Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay Student Condemned By Church Dies By Suicide

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Asheville, North Carolina – William “Ben” Wood was 21 when he died on the floor of his dorm at UNC-Asheville.  Friends who found him said that he was drawn up in a fetal position on May 8, 2013, having slashed open his veins.  The loss of this sensitive, justice-seeking young gay man is a tragedy by most accounts–his friends and school mates say he was a fine student, but in recent months his grades and school performance had plunged.  The university junior couldn’t deal with the prospect of going back to his neighborhood in Asheville without being a student any longer, according to his mother’s account in the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog.  As a teen, he had been irreparably wounded by a Youth Leader at his home church as he prepared to go on a Mission trip with his friends from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

His mom, Julie Wood, recounts how the misguided Youth Leader singled out her son for being gay in front of his peers.  The leader said, You all know, we all know, that Ben is gay.  Who here is comfortable being around him?”  Demanding a response from each youth in the group, the Leader then said, “Do you understand that Ben is going to hell?”  Once again, the Youth Leader pressed each youth for an answer about Ben.  Crushed, exposed, and broken by the experience, Ben came home while his UMYF friends left on the bus for the Mission Trip.  His mother, who stalwartly contends that their home church is a loving and supportive place, says that this was the trigger experience she believes led to the suicide of her son a few agonizing years later.  Mrs. Wood writes:

“Ben was told that he was not worthy of going on the mission trip.  He had been shamed, humiliated, and betrayed.  He was told that he did not deserve to be a part of the group.  He was no representative of God. 

Out of our front window, I saw the goldish colored Caviler abruptly whip into our driveway.   Ben ran up the porch steps and stood in the doorway.  One look, and I knew, something horrible had happened.  The flushed sides of his cheeks quivered as did his lip.  His breathing was rapid and his eyes just about to spill over. 

The church bus was loaded with Ben’s friends to go on that mission trip while my betrayed and broken son, walked alone around Salem Lake.   He must have felt so very abandoned and isolated. 

While he never lost his compassion for others, I think that this was the day that he gave up on people and God.” 

Skeptics may argue that there is no clear correspondence between the suicide of a young gay man years after the shaming incident that took place in a church youth group in his teens.  Others will say that the church is basically a loving and supportive place, but is put in a hard situation by teachings like those of the United Methodist Church that send an ambiguous, essentially rejecting message about lesbians and gay people.  On the one hand, the social teachings of the church say that every person, including “homosexuals,” is of “sacred worth.”  On the other, the United Methodist Church stubbornly rejects homosexuality as “incompatible” with Christian teaching–denying ordination and marriage to LGBT people, and defrocking their clergy who carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, or who live openly as lesbian or gay people.

So, who stands guilty of Ben Wood’s death?  The Youth Minister who was applying what he believed the teachings of his church on homosexuality to be?  Ben’s so-called “friends” who one-by-one (under pressure from an adult leader, of course) abandoned Ben to shame and broken heartedness?  The theologians and clergy of the church, who cannot seem to reconcile the love of God on the one hand, and social heterosexism and homophobia on the other?  And what of Ben’s own responsibility to transcend the suffering of his youth–though this latter argument is little more than blaming a victim for his own demise?

Bens’ obituary says he was a genuine, complex, and worthwhile human being.  The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel  records that Ben “was a member of Sedge Garden United Methodist Church and was a Junior at UNC-Asheville. Ben had a kind and loving soul, with a great sense of humor. He was particularly compassionate to the needs and struggles of others more than himself and was a great journalist. To his younger sisters, Ben was a great big brother who shared lots of walks in the creeks and scavenger hunts with their stuffed animals.”  The obituary goes on to say that three clergy spoke at his funeral, and that his own maternal grandfather was a clergyman.  But Ben found so little hospitality and comfort from the churches around him and the clergy who served them that he could not and did not reach out to them in his darkest hours.  So, a sensitive, socially conscious young man, who happened to be gay and Christian, took his own life.

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, and a native North Carolinian himself, issues this opinion and prayer for other young LGBT persons: “The churches and their leadership have much to answer for in the deaths of young people like Ben Wood.  While we may not be able to point to a smoking gun linking the suicide of young persons condemned by church teachings to the culpability of the churches, there is no doubt that Christian heterosexism and homophobia contribute to the climate that denigrates LGBTQ people and creates undue suffering in their lives.  Indeed, there are progressive and welcoming churches and clergy, and for them we give thanks.  But they are too few, and the silence of church people about the prejudice condemning LGBTQ folk is a major contributing factor in the horror of spiritual violence against them.”

Dr. Sprinkle concludes:  “Let us be crystal clear about this: the heterosexism and homophobia Ben Wood experienced in his life is a Christian heresy–one the churches and clergy of every stripe must find the courage to repent of and repudiate.  And we must do everything we can to make amends to youth like Ben, and to their families.”

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Brite Divinity School, Bullycide, gay men, gay teens, GLSEN, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, United Methodist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Gays Most Often Targeted by Hate Crimes in America; SPLC Report Confirms Alarming News

Montgomery, Alabama – In a blockbuster announcement released today, the highly respected Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual Intelligence Report confirms that LGBTQ people are the most often targeted group for physical violence in American life.  As human rights groups scored advances for LGBTQ people in 2009, hard-core anti-gay groups have stepped up hate speech and are digging in to reverse the justice done to queer folk throughout the United States.  In its analysis of better than 14 years of data on hate crimes, the SPLC found that LGBTQ people were twice as likely to be the victims of violent attacks than Jews or African Americans, more than four times more likely than Muslims, and 14 times more likely than Latinos and Latinas.  As gay and lesbian people increase in acceptability among the populace at large, anti-gay groups are becoming far more extreme in opposition, and are employing alarming new tactics to undermine the queer community.  PR Newswire and US Newswire quote Mark Potok, editor of the Winter 2010 issue of the SPLC Intelligence Report: “As Americans become more accepting of homosexuals, the most extreme elements of the anti-gay movement are digging in their heels and continuing to defame gays and lesbians with falsehoods that grow more incendiary by the day.  The leaders of this movement may deny it, but it seems clear that their demonization of homosexuals plays a role in fomenting the violence, hatred and bullying we’re seeing.” Spurred on by a belief that homosexuality threatens “historic Christian faith,” hard-line religious groups and their secular right wing political allies are blaming the very people and organizations dedicated to protecting the LGBTQ community, especially LGBTQ teenagers who have been reported as committing “bullycide” from anti-gay harassment in recent weeks.  As Evelyn Schlatter writes in her Intelligence Report article on religiously-motivated anti-gay bias groups: “Even as some well-known anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family moderate their views, a hard core of smaller groups, most of them religiously motivated, have continued to pump out demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities. These groups’ influence reaches far beyond what their size would suggest, because the “facts” they disseminate about homosexuality are often amplified by certain politicians, other groups and even news organizations.” A particular target for the ire of the religious right has been GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which has been most outspoken against the bullying of LGBTQ youth in American schools through its “Safe Schools” campaign.  Eighteen anti-LGBTQ hate groups are profiled in the report, and ten popular myths about LGBTQ people are debunked, as well, including the irrational claim that homosexuals were somehow responsible for the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews during the Second World War.  The Report does contend that some religious leaders are speaking out against anti-gay violence, such as the Rev. Fritz Ritsch, Senior Minister of Fort Worth’s St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church:  “The recent epidemic of bullying-related teen suicides is a wake-up call to us moderate Christians,” Rev. Ritsch, wrote in October in the Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram. “To most unchurched Americans — meaning most Americans — the fruit of the church is bitter indeed. … [T]he bullying crisis has put a fine point on the need for moderates to challenge the theological bullies from our own bully pulpits. We cannot equivocate. Children are dying. We need to speak up. If not now, when?”  The summation of the SPLC report is grimly realistic.  For the near term, religiously-spawned anti-LGBTQ violence will continue, and perhaps increase.  The report concludes, in part: “Although leaders of the hard core of the religious right deny it, it seems clear that their demonizing propaganda plays a role in fomenting that violence.” It is up to all people of good conscience–especially people who identify with organized religion–to find the courage and spiritual resources to combat religiously and politically motivated violence against LGBTQ folk everywhere.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Anti-Semitism, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, gay men, gay teens, Gender Variant Youth, GLSEN, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Public Theology, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gays Most Often Targeted by Hate Crimes in America; SPLC Report Confirms Alarming News

   

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