Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joseph Ward III Headshot

Santorum Is Bad for LGBT Adults, Worse for LGBT Youth

Posted: Updated:

Over the last few weeks, the Republican race for president has been watched apathetically by many Americans, but Rick Santorum continues to shake things up with unexpected wins, courting "very conservative" Republican voters as his core strategy. While his rise may provide for interesting punditry across the media and rile up conservative Christians, it has also caused considerable anxiety and concern among moderate voters and many within the Christian community. That's because Santorum stakes his candidacy on an old ideological framework that stereotypically pits people of faith against their LGBT neighbors. This rhetoric is not only damaging to many families and children, but it grossly misrepresents America's religious community.

Public Religion Research Institute recently showed that majorities of religious groups in the U.S. are actually supportive of the LGBT community, including their right to marry. The faith-LGBT dynamic in our culture is shifting, and as the research institute's CEO, Robby Jones, notes, "assumptions about battle lines between secular proponents and religious foes no longer hold."

While there is still much work to be done, many of us within the Progressive Christian community see this reality every day. Christians across the country are coming out in support of LGBT people and working to reflect this within their church communities. On the national level, we recently watched the Presbyterian Church celebrate the first lesbian approved for ordination in the PCUSA's history, as a result of the church now allowing for the ordination of LGBT clergy. On the local level, hundreds of churches are declaring their welcome each year, including within the United Church of Christ, which celebrated its 1,000th open and affirming congregation this February.

As more Americans and religious people continue to openly engage with their LGBT friends, coworkers and neighbors, those who are thought to have historically been in opposition to equal rights can change their hearts and minds. If he weren't politically motivated, so could Rick Santorum.

He has repeatedly called LGBT rights a "threat" to our country, turning LGBT families, children and their allies into political footballs. If he or Mitt Romney were to be elected president of the United States today, Americans would watch the lives of millions of children and families be thrust into an even deeper discriminatory status quo. Historic gains around marriage equality and spousal benefits would be threatened. "Don't ask, don't tell" could once again become the law of our land. It's no secret that such policies and anti-gay rhetoric are destructive and harmful to our country -- especially our LGBT children.

Rhetoric that promotes an anti-gay culture has recently been elevated in the media as the cause of many LGBT youth suicides. That's because it fuels a dangerous culture war that tells kids they are "less than" their straight classmates. While many gay and transgender kids do find support and welcome within their communities, there are thousands of others who are painfully slapped into isolation.

The Associated Press recently put a face on many of these children: the gay teens forced to sleep in subway cars because their parents threw them out of the house; the transgender kids forced into "survival sex" on the streets of New York City; the bisexual girl who returned home from school to find that her disapproving father left the country without her. There are thousands of LGBT kids sleeping in parks and abandoned buildings and experiencing homelessness across the country. And so long as anti-gay messages and attitudes survive in our culture, many young people will continue to pay the price.

I often hear from many individuals within the Believe Out Loud community who tell us the Christian right should tone down the violent rhetoric and let LGBT people live in peace. They want their kids to grow up in a world free of discrimination where they can do anything their hearts desire. They want to worship and not be told their church is a "threat" for believing in God's unconditional welcome. Some of the individuals we encounter are also living examples of the change that is possible.

We recently came across a conservative evangelical Republican whose heart and mind was changed by the actions of her own children. "My journey toward full support has been a long and intensive one," she said. "Then I realized that I was tired of watching adults judge each other while my children could embrace the differences in their friends. After all, that is what being a Christian is all about."

We can learn a lot from our children. Or we can choose to hurt them. Elections are no excuse for promoting an ideology that destroys the lives of kids. Let's send a supportive message to young people this campaign year and beyond: America's religious communities are with you.

This article was originally published in The Advocate.