Internet trolls and religious zealots are alive and well, full of prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination, proving there is more work to do.
I’ve gotten in the habit of checking the email on my phone when I get out of bed in the morning. As my eyes struggle to focus, I try and get a quick run down of what happened during the night while I slept. Once in a while, as I did recently, I see something like this: “Gay Men Are Full of Disease, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Infection, HIV and Parasites.”
I usually scroll right past those messages to see if there is anything important in my mailbox. Most of the time there is not. I’m not even sure why I check my email first thing in the morning. It’s a habit I probably should break.
While these emails don’t tell me anything new – I almost ALWAYS know where their “research” comes from – I’m more curious about the people who send them. I wonder what they would be like if we were not separated by virtual walls. I wonder what they hoped their emails would accomplish. I wonder if they are desperately running from their own demons, as some research suggest. On the occasions I’ve contacted them to ask, I’ve never gotten an answer. Only more Bible verses, “warnings,” and justification for their sociopathic behavior.
Not surprisingly, I usually receive these kinds of toxic messages from anonymous senders. In this case, “ProlifeDisciple” stated, “My email address highlights my faith & position in life-affirming ministries. My position & faith remain constant regardless if my name is Mary Smith or Jane Doe.”
In other words, “I’m too much of a coward to have an actual conversation with you and I’m not convinced enough in my own position to discuss it, so I’ll just throw information at you that supports only my side of the argument.”
Other than clogging up my already cluttered email box, these emails don’t bother me. What bothers me more is that there are people in the world who still think like this, in spite of decades of research that tells us differently, or who only read information that supports their position.
Following World War II, there was something called “scientific racism,” which supported the idea that racial differences in IQ were in our genes. Naturally, it was believed, people of color were on the lower end of the spectrum. People believed this for years with ideas supported by part of the scientific community.
Science has come a long way these days by creating new methods of research to eliminate as much bias as possible and including larger sample sizes. Science also, of course, adjusts as new information becomes available. Religious beliefs, on which these emails are based, do not.
Contrary to their intended purposes, these messages let me know there is more work to do. The consequences of such thinking can be detrimental to the more vulnerable members of our society.
For example, according to research, 20-40% of homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and one study showed that 26% of youth were kicked out of their homes by their parents when they came out. For those kids who end up in foster care, they are more likely to be moved around than non-LGBT kids. In a 2002 study, as reported by the HRC, LGBT kids were placed in, on average, 6.35 foster homes, compared to the overall average of 3 homes.
According to Dr. Michael Friedman, 85% of LGBT youth report being bullied in school, with 40% stating they are physically bullied and 19% stating they were physically assaulted. The U.S. Department of health says that because LGBT youth live in a society that discriminates and stigmatizes them, they are more vulnerable to mental health issues, such as loneliness and depression.
Gay marriage aside, there are still 29 states where someone can be fired for being LGBT. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports more than 15% of same-sex couples were less likely to get favorable responses back on inquiries about housing than their straight counterparts.
Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality reported that 75% of LGBT people who have an encounter with the police face some form of verbal, physical or sexual harassment.
It’s no wonder that some LGBT people struggle with self-esteem and acceptance, which can lead people – all people – to do all kinds of crazy things. This includes sex, drugs, and other risky behaviors. Where there is acceptance and education, however, there is a decrease in infection. Where education isn’t available and sexuality is oppressed, there are higher rates of STD’s and pregnancies. The highest rates of STD infection, for example, is found in the Bible belt, as is the highest number of teen pregnancies. The Bible belt also hosts the largest number of evangelical Christians, and the highest poverty and crime rates.
So let’s talk about those gay men “full of disease.” Most of the gay men I know are not HIV positive, nor do they have STD’s. They are typically family men, and many of them are people of faith. Most of them are in long-term, monogamous relationships.
The Christian right tends to use HIV, as they have since the 1980s, as a talking point that AIDS is God’s judgment against gay people, often citing Romans 1:27b, “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” HIV, however, did not originate with sex, it originated through meat infected with the disease, which humans ate.
In the United States, according to the CDC, 28% of projected infections of HIV are heterosexual men and women. Gay and bisexual men, and MSM’s (men who have sex with men, but do not self-identify with a homosexual orientation), have a higher risk. Blacks, however, are at greatest risk, representing around 12% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 44% of HIV infections in 2010 and 41% of people living with HIV in 2011. Hispanics and Latinos accounted for 21% of people living with HIV in 2010. They are 2.9 times more likely to contract HIV than white men and Latinas are 4.2 times more likely to contract HIV than white women. Education is more readily available in more affluent cultures.
Contrast these numbers to Swaziland, Africa, where nearly 28% of the population is infected with HIV, with women at the highest risk.
Homosexuality has been around since the dawn of man, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, have not. Also, anal sex is not a practice of all gay men, but is practiced by a significant portion of heterosexual couples. Promiscuity among gay men isn’t because they are gay; it’s because they are human.
But here’s the main problem with my email friend. These are the people who permeate many conservative churches where homosexuality is just as prevalent inside the church as it is on the outside. For 25 years, I was on the inside lying about my sexual orientation. I, too, was taught that gay men were filthy, disgusting and sinful. I believed that homosexuality was only about sex and depravity. I learned to live in intense shame, believing there was something inherently wrong with me, something with which I struggle to this day. I attempted suicide to do away with the atrocity that was my existence. I involved myself with years of conversion therapy only to throw away a significant portion of my life, appeasing an ideology that wasn’t true in the first place.
My “sin” was living a lie and pretending to be someone I wasn’t. My redemption came when I owned my story, started living authentically, and separated fact from fiction. Gay men aren’t full of disease. People who spread a toxic message of hatred and fear in the name of God are.
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