Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It Gets Better

My blog on the "It Gets Better" Project. Please comment and pass on.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Message about LGBT Bullying

I delivered these comments to open a Vigil in Norwalk, CT on the recent suicides of several lesbian and gay youth.

I bring you greetings from the Unitarian Church in Westport, where I serve as the community minister, and the Religious Institute, the organization I lead of more than 5000 religious leaders from across the United States. I stand here tonight as a clergy person, as a mom, as a neighbor, as someone who works every day for the full inclusion of us all, and someone who loves many many gay and lesbian people.

Tonight we come together with heavy hearts to commemorate the lives of the at least seven teenagers who took their lives because of bullying and harassment: Bill Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, and Aiyisha Hasan.

The only thing we know for sure these young people had in common was that they were perceived to be gay or lesbian.

We come together tonight to say, “Enough. Never Again. Enough.”

There is nothing new about bullying. Forty five years ago, here in Norwalk, I was bullied and physically attacked as a second grader at Fitch School up the street from here because I was Jewish. Many of the grownups here were probably bullied for a whole variety of reasons as well. Teachers and parents often ignored it, thinking it was a children’s problem to take care of. For those of us who carry the scars from elementary school, middle school, high school, we know that we’ve struggled with those feelings of not being accepted, not being welcome all of our lives.
People who are LGBTQQI, teens and yes, adults – that means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex – are often harassed and bullied throughout their lives. An anti-bullying initiative will fail as long as WE fail to stand up to the homophobia – the hatred directed at LGBT people – that still exists in our schools, on our streets, in our workplaces, in our laws, and in our society.

To the LGBT people here, both teens and adults, I am here to tell you that God loves you just the way you are …and that sexual and gender diversity is blessing to us all.

To the LGBT teens here, I want to say that you are loved, worthy, and accepted just the way you are. That God made you, that people love you, and that suicide is NEVER the solution. If you are being bullied, TELL SOMEONE, ASK FOR HELP, REACH OUT. Yes, as the YouTube project says, it does get better, but I want it to be okay for you right now. And I want you to know that there are adults who can help.

To all of the teens here, I beg you to become the generation that no longer accepts bullying as a fact of life in middle school and high school, but says NO MORE. Standing up for people who are being bullied, telling someone a joke is offensive, asking fellow students to abandon “that’s so gay” as a universal put down, is not tattling or not being able to take a joke – it’s courageous, it’s intervening, and it may save someone’s life. Teens must take a stand.

To the religious leaders here, I ask you, I implore you to use your pulpits to proclaim a life saving message that God loves us all. That while we may all not agree about what four passages in the Bible say about same sex sexual relationships, we know that the overarching messages of our Scriptures is Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. All of Our Neighbors. In response to the question to our Christian neighbors “What Would Jesus Do about Homosexuality?” I am quite sure the answer would be Love Them. Include Them. Welcome Them. And take the log out of your own eye about other people’s sexual behavior. In too many cases, religion has fed cultural homophobia, and left people feeling alienated and ashamed. If religion has been part of the problem, we must become part of the solution, and that includes speaking out against those who hide their homophobia, their own fears of their sexuality, behind four verses.

To the government leaders, school officials, police, and teachers here, I urge that you pledge to make our workplaces, schools, community agencies, and streets safe for every one of us, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity. And that means you too must intervene, speak out, and stop harassment at any level.

To those of you who are parents or neighbors or caring adults, thank you for coming out and please make a commitment to yourself that you will speak up, speak out for the dignity and worth of all people. Tell your neighbors and your co-workers that you were here tonight and ask for their help. The culture will change when we all say loudly and often that every one of us has the right to live and love free from harassment and discrimination.

During the height of the AIDS epidemic, there was a poster that read Silence = Death. Silence about homophobia and bullying and violence and discrimination has also meant death. Pledge with me tonight that you will be silent no more.

Say it with me. Enough. Never Again. Enough.

God bless you all.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Gay Youth Suicides

Dear Clergy Colleagues:

It’s Tuesday morning, and you are probably not quite ready to think about next weekend’s sermon. Perhaps you’ve already announced the upcoming topic in your newsletter. I am praying that you might be willing to change it.

You may know that October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day that encourages gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people to publicly state who they are. In light of the at least five gay youth who killed themselves in September, it’s time for us to come together as religious leaders and say, “Enough.”

I’m hoping that next weekend from your pulpits you will come out with your support for GLBT youth and adults. Yesterday, I issued this challenge to the nation’s clergy in a column for the Washington Post. You can read it at

In part, it read:

All of us have teens and young adults who are gay or lesbian in our congregations, many who are suffering in silence and are at risk. A study done by my colleagues at the Christian Community, found that 14% of teens in religious communities identify as something other than heterosexual. Almost nine in ten of them have not been open about their sexuality with clergy or other adult leaders in their faith communities. Almost half have not disclosed their sexual orientation to their parents. And nonheterosexual teens who regularly attend religious services were twice as likely as heterosexual teens to have seriously considered suicide. Our young people are dying because we are not speaking out for them.

What if next weekend all of us told them from our pulpits how heartbroken we are by Tyler Clementi’s suicide and that we want to make sure that no young person in our community would ever feel such despair? Or perhaps you can begin to develop sexuality education programs in your community for youth and parents that include education about sexual orientation and gender identity. Include books in your congregation library about new theological understandings of sexual orientation and pamphlets from LGBT persons in your vestibules. Invite LGBT adults in your congregations to lead worship or education programs and tell their stories. Tell your teens and young adults that you love them, that God loves them and that you will stand with them in the face of bullying, victimization, and harassment. Invite them, beseech them to come to you or other trusted adults if they are even remotely thinking about taking their own life.

As a member of the Religious Institute network, I know that you support full inclusion of LGBT persons. I hope you’ll join with clergy across the United States in speaking out this weekend. For worship resources, see our online guide, Acting Out Loud.

You may remember that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” It is time for all of us to act.

In Faith,

Rev. Debra W. Haffner