Jewish community. Third, he states that Orthodox institutions must immediately cut off any support or endorsement of so-called “reparative therapy.”
I would take Greenberg’s call to action a step further and call upon all religious leaders, regardless of faith, to advocate for tolerance and compassion toward the LGBT community. We all stand firm in trying to eradicate the other stressors leading to teenage depression and suicide. The bullying of gay teens is no different. This epidemic is only made worse by the inflammatory comments of people like the Orthodox rabbi in Cincinnati who proposed that it’s a mitzvah for gay teens to kill themselves and Clint McCance, a school board official who wrote on Facebook, “It pisses me off though that we make special purple fag day for them. I like that fags can’t procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other AIDS and die.”
At this stage it is no longer about the heated and divisive issues like gay marriage or “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” It is now a matter of life and death. Teens being bullied until they commit suicide isn’t a political issue; it’s a human issue. Religious leaders across this country: Please stand up and put an end to this national tragedy.