On Nov. 5, I will gather with hundreds of human-rights activists at Love Park to send a clear message to LGBTQ young people: Their lives are valued, and the message of hate drummed into their ears all too loudly is a lie.
As executive director of Soulforce, the organization sponsoring this “Life Rally,” I understand all too well the urgency of sending this message. Soulforce was founded in 1998 to advocate the use of nonviolent resistance against the forces of religious and political bigotry that oppress LGBTQ people throughout the country. Over the years, we have become a leading voice in the fight to end discrimination against LGBTQ people by groups like the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the Mormon and Catholic churches.
Millions of Americans’ thinking about homosexuality has been heavily influenced by these organizations, making it all the more imperative that those who believe in tolerance and inclusion counter their messages of intolerance. We have led acts of civil disobedience at major gatherings of these antigay groups to expose the truth about the torment experienced by youth rejected by their religious institutions and their families — a torment that often leads to depression and suicide.
The Life Rally is just one part of what Soulforce is bringing to Philadelphia. On Nov. 6, Soulforce will hold an all-day symposium, “The Truth About Faith, Science, Love and Reparative Therapy.” Speakers will debunk the myths that plague our national conversation about homosexuality — both the notion that homosexuality can be changed and the notion that there is a valid reason why any young person should seek to change it. We had expected mostly LGBT people and allies to attend the symposium, but the tragic loss of young lives over the last several weeks — Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Tyler Clementi and more — shows how important this event really is to all of us. For too long, vast numbers of LGBTQ youth have been led to believe that their only options are to stay in the closet and lie about who they are, run away from home and live on the streets or die by taking their own lives. It is past time for all fair-minded people to show up and speak up.
It is time to send a loud and clear message that both fair-minded Americans and good science disagree with the abusive practices of all families, teachers and ministers who require LGBTQ young people to attend reparative therapy or be rejected or subjected to shame and exclusion. It is time to send a loud and clear message that politicians who choose to speak against LGBTQ people, from Carl Paladino to Ken Buck, will be held accountable for the effect of their hate-filled words on young people.
If we don’t gather and speak the truth, we leave unchallenged the message that these abusers send to our young people, who must hear and live with such bigotry every day. It is time to send a different message. It is time to stand up and tell our youth: Your sexuality is not a curse — it is a vital, wonderful part of how you were created.