By Rev. Susan Smith

What else can be said about the immorality of bullying LGBTQ youth that has not already been said before? Bullying anyone for any reason is blatantly wrong in a just society that declares all people have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Even so, some people feel justified in bullying LGBTQ youth because of religion-based bigotry or ignorance. People fear things they don’t understand. As a result, LGBTQ youth experience persecution in school, church, and the community from those who are afraid of people who are different.

I have personal experience with being different. When I was very young, I began using my left hand for eating and writing. I don’t ever remember choosing to use my left hand or deciding I was going to be left- handed. Being left-handed is natural. Some people are just born that way. It is estimated that 10% of humanity is left-handed and the history of this natural predisposition to be different from the majority has brought persecution and discrimination.  Left-handed people have been persecuted and labeled as evil. In fact, the word “sinister” comes from “left” or “left hand.” 

For many years “retraining” lefties was recommended and the methods were often tortuous such as tying a child’s left hand to immobilize it. In 1924 the British Medical Journal endorsed “retraining” of left-handers to avoid mental retardation. In 1946 Dr. Abram Blau, former New York City Board of Education’s psychiatrist warned that if left-handed children were not retrained, they were at risk of severe learning disabilities

I am fortunate that my parents accepted the fact that I was born different and did not try to “retrain” me into being a right-handed person. While left-handed people today in the United States are generally no longer bullied, in two-thirds of the world we still face discrimination and stigma for being born that way. People who understand that our predisposition to be left-handed was not a choice would say that bullying a left-handed person, especially a child,  is immoral.  

I also have some wisdom to offer about what it is like to be an LGBTQ youth because I was one. I am a “B” in the sexual orientation acronym. I am 65 years old today. Looking back, just like being left-handed, I don’t remember choosing to be attracted to boys and girls or deciding that I was going to be bisexual. My sexual orientation towards both genders was always there. It felt natural to me.

One of the greatest blessings of my life is that my parents were open-minded intellectual agnostics. I was not raised in church or given any religious instruction that would have caused me to hate myself for my bisexual orientation. I realized I was different but the biggest issue for me was trying to figure out what to do with my attraction towards other girls. All the girls in my class were attracted to boys so that part was easy. When I was attracted to a boy, I went through all the normal stuff girls go through when they get a crush on one of the boys in their life.  

I remember one girl named Bonnie that made my heart skip a beat. I loved being with her and we spent a lot of time together. I wanted to hold her hand. I wanted to kiss her. I had already held hands with boys and had a few kisses, so it seemed so natural to want to do the same with her. Finally, one day I told her how special she was and how I wished she would be my girlfriend. She was honest and told me she only liked boys. I was disappointed but I wasn’t offended. I knew I was different; I knew most kids were only attracted to the opposite gender. 

Without religion-based bigotry telling me my bisexual orientation was an abomination that needed to be suppressed and changed I was able to go to my parents in the early 1970s and tell them I liked girls too. My mother said, “Well dear if that makes you happy you should love who you want to.” When I told my dad he said, “So what?” Back then their reaction seemed very normal to me but today I realize how many LGBTQ youth are rejected by their parents and traumatized for being born different. I can’t imagine how painful that would have been to be bullied for something I didn’t choose.  

We know that sexual orientation is seated in the brain and can have a genetic component that is still not fully understood. The wisdom I offer about why LGBTQ youth should be respected and affirmed comes from my experience. I know I didn’t choose this. After my parents divorced in later years, I noticed my dad seemed to have a boyfriend, and they were a couple for a long time. Although we never actually discussed it, it was understood that they were together and had a deep love for one another. 

One night my dad and I were riding in the car talking about life  and he said, “You know Susie – you and I have a left-handed kind of love.” I knew what he was talking about. We were both bisexual. Neither of us were ashamed or filled with self-loathing because of ignorant people’s condemnation or religion-based bigotry.    

As the years went on, I fell in love with a man named Michael. We got married, had a son and a daughter, and began living the American dream. Through a very unusual turn of events, I became a Christian and began living a church centered existence. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to religion-based hatred towards LGBTQ people. I was shocked and repelled by the idea that LGBTQ people were sinners who had chosen a lifestyle of sin that was an abomination to God. Now that I was spiritually awakened in a relationship with God, I could not believe the lies I heard. Sexual orientation is not a choice. I was born bisexual. My father was born  bisexual. Other LGBTQ friends of mine were born that way. 

I fought back against the theology of hate towards LGBTQ people. I vowed that I would be a Christian that would bring reconciliation and healing to those with a minority sexual orientation because God created them that way and loved them just the way they are. Over time I learned more about my husband’s background that led me to believe he was bisexual too, and maybe that was why he didn’t have a problem with me being the “B” in LGBTQ. He was raised Southern Baptist and had vehemently rejected Christianity before we met. My walk with Christ was very upsetting to him, primarily because of religion-based bigotry towards LGBTQ people. 

As our children grew, we had many close friends who were LGBTQ. We raised our children together and we all loved each other like family. My children grew up knowing some kids have a mom and a dad, some kids have two moms, and some kids have two dads. It was very healthy and natural. In time we moved from a progressive urban center to a smaller more rural city to raise our children. I looked for a church where LGBTQ people would be accepted and affirmed and eventually become one of the pastors there. I learned that we had landed on an island of Christian love for LGBTQ people in a community that mostly hated them, and this broke my heart.     

When my beautiful daughter became a teenager, I saw that she was not interested in boys like other girls her age. Many boys asked her out. She went to prom with a boy like the other girls, but I knew her heart was not in it. One day she came to me and said, “Mom – I’m a lesbian” and I said, “I know sweetheart.” Her high school had a support group for LGBTQ youth that met after school. This was remarkable because the community itself was very conservative and not supportive of LGBTQ people. We encouraged her to go to the support group and learn about who she was becoming with other youth who were like her. 

When in the group one day some of her straight friends passed by and saw her in the meeting. The persecution that followed was brutal. She was bullied and harassed by her peers. She was taunted in the hallways and victimized by pranks and vicious rumors. I couldn’t believe this was happening to my child. Even though the church where she was raised was accepting and affirming towards LGBTQ people, she became anxious and severely depressed. Soon she was self-mutilating and refused to go to school. Our life was a nightmare. I wanted to let her quit school and get her GED later, but my husband was determined she would face her bullies and graduate on time.   

I was stunned by the difference in my experience with being a bisexual youth vs. her experience being a lesbian youth. I had been spared the horror of bullying and self- hatred while she was practically destroyed by it. The way she was treated as evil and immoral. 

Somehow, we lived through that hell, but our family was shattered by the hateful bullying she endured. My husband passed away in 2007 from a heart condition  My son was also bullied and taunted in high school because his sister was a lesbian and he suffered serious mental health problems as a result. They both had nervous breakdowns at different times and had to be hospitalized for being suicidal. It has been a very long road back in recovery from religion-based bigotry and severe bullying by their peers. 

Today my daughter has healed and is a very normal lesbian mom with two adorable sons who are biologically related to each other through artificial insemination by the same sperm donor. My son is still recovering and is doing well today as a successful mural artist. We are trying to put the past behind us and go forward as a family, but we will never forget the damage that bullying did to us. How I wish my daughter could have had the kind of experience I had and been spared the hell she went through. 

Today I am a long-time pastor in a church that is accepting and affirming towards LGBTQ people. I have been a widow since 2007 and after being married to a man for so many years my orientation has settled on the hetero side of the line. Even so, I am still bisexual and realize my same gender loving orientation is there in the background perhaps waiting for the right woman to come along.    

It’s immoral and evil to bully or persecute people for the way they were created. Parents and communities who love children for who they are will help more youth have the kind of experience I had and prevent the toxic damage that happened to my daughter, so many others like her, and their families.