It is hard to believe that in this day and age young Americans -- seven in the last couple of months alone -- have taken their lives because of internalized conflicts about being gay, lesbian, bi or trans. We know there are others who have not made the news and that countless more of all ages are living in pain or in denial, hiding or attempting to suppress their true natures.
Bullying in the schools is receiving wide media attention now, and it is an issue that affects all, not just LGBT kids. Underlying the recent rash of gay-related, bullying-induced suicides, however, is a much more prevalent and pernicious factor: homophobia. Why is it that teachers and administrators who would otherwise discipline students for using the "n-word" look the other way and in some cases participate themselves in using the "f-word?" What can we expect as a society when the word "gay" is used in schools as a pejorative to describe all things stupid, unacceptable and worthy of rejection?
Though much progress has taken place since the publication of Coming Out Spiritually 11 years ago, its message still resonates. The roots of homophobia are fed by religion, and lie in misogyny. It remains deeply tragic that, confusing religion and spirituality, many LGBT people shun their innate spiritual connection when much evidence indicates we have been not only spiritually inclined, but often respected for the roles of spiritual service and leadership we have fulfilled throughout history.
Yet again, gay people are being scapegoated by regressive forces for the purpose of fear-based fund-raising and for energizing support for elections. In recent days, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino stated that he does not want his children to be "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option -- it isn't." Senator Jim DeMint repeated earlier remarks that gay people and unmarried sexually active women should not be allowed to teach in the classroom.
At the same time, news broke out about a shocking gay hate crime in Brooklyn and in Serbia demonstrators rioted in reaction to that country's first gay pride march with chants of "Kill, kill, kill the gays."
Maybe it isn't so hard after all to believe that gay youth would want no part of a world in which seven countries still penalize homosexuality with death. In America, the land of opportunity that has (sometimes recalcitrantly) welcomed the world's "poor and huddled masses," gay people do not yet enjoy the benefits of full citizenship and anti-gay discrimination is still legal.
These are scary times; obsolete and unsustainable social and economic systems are imploding in front of our eyes. We are beginning to feel the effects of the environmental mess we have created. Sad and disillusioned, we are realizing that we cannot depend on our establishment political and religious leaders. The impulse to escape is understandable. Yet, one can't help but wonder, might one of these kids have been the next Michelangelo, Tchaikovsky or Rachel Carson, mother of the environmental movement?
It is time to get involved, to do something. We cannot afford for forward-thinking people to sit back, feeling hopeless, self-anesthetizing on the couch. As they say, it is darkest before dawn. Given polling data on the beliefs of younger generations, the outcome of the cultural wars is inevitable. And hopefully, out of the ashes of imploding systems, like the phoenix we will rise again, in new and sustainable forms. It is time to act, to weave connections with like-minded others. Otherwise we risk the pendulum swinging back too far and the return to policies that in many ways helped create the situations in which we find ourselves.
We are all needed now -- present, aware, actively participating. It is time to step up as teachers, healers, activists and leaders, into lives of purpose and service. To paraphrase Einstein, a problem cannot be solved from the same level of consciousness in which it was created. Ultimately, the best thing we can do is to continue waking up to our highest human potential and supporting others to do the same. Therein lies our hope.