Growing Up Gay

Christian Century reviews a new book, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America:

The coeditor of this collection, Mitchell Gold, grew up Jewish in Trenton, New Jersey, in the 1960s. He spent his teenage years in a cloud of depression, loneliness, fear and confusion. He tried to pass as straight but was unable to sustain the fiction. “I made a pact with myself: If I could not change and want to be with a woman by the time I was 21, I would commit suicide.”

Like a number of others who tell their stories in this book, Gold moved beyond suicidal thoughts into serious planning. Finally he received psychiatric care that helped him toward self-acceptance. “The number one reason I work toward equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is because I do not want kids to go through what I did.”

What exactly do such young people go through? Gold and coeditor Mindy Drucker offer not just stories but summaries of some key data. They include the following:

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15-to-24-year-olds; for every young person who takes his or her own life, 20 more try.

Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Forty-five percent of gay men and 20 percent of lesbians surveyed had been victims of verbal and physical assaults in secondary school specifically because of their sexual orientation.

Gay youth are at higher risk of being kicked out of their homes and turning to life on the streets for survival. They are more likely than their heterosexual peers to start using tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs at an earlier age.

Twenty-eight percent of gay students drop out of school—more than three times the national average.

All the stories in this volume focus on the particular problems faced by teenagers from religious families and congregations. Some of the stories are contemporary; others tell of long-ago hurts.


Religious groups have a First Amendment right to teach their convictions about homosexuality. By law, if they want to teach that homosexuality is wrong, that is their business. Gay advocates usually recognize this right while asking that traditional religious communities not bring such convictions into the public arena.

Gold takes a more confrontational tack. He believes that the heart of the issue is precisely what religious groups teach within their own walls and what religious families teach within their own homes. He pleads for an end to the “misuse of religion to harm gay people.”

As an evangelical Christian whose career has been spent in the South, I must say I find it scandalous that the most physically and psychologically dangerous place to be (or even appear to be) gay or lesbian in America is in the most religiously conservative families, congregations and regions of this country. Most often these are Christian contexts. Many of the most disturbing stories in this volume come from the Bible Belt. This marks an appalling Christian moral failure.

Read more here.

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