‘It’s hard to argue with kids dying.’

For over five years, I was an editor for New Moon magazine, a feminist publication for and by girls ages 8 – 14. New Moon takes a unique stance on the issue of sexual orientation — one that no other children’s magazine has taken, as far as I know. And that is to acknowledge that sexual and gender diversity exist, to provide honest answers to questions girls have about the issues, and to refuse to print anything that could be interpreted as hate speech — which included opinions that sexual and gender minorities weren’t entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals or that there was something inherently ‘wrong’ with them.

As you might expect, we get a lot of flak for our editorial policy regarding sexual and gender orientation. Most of the protestations come from adults who feel homosexuality is immoral, and as such, shouldn’t be discussed in a publication for youth.

At New Moon, we don’t make decisions that might cost us readers lightly. But when people called to complain against our editorial policies regarding sexual and gender orientation, I told them that GLBTQ  youth are  2 – 3 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers, and that 1 in 5 GLBTQ youth have attempted suicide.  As an organization that cares about girls, we’re deeply concerned about the safety of girls who identify as a sexual or gender minority. And we believe that the first step in changing these troubling statistics is for these kids to start hearing supportive voices. We can’t control what girls hear at school, home, or in their religious communities, but we can strive to make New Moon a safe place for all girls. And providing that safe place is more important than selling subscriptions.

One of my closest friends was raised by lesbian mothers, so she’s dealt with homophobia long before she came out herself. When I explained New Moon’s editorial policy to her — and what we tell people who complain about it — she said, “Wow. What a great way to handle it. It’s hard to argue with kids dying.”

Some people may think this is a sensationalized response — to which I answer, I wish it were sensationalism. But these statistics are real. Homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are real. The pain these communities feel is real. The loss of GLBTQ youth before they reach adulthood is real.

I understand where religious condemnation of homosexuality comes from; I’ve read the Bible, I’ve heard the passages interpreted numerous ways and I know it’s not a simple issue. I also truly believe that many people do think they’re doing a loving thing by encouraging people with same-sex attractions to bury those attractions or to seek to change them. But regardless of how good the motive is, I can guarantee you that to a sexual or gender minority, this does not feel like love. It feels like rejection, not just of what they may or may not do, but of who they are. When you believe even your faith community is rejecting you, well, it’s hard to know where to go from there, isn’t it?

I don’t have a direct line to God. Although I don’t think I am, I can acknowledge that I could be wrong.  But I believe GLBTQ individuals do a lot more good being in this world than out of it. If I’m wrong, that’s a risk I’m willing to take to keep God’s children from leaving this world prematurely, and to love in the way I believe God made me to love. 

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About Lacey Louwagie

I'm a feminist, a writer, an editor, and a seeker. I co-edited "Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics" (ACTA 2012) and authored "Where I First Met God" in "Unruly Catholic Women Writers II" (SUNY Press 2013). You can learn more about me at www.laceylouwagie.com.

19 thoughts on “‘It’s hard to argue with kids dying.’

  1. I find it sad that some — probably most — who would condemn the child struggling with issues of sexual identity believe they’re doing it for the good of the child, attempting to steer her back on the “straight and narrow” (pun not intended, but golly doesn’t it fit nicely…) when in fact all they accomplish is to drive a soul in need further away from a relationship with God.

  2. Lacey, I just want you to know that this only makes me MORE pleased with the years of New Moon subscriptions I bought for my younger sister!

    This is just a fabulous post. The first time I saw experienced homophobia (and when I knew I would always be an ally) was in a Catholic youth group setting. The rejection and silencing of a friend of mine was very real. And it was very hard for him, and those of us who in a sense were left behind, trying to understand why a community that purported to value the sanctity of each life so easily cast one out. And it was that experience that led me out of the church for a few years.

    So I’m with you – we need to stand by our GLBT youth and create safe spaces for them, as the beloved children of God they are!

  3. My undergraduate advisor was not Catholic but very active in research for and about sexual and gender minorities. Having grown up in a Mormon family in Utah (though no longer practicing), she was confused by the contradictory information she heard and read about on the Catholic stance on homosexuality and what was going on at this particular Catholic college. When some students asked her to serve as their club advisor for a gay-straight alliance/partnership they were trying to form, that hit with unbelievably harsh condemnation from the administration, she finally decided to have a chat with the Director of Campus Ministry to get her information straight. She was nearly gitty with all of the great information he had for her about Dignity and his work in the gay community of San Francisco during the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, and some of the very good statements put out by the USCCB on this topic (most specifically the one for parents of GLBTQQIP children). As she was leaving, ready to help the students prepare a counter-case for their club, he told her straight out, that she couldn’t use his information (and certainly not his personal witness) on campus to start a club. It wouldn’t be good for publicity or donations! Oh the irony and hypocrisy!

    The editorial policy of New Moon is right on target for what I think God calls of us: love, compassion and tolerance. Your post and personal witness are greatly appreciated! Thank-you.

  4. Conviction! I love it! What a stance to make to say we care more about what we are doing and doing it well than we do about subscriptions. May that message be spread far and wide.

    There is a community theater here in Chicago whose performances are all geared towards GLTBQQIP interests. They have an off shoot program for teens to give them an outlet for expression, safe place for conversation, and an avenue for affirming their goodness. I’m a big fan.

    My heart breaks for kids, adults, whomever who, for whatever reason, are suffering so much that they contemplate suicide. For many, its not that they want to die, they just want their pain to end and see death as the only way to do that. Males are more likely to die on their first attempt because they will often use more violent means than females. Its extremely complicated, and no place for judgement, only compassion (I think we have an echo on this blog!) and it can be very scary to be on the other end of suicidal ideation. We’ve got to reach out for support too.

  5. Josh: You hit on a really important point about driving souls away from God in an attempt to “help” them. I know a lot of GLBTQ folks who have eschewed Catholicism or Christianity in general because they’re just tired of being told they’re “sinners.” I can’t blame them for wanting to part company; I just hope they’re able to find a connection with God in spite of the homophobia in organized religion.

    Jjhatch: I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your friend in youth group. He was lucky to have you stand beside him. In the youth groups I belonged to as an adolescent, issues about sexual / gender orientation were completely ignored. I had to page through the Catechism to see whether the Church had anything to say at all about homosexuality. In some ways, the silence might have been good because I never got indoctrinated into hateful ideologies, but sometimes invisibility can feel like the cruelest punishment. It’s sad to me that I’ve come to choose priests and parishes that “keep quiet” about the GLBTQ population rather than openly condemning them; how nice it would be to choose priests and parishes based on affirmation instead of silence!

    But as Becky points out, many priests, bishops, campus ministers, and others involved with the Church in an official capacity are scared to speak up about the issue for fear of losing their jobs or the respect of their parishioners (or their money). It’s really a shame that the campus minister working with your adviser wouldn’t allow himself to be quoted or officially aligned with the cause of the GLBTQQIP students on campus; and it’s more shameful that he couldn’t do so because of the administration’s fear of rocking the boat (and having a few dollars fall out of it!) I also attended a Catholic University, one which DID have an active GLBTQ population and affirmation from most of the staff and clergy. Once in a while there’d be a homophobic letter in the campus newspaper (along the lines of, “It’s scary to have lesbians in the women’s dorms!”), but the editorial page was more often filled with heated debates about whether or not condoms should be available on campus. :p

  6. Ugh! Lacey, I hate the type of reasoning you saw in your school paper. It seems to point to the misconceptions people have of ‘the other’, the one that is different than them that they are trying to figure out. And because we are so similar except for the sexual activity, that’s what is zoomed in on and blown out of proportion.

    For example, in the school paper scenario of a lesbian sharing a bathroom with other women, there are two (at least) flawed assumptions-one is that a lesbian is unequivically attracted to every single female in the whole world. Do people think a lesbian is going to be into a heterosexual girl? It’s possible, but normally I’m interested in people who could be interested in me in return. And two-that lesbians are oversexual and think about having sex and finding a partner even when they’re brushing their teeth or going to the bathroom. We all put our pants on one leg at a time.

  7. Lauren, you remind me of a theory I’d come up with once about homophobia among men … I’ve more or less concluded that heterosexual men are simply afraid that there are men out there looking at us the way we tend to look at women.

  8. In college, I had the pleasure and privilege of serving as one of the executive officers in the first year of our GSA’s existence as an official organization on campus. The bishop of Omaha, not a man known for being progressive, gave the okay for a support organization at the school. I spent two years on the executive board and it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. My second year on the board, we had ended up in a bit a trouble for something that wasn’t our fault (someone else had associated our name with an event) and I was one of the people responsible for working with the representatives of the Board of Directors to ensure the future of the organization. Hearing people’s stories at meetings is something I’ll never forget.

    When I worked at a high school, I was one of the faculty advisors for the GSA and I really saw first-hand what kind of pain and suffering was inflicted upon students as they walked down the halls. One student I was particularly close to had a terrible high school experience, but his senior year, he was part of a group of students who banded together to help stop the hate speech in the halls. The day we kicked off the campaign was also our Day of Silence. He and his co-chair of the project stood in front of the entire school and invited the participants of the Day of Silence to stand. When we had expected maybe 30 people, we had over 200, including a number of faculty and staff who had re-arranged lesson plans in order to participate. It was a moment I will never forget, especially the look in his eyes as he stood there and challenged his classmates to be better.

    What a blessing that New Moon is willing to stand with young women when others are not so willing. Thanks for sharing this. It’s a much-needed piece of hope!

  9. I’m currently visiting my parents in St. Paul, MN, and I just heard a report on the local news about St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis (they always have a big contingent at the CTA conference). I found this corresponding article in the Minneapolis paper: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/faith/20740299.html?location_refer=Most%20Emailed:Member%20Center. The new Archbishop has had it in for the GLBTQQIP Catholic community since he was appointed last spring (even before Archbishop Flynn had retired!), and now he has banned a prayer service that would have occurred tonight for GLBTQQIP people and their families. It has been going on for years on the eve of the Twin Cities’ Pride week.

    In addition, Archbishop Nienstedt has also ordered the parish to stop having the presider share the pulpit a their Sunday Masses with laity who speak about all sorts of issues. I’ve been to St. Joan’s only once (I didn’t hear about it until I was in college, I’ve never really lived here since), but it was beyond packed-barely standing room-and it was one of the most alive and welcoming liturgies I have ever experienced in the Twin Cities. From the article, it appears that the parish renamed the prayer service tonight a “peace vigil,” but parishioners also gathered outside of the church building in order to protest the bishop’s ruling–that’s what made it on the news.

  10. I have similar frustrations to you, Lauren, about literal homophobia — that is, outright fear of people with same-sex attractions. To me, the fear that the lesbian or bisexual woman you know is just waiting for that moment when you change your clothes is so ridiculously ego-centric. Because, of course, her sexual orientation is *all* about you. And even if she does find you attractive, last I checked, being found attractive is considered a compliment.

    Josh, what an insight about homophobia among men! My personal theory was that most homophobes were just closet-cases, but what you say makes a lot of sense, too. Either way, the homophobia has a lot more to do with the person experiencing the fear / hatred than with the person who has same-sex attractions.

  11. Ha, comments keep showing up while I’m writing a comment — I feel a little silly “speaking” two times in a row, but there’s so much to respond to!

    Becky C: I loved hearing the story about the kid you worked with who headed up a campaign to stop hate speech. I’m always amazed at stories of such bravery. I was bullied when I was in jr. high myself, so I know how demoralizing it is; I’m truly amazed at those who find the courage to confront it as it’s happening. And I was so glad to hear about the hundreds of people who supported the Day of Silence. What a heartening story.

    Becky S: Thanks for passing on the article from the Star Tribune. I’ve attended service a few times at St. Joan of Arc — it always chokes me up (but I’ve already talked about how emotional I get at inclusive services). I’m not surprised that Bishop Neidstedt attempted to shut down the service; he was bishop of my home parish before he ascended to the archdiocese and was more-or-less sent in to “clean up” after our previous bishop, the Reverend Raymond Lucker (who was known for his progressive opinions, may he rest in peace). The diocese that Neidstedt left was rather docile, but I think he has his work cut out for him in the twin cities — may folks continue to stand up to him and hold him accountable!

  12. Josh, I too, love your theory! When I think about how I’ve felt sometimes around some men, I can surely imagine they’d be uncomfortable with someone looking at them the same way. Or closet cases, certainly. Actually, I wonder too if some males are closet bisexuals and so that is what confuses them maybe-they know they are attracted to women no doubt but…

    And Lacey, you are so right! I was trying to articulate something about the ego-centricness you talked about. All about you. So true. Sometimes in other contexts people think others are looking at them and its from a place of self consciousness, not ego. But the same solution applies-realizing that others think about you very little. For the self conscious, it brings relief to think that people aren’t looking at you as much as you think. (oh, and of course guilt for being so “egotistical” to think people noticed them so much) For the egomaniacs, well, maybe its a let down.

  13. CFX, your analogy was out of line, so I had to remove your comment. Please refer to our commenting guidelines.

  14. Lauren: I think you’re right about homophobia and closeted bisexuality; coming out as, or claiming, bisexuality can be a very confusing process in a world that wants to divide everything into dualities. Along those lines, I read in a bisexual community online the theory that “conversion therapy” really only proves the existence of bisexuality. Probably not the premise converters are hoping to prove . . .

    cfxdrummer: I understood what you were getting at with your removed comment, that, essentially, the Church is Bishop Niedstedt’s “boss” and so he has to enforce its doctrines. I think that controversial teachings do really draw out the true beliefs of the clergy (who have their own opinions within and about the Church); I don’t believe that the former bishop didn’t know about the pride service at St. Joan’s, but that he was able to look the other way because perhaps he isn’t in alignment with the Church’s teachings. I think Bishop Niedstedt has proven on many occasions that he’s in agreement with the official Church stance. The point is, I think it’s more complicated than it looks; all priests have some obligation to uphold the Church’s teachings, but which teachings they latch onto does reveal a lot about their personal colors. And in my opinion, the Neidstedt has revealed a pretty wide streak of intolerance.

    As for what was out of line: I think it was the comparison of homosexuality to incest or pedophilia, which ARE inappropriate analogies. This is one of the reasons that homosexuality doesn’t really fit in the “slippery slope” argument, because what we’re really talking about is consent. Homosexual activity between consenting adults is NOTHING akin to sexual activity between an adult and child, in which the adult takes advantage of the child’s inability to give true consent.

  15. And what of incest? The reason I compared them was because all of them share the common thread of being sexual practices that the Church condemns, ultimately making the point that a parish can never hold a celebration of something that is sinful. And you’re right, the previous bishop probably did have some sympathy for the celebrations at St. Joan’s — however, whether it’s him or Niedstedt we’re talking about, priests have a duty to uphold the teaching of the Church whether they agree with every particular facet of it or not — that comes with the territory of being a priest.

  16. Homosexuality, in and of itself, is not condemned by the Catholic Church, and that’s based on the Catechism.–Of sexual practices you could have mentioned premarital sex as opposed to a paraphilia. Your analogy was inappropriate and unfeeling; avoid it in the future.

  17. I just found your blog, Lacey Louwagie, and I really enjoy what I’ve read so far.

    I agree that it’s hard to argue with kids dying, and I hope I’m not going too far off topic. But I can point out one definite correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia–It’s as difficult in modern day America to have a rational discussion about pedophilia as it was to rationally discuss homosexuality a few decades ago.

    I am not an expert on either. But I have worked with literally hundreds of youth from preschoolers to high schoolers. I personally know a gentle 17-year-old who was arrested for having consensual sexual relations with a 14-year-old. When the older partner was age 16, it was legal in Texas; but that 17th birthday made a steady a sexual predator. By the law of that state, the 14-year-old was automatically assumed to be sexually-naive and an innocent victim. The 17-year-old was threatened with lifetime registration as a sex offender.

    I also personally know a 14-year-old who was arrested for playing consensual sexual games with a person under the age of 12. By the law of the state of Texas, the 14-year-old was automatically assumed to be sexually-knowledgeable and predatory. That 14-year-old was threatened with lifetime registration as a sex offender.

    Can a 14-year-old be automatically the naive, helpless victim in one case, and automatically the knowing predator in the other? Yes, there can be a power component in being the older partner. But there can also be a component in being stronger, higher status, richer, more aggressive, etc. In almost every relationship between two people, one of them has a greater level of personal power.

    Many years ago, a friend of mine was sexually seduced by a 10-year-old when age 12. My sheltered, protected friend didn’t even know what to call what they did until over the age of 18. But in some states in today’s world, that two years difference would mean the actually naive seducee was automatically the seducer. In much of America, a 12-year-old can be arrested and prosecuted. In today’s world, my friend could have been arrested, sentenced and locked up for being seduced.

    The 17-year-old Genarlow Wilson was convicted and sentenced to serve an automatic 10 years in prison by the state of Georgia for having consensual relations with a 15-year-old girlfriend that didn’t even involve going “all the way.” Wilson was recently released from prison after three years on an appeal that barely passed.

    “Pedophiles” of America’s 2000s are like “Communists” of America’s 1950s. They’re out there; they’re everywhere; they’re going to get you or your children; they might even live next door. You’d better go after anyone who even looks like they might be one, or associate with one, or show any concern about one.

    Again, I agree that it’s hard to argue with kids dying. But a teenager in America can talk to a counselor about concerns over sexual attraction to the same sex. But if one of those teenagers tells a counselor about being sexually attracted to much younger children, that counselor is obligated by law to report that teen to law enforcement. How many people lived miserable lives or even died at their own hands because the law won’t let them get help?

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