Breaking the silence

GLSEN Day of Silence. File photo.

by Greg White
Staff Writer

Last month, schools across the country observed the National Day of Silence, a day when students remain speechless in recognition of the members of the LGBTQ community who feel forced to hide the truth of their identity. This has caused me to pause and reflect on my own years of compelled silence.

I spent more years than I care to remember suffering quietly and hating myself. I projected a false self to the world, holding friends and family at arm’s length. I cut myself with razor blades and soon began to resent the God that I’d loved so dearly. It wasn’t until I finally found the strength to open up, first to a counselor, and then to trusted friends and family, that my heart began to heal.

I soon realized that my greatest tools for change were my voice and my truth. To remain silent in the face of the ignorance that has led to so much pain and death in the LGBT community became unbearable. By remaining silent, I found myself complicit with a worldview that discourages honesty and integrity. And as a person of faith, I think that the truth matters, even when or perhaps especially when it is confusing or inconvenient.

Societal pressures such as shame, fear, and intimidation have been used to keep queer people closeted because issues of gender and sexuality are difficult ones to approach, especially when they seem to conflict with one’s deeply held religious beliefs. But to deny their existence, to directly or indirectly discourage others from being open about who they are can only have a negative impact. 

Over the last few years, the news has been littered with stories of LGBTQ kids committing suicide, unable to withstand the personal hell their lives had become due to the cruelty, silence and indifference they’d experienced at the hands of others. And the negative impact isn’t isolated only to the LGBTQ community. Churches, schools, and societies have robbed themselves of the chance to know these amazing individuals. Creative, vibrant, loving people who could have had a powerful impact on the lives they would have touched.

When we relinquish our voices and capitulate to the pressures of stigma and fear, we allow ignorance to persist. We allow often well-meaning people to continue to wound their queer friends and family. If we don’t speak up, the lies and misinformation will endure.

For example, I’ve heard the catchphrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin” uttered by spiritual leaders and laity alike, thinking somehow that if they say it enough, that love will become a reality. But any queer person on the receiving end of that line can tell you that it rings hollow. You can’t simply carve a person into pieces and decide which parts to love without it becoming conditional love, which is a cheap substitute for the real thing. 

Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s within the realm of human capacity to be able to project both love and hatred towards a person’s identity simultaneously. I know because I tried, and discovered that I could find no love for myself as long as I hated that part of me. If we are to truly change these patterns of self-hatred and fear, we must start by breaking down the walls of silence that keep people isolated.

Speak your truth boldly. Your story has the power to change lives.

My challenge to the broader straight community is to stand up beside your LGBTQ friends with open hearts and minds. When they break their silence, really listen. Come alongside them with acceptance and love, willing to learn and grow with them.

I don’t demand that everyone come to believe what I believe, but ask that you would help to create an atmosphere that encourages openness and support for the LGBTQ community, free from the conditional love and condemnation that we’ve seen so much of. Always be careful how you speak, because there may be someone in your midst who is weighing your words carefully, listening for signs of love or rejection.

For those of you in the LGBTQ community that are suffering in silence, to those who bear the scars of the past, for those who feel unlovable, forgotten by God, worn down, beat up or afraid, know that you are not alone. You aren’t forgotten. Don’t give up hope. Don’t give in to bitterness, and don’t give up on life. You will find your voice.

To each and every reader, know that I love you, and God does too.

The Gayly - 5/28/2016 @ 11:35 a.m. CDT