From Bullying of LGBT Youth in U.S. Schools to Persecution of Homosexuals in Uganda: An Open Letter to a Catholic Writer

Uganda's President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

The following is an open letter to Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum (http://cornerstone-forum.org/) and is adapted from comments I submitted following his post of 12/4/09 titled, “Safe Schools Indeed.”

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While investigating GLSEN’s Web site, I ran across a link to a 2004 article in Momentum, a Catholic publication. The article, published in two parts, is by a Catholic priest (Robert Mattingly, SJ), and its title is, “Gay adolescents in Catholic Schools: Avoiding the Topic Won’t Make It Go Away.” 

Mattingly writes the following:

The litany of risks for gay teens is overwhelming. The suicide rate is five times higher for gay adolescents; gay suicide attempts are much more lethal; 40 percent of homeless teens are gay; gay teens are three times as likely to engage in substance abuse; and 60 percent of new HIV cases occur among 15-to-24-year-olds. Many gay adolescents feel completely isolated and alone. One described the situation as “living in a box.” Self-destructive behaviors are not intrinsic to being homosexual, but they flow from the external negative reaction to it, which then becomes internalized.

To the extent that isolation and hateful messages decrease, there is movement from self-destruction to self-integration. The failure of a school to help its homosexual students feel loved and included is not simply doing nothing. Rather, a lack of action contributes to isolation, which leads to further self-deprecation.

Mattingly offers a fleeting glimpse into the lives of gay teens who face prejudice, taunts, and bullying while at school. Many of these youth then face misunderstanding, abuse, and moral condemnation when they return to their families and churches. The rates of depression, suicide, homelessness, and substance abuse among these youth are truly scandalous and heart-breaking. We should all have to stop what we are doing for a few hours and listen to some of the stories, but unfortunately most of them will be ignored and forgotten.

Last month, you posted a short video that encouraged Christians to be more loving toward gays and lesbians (“A Nice Reminder,” 11/13/09). I remarked that the video contained no call for action—action to end discrimination and stigmatization and to support programs that address the bullying problems faced by gay youth in the schools. I felt that the sentiments expressed in the video were nothing more than empty piety.

Later in the month you posted a video about the UN Human Rights Council’s selective condemnation of human rights violations (“What has become of UN Human Rights?” 11/29/09). I pointed to egregious human rights violations now occurring in the African nation of Uganda and asked for your support in condemning them. Under current law, homosexuality in Uganda is punishable by life imprisonment, and they are now considering legislation that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality in some circumstances and would also require a seven-year prison term for anyone—even a foreigner residing in Uganda—who publicly defends a gay or lesbian person.

As I said, I asked for your support in condemning these violations. There was no response from you.

Recently, evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren was asked whether he supported or opposed this legislation. (Warren has been a powerful figure in distributing AIDS funding in Uganda and is a longtime ally of Martin Ssempe, who authored the bill.) His response, in a Meet the Press interview was, “I never take sides.” This is, of course, a lie. But more important, it is classic avoidance of the same sort that motivated the Catholic Church’s neutrality in Rwanda and Nazi Germany.

Uganda has a huge Catholic population—40% of about 32 million people—and the Church has so far been silent on this issue. Why? It would seem like a no-brainer, wouldn’t it? The human rights violations are plain to see, and both the death penalty and the brutal and unjust treatment of homosexuals are against Catholic teaching. (The Catechism states that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”)

Because Uganda’s Catholics now have such a high profile, their silence—and that of the Church—will be become increasingly unsustainable.

So, on these two topics—school bullying of GLBT youth and criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda—what position are you taking?

In the case of school bullying, do you have any proposals or support any existing programs that address this problem?

And can you join me in urging the Catholic Church to issue an unequivocal condemnation of human rights violations against homosexuals in Uganda?

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