Recent visit by former homosexual highlights damaging effects on gay and lesbian youthPublished 10:56am Monday, January 25, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
For children and teenagers coming into their own, in the spaces between childhood and adolescence, adolescence and adulthood, the messages they receive from their parents, family, friends, popular culture and religious leaders are unquestionably affecting.
When it comes to the youth within the gay community, such messages are, some might say, even more significant.
It isn’t easy being young and gay in America. As young adults struggle to understand what their sexuality means, there are many platforms that give off a message that their sexual orientation may be something they can change – something different or wrong with them.
Recently, a speech given by visiting and self-proclaimed “former” homosexual Jack Morlan brought such concerns to light, when he spoke about his ability to essentially leave a homosexual lifestyle through faith.
“The belief that people can change their sexual organization is not a widely believed point of view,” said Jennifer Hsu, executive director at Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of St. Joseph and Berrien County.
PFLAG is currently working on putting together a conference in the spring that brings together members of the community – heterosexual and homosexual – as well as members of local churches in an attempt to start a dialogue that would address the strained relationship between the church and the gay community – strained because of two polar opposite views on homosexuality.
Addressing an audience during a Sunday service at the Michiana Christian Embassy earlier this month, Morlan told of his upbringing in a Christian home in southern Iowa. After he said he was a victim of sexual abuse by a male relative, Morlan said he came to believe the only way men would like him was in a sexual way.
This perpetuated a turn to homosexuality, Morlan explained. He tried to “solve the problem” through marriage – and began his college career as a married man.
Eventually, he said, he became more and more immersed in “sin.” He was only interested in money and power and influence – something he found after he confessed his homosexuality to his wife, asked for a divorce and ran away from college to Des Moines, going into business at what became a successful hair salon.
Though Morlan did say that members of the church should be welcoming of gays, recounting feelings of rejection even after he renounced his homosexuality, Morlan painted a portrait of the gay community as power- and money-hungry “wolves” who would descend on children and young adults if mothers and fathers neglected to pray for them.
Morlan is the only one who will know the truth about his story and his claim of a religious experience of seeing Jesus reach out to him and release him from the “chains” he said he’d been bound by for so many years.
His message is not unique to him alone, rather one that is being touted around the church circuit in communities like Niles, churches where so many young people sit with their families on Sunday mornings.
Hsu said PFLAG is fortunate to have support within its community and that the local clergy has been active in working with the organization in discussing the issue.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community first encourages church officials to “do no harm,” Hsu said. “At the very minimum not to condemn people from the pulpit.
“There’s still a lot of dialog that needs to go on,” she said.
The relationship between churches and members of the LGBT community is just as imperative regardless of age, but when it comes to young adults Hsu said, imagine “how damaging it can be to be told by a religious leader or member of clergy how bad it can be to be LGBT” identified.
“I do not think it gives them a pretense that they have a choice in the matter of their sexual orientation,” said Kelley Connell M.S.Ed.D. Connell is a sexuality educator and consultant who holds a master’s degree in human sexuality education from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a doctoral candidate in human Sexuality education at Widener University.
She has more than 17 years experience in the field of sexuality education and reproductive health and has worked with adolescents, college students, health care providers and patients and is originally from Niles.
“Rather, it leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and confusion to a population that may be struggling to find their way in a heterosexist climate and gives them the sense that others think they can be ‘cured’ by just praying enough, which in turn fosters an environment of unacceptance and intolerance by others,” Connell said.
Such ideas can be especially damaging to young adults, Hsu said.
“It’s acceptance that’s the greatest struggle,” she added.
Connell makes reference to a recent study by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University titled “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes,” which “shows that adolescents who were rejected by their families for being (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide.
“According to the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers,” Connell said.
Depression and substance abuse are also a part of what many young adults experience as they come to terms with who they are and who society expects or wants them to be.
Which is why programs or conferences developed between local churches and the local community is imperative in opening up a necessary dialogue.
Hsu reiterates that the issues facing members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender at all ages are relatively similar across the board. The struggle to be accepted continues as some states present voters with the question of whether or not to legalize gay marriage.
“We live in a culture that assumes heterosexuality is the norm and send the message that any deviation from that is wrong or abnormal and that is just not true,” Connell said. “If you have a person who is beginning to understand or realize they are (gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender) but have been brought up in a climate of intolerance, homophobia, judgment and religious bigotry and persecution toward (that group of) people, how comfortable do you think they are being honest about who they are to themselves and others?
“This can create an internal struggle between what they know to be true about themselves and what other people tell them should be true about themselves,” Connell said. “I think the frustration comes from other people trying to force them to change, make them believe they can change and then telling them they are wrong or abnormal if they don’t.”
Indeed, Morlan did not shy away from what he felt was the seriousness effects of homosexuality on younger generations. But in a house of faith, where families go for reassurance, understanding and a sense of support in their everyday lives, it’s hard to tell whether more damage was done then good.
It can be a matter of opinion.
But many hope it becomes a matter of resolution.
“The outcenter in Benton Harbor and the Michiana Resource Center offer youth drop-ins as well as youth support groups and really what we are trying to do is provide affirming space for the youth to be who they are,” Hsu said. “A space where they aren’t being told that they’re bad.”
To contact the OutCenter, visit www.outcenter.org or call (269) 925-8330.