Our choice of words mat­ter with LGBT com­mu­nity

The News-Times - - NEWSBITES - MERCY QUAYE Mercy Quaye is a so­cial change com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant and a New Haven na­tive. Her col­umn ap­pears Mon­days in Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia daily newspapers. Con­tact her at @Mer­cy_WriteNow and Sub­tex­[email protected]

We have to change the way we talk about sui­cide and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in the black com­mu­nity. The death of 15-yearold Nigel Shelby begs us to do so.

Shelby suf­fered a sui­cide on April 18 af­ter fac­ing re­lent­less ho­mo­pho­bic bul­ly­ing at his Florida high school. Did you see what I said there? Not “com­mit,” not “died by” — “suf­fered.”

“Suf­fered” of­fers com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing for the fam­ily and sees the suf­ferer as a vic­tim. “Died by” is so neu­tral a phrase that it leads to nor­mal­iza­tion and lets us ab­di­cate our re­spon­si­bil­ity to un­der­stand the root cause. And “com­mit” is a vi­o­lent holdover from an age of re­li­gious zeal­ous­ness, used to shame and con­vince be­liev­ers that sui­cide — pre­sum­ably caused by the per­son’s demons (read de­pres­sion) — is a sin.

We can do bet­ter than this.

Peo­ple suf­fer sui­cides for many rea­sons, all of which may be at­trib­ut­able to de­pres­sion. Nigel’s likely de­pres­sion was trig­gered by a broad in­abil­ity, on the part of his com­mu­nity, to ac­cept two ba­sic things: 1) Sex­u­al­ity is a spec­trum that yes, even you, are on and 2) Peo­ple can know where they fall on that spec­trum as early as you knew you didn’t like broccoli. Peo­ple don’t choose their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. If you dis­agree, please send the date on which you chose yours.

With­out ac­cept­ing these two sci­en­tif­i­cally sup­ported facts of life, we’re ren­der­ing our­selves in­ca­pable of of­fer­ing any man­ner of support to young peo­ple who iden­tify as gay and face so­ci­etal back­lash as a re­sult.

I won’t par­tic­i­pate in the strug­gle Olympics be­cause I sel­dom think the “who’s got it worse” con­ver­sa­tions are help­ful. But through my brown-eyed, dark-skinned lens, some of the most sadis­tic ho­mo­pho­bic rhetoric comes from the pul­pits of Pen­te­costal churches. That rhetoric gets passed through the tongues of ma­tri­archs and ends up baked into Thanks­giv­ing din­ners. It’s in­ter­nal­ized and cre­ates a mad­den­ing sense of dis­so­nance and, in some cases, a self-hate that metas­ta­sizes to other parts of life.

The sus­pi­cion of a child’s de­viant sex­u­al­ity be­comes the talk of the con­gre­ga­tion. It’s whis­pered at the usher an­niver­saries and the women’s day lun­cheons. It’s prac­ti­cally broad­casted in the church’s an­nounce­ments through names be­ing added to the sick and shut-in or prayer lists, and it’s not so sub­tly weaved into the Sun­day ser­mons — so sayeth the Lord.

By this point, if you’re a mem­ber of a Pen­te­costal or Bap­tist church, you’re ei­ther ready to stop read­ing or you’ve been snap­ping your fin­gers and yelling in agree­ment this whole time (I can’t hear you, so tweet me). One re­ac­tion means you’ve taken my words as an as­sault on the church. The other means you’ve seen the church’s in­sid­i­ous and un­for­giv­ing as­saults on ev­ery­one else.

Both re­ac­tions are fine. But here’s what’s not:

Hate crimes against the LGBT com­mu­nity have risen in re­cent years, with hate crimes in gen­eral spik­ing 17 per­cent since 2016, ac­cord­ing to a Novem­ber 2018 NBC News re­port. What’s more, sui­cide rates for black chil­dren un­der age 13 are roughly dou­ble that of white chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tion­wide Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal study.

What’s not fine is Kevin Hart mak­ing anti-gay jokes about break­ing a doll­house over his son’s head for play­ing with his daugh­ter’s toys.

What’s not fine is ‘City Girls’ rap­per Yung Miami’s anti-gay tweets about beat­ing her son should she see any­thing gay in him.

What’s not fine is the Rev. Franklin Gra­ham de­mand­ing that pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mayor Pete But­tigieg re­pent for be­ing gay.

What’s not fine is Gospel singer Kim Bur­rell mak­ing no apolo­gies for her anti-gay ser­mon say­ing that “the per­verted ho­mo­sex­ual spirit, and the spirit of delu­sion and con­fu­sion, it has de­ceived many men and women.”

All of that seems re­ally high level and low im­pact — un­til you con­sider Nigel Shelby.

Ev­ery word pieced to­gether to hu­morize abuse to the LBGTQ com­mu­nity even­tu­ally grad­u­ates to ac­tions forged to­gether to nor­mal­ize that abuse. And even if you never per­son­ally as­sault a mem­ber of the LBGTQ com­mu­nity your­self, your words are in­ter­nal­ized by young peo­ple like Nigel.

Sen­ti­ments to­ward the LBGTQ com­mu­nity have im­proved over the decades, sure. But bal­ance that against a kid find­ing more so­lace in tak­ing his life than liv­ing it, and it re­ally makes me won­der how we can bet­ter solve these prob­lems plagu­ing the youngest and most vul­ner­a­ble among us.

If it doesn’t make you think, you’re likely the prob­lem.

Al­berto E. Ro­driguez / Getty Im­ages for Dis­ney

Kevin Hart and his fam­ily at­tend the Los An­ge­les World Premiere of Mar­vel Stu­dios’ “Avengers: Endgame” at the Los An­ge­les Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on last week in Los An­ge­les. Hart came un­der fire for mak­ing anti-gay jokes about break­ing a doll­house over his son’s head for play­ing with his daugh­ter’s toys. Be­low, ‘City Girls’ rap­per Yung Miami who tweeted about beat­ing her son should she see any­thing gay in him.

Rich Fury / Getty Im­ages for Fash­ion Nova

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