When we were first dating, my husband and I almost always held hands. In fact, we still do. We kissed and cuddled and leaned in close to whisper sweet terms of affection to each other. No one ever teased, taunted or berated us in any manner for simply being in love. And we were certainly never beaten bloody for displaying our affection for each other in public.
Unfortunately, that is not the experience for everyone who falls in love. While sitting on the upper deck of a bus in London, a woman named Chris was beaten bloody by five teen-age boys, ranging in age from 15 – 19. She was pummeled, kicked, her nose was broken and she was left covered with splatters of her own blood.
The boys approached her after seeing Chris and her girlfriend kiss each other on the bus and began to berate them for being gay. When the women refused to respond to their taunts and demands that Chris and her girlfriend kiss each other for the entertainment of the teens, the young men viciously beat the two women. Chris’s girlfriend, Melania, was also injured when she tried to protect Chris.
As communities across the country recognize National PRIDE Month, a celebration of diversity and inclusion, this story of homophobic violence is a painful reminder that when it comes to acceptance and equality, even here in the United States, we have a long way to go.
A November 2018 report from the FBI showed a “17 percent year-over-year increase in federal hate crimes across the U.S., the third consecutive yearly rise and the largest jump in federally reported hate crimes since the September 11 attacks.”
17% of the victims – 1,470 people – were targeted because they were LGBT. But this is only part of the story. The FBI report is based on communities across the country reporting hate crimes to the FBI. We know that many victims of these crimes don’t report out of fear of their attackers, embarrassment and other factors, and that the number of people attacked because of their sexuality is likely much higher.
We also know that young LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to self-harm and suicide. A Reuters story from last fall, based on the results of 35 studies, reported that sexual minority youth were more than three times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. According to the Trevor Project, young LGBT people who are “highly rejected” by their families are 8.4% more likely to attempt suicide.
All of which is just a complex way of saying that we all just need to be nice. I know that sounds overly simple, but it is at the heart of what is what is wrong with this picture. How we see ourselves is deeply affected by how others treat us, and when you spend your entire life being taunted and bullied for who you are, you begin to hate yourself, sometimes enough to kill yourself. That is a tragedy for which we all bear the burden.
I cannot imagine having to spend my life pretending to be what I am not, hiding myself behind a make-believe persona, play-acting my way through every day hoping no one notices the truth. It is unconscionable that there is any part of our society that still expects other people to conform to their biases and bigotries.
As a Catholic, I believe that God calls us to love, embrace and accept all of His children. I truly believe that He has created each of us in His image, beautifully and wonderfully made. Regardless of your faith beliefs, however, I would like to believe we could agree that not violently attacking people who are different than you are is the bare-minimum requirement of basic human decency.
There are no easy fixes to what ails us when it comes to the complexities of the human condition. Hate and intolerance will always exist, but that does not mean that we have to accept it. When it comes to the issues of acceptance and equality for all of our friends, neighbors and fellow Americans who are LGBT, I stand with them with PRIDE this month as we celebrate the beautiful, diverse, unique tapestry of our nation.