When I was a kid, I was never less than 50 pounds overweight. At age 15 I topped out at 314 pounds. I remember doing trial runs in gym class. My mile time was 17 minutes. At the end of my freshman year, it had inched up to a 22-minute mile. Yet through it all, I can't remember a time when my peers ever made fun of me for being overweight. I never came home in tears because so-and-so had said this or that. Yes, I was uncomfortable in my body, but what teenage girl isn't? Despite my weight, my social world thrived. By the time I finished high school, I was president of my senior class and Head Resident Advisor in our private Christian academy. I was popular, I was a public figure, and I saw bright, shiny stars in my future.
It wasn't until my last year of college that I experienced the behind-the-back snickering and teasing that so many kids go through on a daily bases. I went to a conservative Christian university, and when one of my roommates found out that I was a closeted lesbian, she told as many people in our friendship circle as she could. I was working as a singer at a youth conference where 30,000 teens were in attendance. The rumor spread. Confronted with their snickers and ridicule, the shame I felt was enough to send me home two days later. I didn't want to sing, I didn't want to write music, and I didn't want to look for a job after graduating. If my 15-year-old self had seen me then, she would have gawked in disbelief. There were no shining stars in my future.
What gets me is that it was my church that finally delivered the fatal blow to my self-esteem. Up until that point, I'd believed that I was headed for greatness, but they had revealed in me a thing that was seemingly so dirty, so disgusting that my other talents paled in comparison to the supposed vileness of being a practicing homosexual. And for this they bullied me right out of the church.
These days, we are all up in arms about bullying, and rightfully so. Sadly, the statistics are weighted against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. GLSEN's 2011 study found that 63 percent of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, and 81 percent are verbally harassed. The same study found that 56 percent of LGBTQ students claim that teachers and staff are the ones using hurtful slurs about gender identity and sexual orientation. Take it from me: It's hard to see a future for yourself when you are told that God hates gays. In fact, a study by Proctor and Groze found that 40 percent of LGBTQ youth will have attempted suicide by the age of 21.
Today, I am more than comfortable with my orientation and my faith. I'll note that my mile time hovers around 9 and a half minutes, but what continues to give me grief are the bullying tactics that devout Christian denominations use to denounce LGBTQ people. Yes, we are challenging the bullying stigma in schools, but what are we going to do about churches? What are we going to do about religious spaces where discrimination is openly embraced? GLSEN cited inclusive curricula as an answer to ending targeted bullying of LGBTQ people in schools. I believe that the need for inclusive curricula extends far beyond the walls of the classroom to the workforce and religious spaces, because somewhere out there, a 15-year-old girl is questioning whether or not she sees stars in her future. I'll be a monkey's uncle if I'm going to leave it up to a church to tell her that her sky is filled with darkness because of her sexual orientation.