Tolerating Intolerance

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People often ask me why I’m so outspoken about religion.  Contrary to what many think, I don’t care if someone believes the world is 6,000 years old, that snakes talk, or that every species of animal could live on a boat for a year.  What I do care about is intolerance and oppression, and the role that religion plays in driving this mentality.  Earlier this week a teenage transgender girl (and I will refer to her as female) named Leelah Alcorn stepped in front of a tractor trailer and killed herself.  Her suicide note explained that the primary reason for doing so was the fact that her devoutly Christian parents would not accept her for who she was.  This is further supported by a statement from her mother after her death stating that they loved their “son”, but could not “support him religiously.”

This child identified as female starting at 4 years old.  Throughout this time, her parents took her to therapists that were reported to be Christian who focused on conversion to a male identity.  For over ten years this child was told she was mentally ill for the sexual identity she had by both her parents and the professionals that were supposed to help her.  According to the CDC, LGBT teens are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.  The same source says bullying and lack of family acceptance is one of the the leading contributors.  Imagine being bullied at school, and then coming home to family who doesn’t accept you either… for over a decade.  How can anyone overcome that kind of adversity?  Adolescents have a hard enough time as it is when they have everything going for them.

Religion played a key role in this teen’s death.  Put the LGBT factor aside for a moment.  I personally know people who are estranged from their parents because they were excommunicated from their church.  This is particularly prominent with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Parents literally sever their relationship with their own child because a belief system was more important.  These same people say that being gay is unnatural.  What could be more unnatural than choosing an imaginary friend over the life you brought into the world?  It is beyond ludicrous, it is delusional.

This is the battle the secular community needs to pick.  Intolerance is the primary issue with religion, and it is the only one we should care about.  Who gives a shit if someone believes Jonah lived in a whale for three days.  Families should feel shame for not accepting their child, not for who their child is.  Society chooses where that shame comes from and we apparently still have a long way to go.  I say that because Leelah’s mother was comfortable making a public statement shortly after her death that they couldn’t accept transgenderism “religiously.”  There was no regret implied.  Even in a posthumous statement, her own mother still had to let everyone in the public know her child was wrong for her sexual identity.  It isn’t surprising that Leelah’s last words to her parents in her suicide post were “fuck you.”

The media will cover this as an LGBT issue, but it is so much more.  In a prior post I wrote that without religion there would be no ISIS.  While I stand by that statement, I could alter it to say without intolerance there would be no ISIS.  The question we have to ask ourselves is can you have the former without the latter?  I’m not so sure.  What I do know is that religion has survived thousands of years while the last 150 has abolished slavery and provided equality for women.  We’ve solved intolerance before, and we will continue to drive it out.  It starts with recognizing it for what it is, and creating a sense of shame for those who practice it.  Leelah’s final wish was that we “fix society.”  She should have stuck around to see it happen.

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