I can’t believe I have to do this, but over the course of the past year (you know, while surviving a pandemic), I’ve had a number of straight friends/family ask, “How is the LGBTQ+ community oppressed in the United States?” And there’s always a tone with this question. It’s RARELY asked with genuine curiosity (because if there was genuine curiosity, they would do research and educate themselves and quickly learn there’s a lot of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the United States in spite of legislation). It’s ask with accusation.
The conversation has really come to a head in conversations around race. In fact, I recently saw a TikTok video where a black man said, “Being Gay Is A Choice. Being Black Isn’t. So Stop Comparing LGBTQ+ to BLM.”
Let’s put all the cards out on the table.
I was raised in a white, middle-class, conservative, Christian, evangelical family, which basically means I got all the privilege as a white man, minus the part about my sexuality and also means that my family likes to pretend white privilege doesn’t exist. So I spend a lot of time and energy trying to educate them about white supremacy because I do believe silence is violence.
But in these hard, needed, critical conversations about privilege and oppression, the topic always eventually comes up about my own identity, an identity that includes one place of oppression — me being gay.
I will own my privilege as a white cis man. I don’t have to worry about how me arguing with the police can result in me being shot at and killed. I don’t have to worry about gripping my keys in white knuckles as I walk to my car in the middle of the night. I don’t have to worry about meeting up with someone on a date, and that person reacting violently when I share my gender.
I carry a lot of privilege. This piece is not meant to say, “I’m hurting just as much as my BIPOC friends, my women friends, my trans friends. This isn’t a game of “who has the worst oppression.” My gaol is to simply explain that just because LGBTQ+ U.S. Americans got marriage rights in 2015, doesn’t mean oppression stops — the same way that desegregation of schools didn’t stop oppression of BIPOC people in the public school system.
Below you will first find stats, data, and stories from other people who have recently experienced oppression for being LGBTQ+. Then I will share elements of my own story and how I have experienced oppression as a gay man.
Oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the United States:
- LGB youth are five times as likely to commit suicide in comparison to their straight peers.
- Forty percent of trans people attempt suicide.
- If a person who is gay or lesbian comes from a religious background, they are more likely than their non-religious queer peers to attempt suicide.
- Twenty-six percent of LGBT youth are forced from their homes after coming out.
- LGBTQ+ people are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than their straight peers — of those that are homeless in the U.S. 40 percent are LGBTQ+.
- Thirty-six percent of LGBT people do not reveal who their partners are in the workplace for fear of people’s reactions.
- Sixty-six percent of trans individuals experience sexual assault in their life that is often coupled with physical violence.
- Trans individuals are banned from the U.S. military, a strategy that is labeled as not discriminatory because trans people are not “mentally stable” for service and cause an unnecessary “financial burden.”
- Hate crimes, murder, and violence against queer people continue to occur in spite of hate-crime legislation.
- Even though the FDA has recently changed its position on gay and bisexual men from giving blood, gay and bisexual are still banned from donating if they are sexually active, regardless of if they are monogamous or not.
- In spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2020, religious organizations can still fire someone for being LGBTQ+ due to protections under religious liberty.
- Depending on what state an LGBTQ+ person lives in, they can be discriminated against and barred from adoption.
- LGBTQ+ people are viewed as sexual deviants and child molesters when a recent study showed all offenders were either straight (the majority) or bisexual (severe minority).
The list could continue, but I think you get the point.
LGBTQ+ people are still marginalized and discriminated against for something they cannot change. But these are not just data points. Behind each percentage and case are real people — people experiencing oppression on a daily occurrence.
To get an understanding of how this may play out, here are some pieces of my story — pieces that if I were straight, I wouldn’t experience.
Moments of oppression I have experienced as a gay man:
- When I was outed by my parents, I seriously considered suicide and was threatened with being ousted out of my parent’s home at the age of 16.
- Before coming out, I knew I would lose a career I had been working on since I was 16 — ministry. I left youth pastoring and missions work and needed to start over at the age of 25. I’m now graduating college at the age of 31 because I had to find a new career and education that would support that.
- The majority of my support system was found in the evangelical world. I went to Bible school, worked with churches, did YWAM. After coming out, I had to rebuild my support system. I couldn’t go to my parents about my relationship problems — they would be silent. I couldn’t go to most of my old friends — they would say I would need to repent to be saved. I was alone.
- As a gay person, I always have to monitor my behavior. Growing up, I couldn’t “look gay” for fear of being bullied. When in a relationship, my boyfriend and I couldn’t kiss, hold hands or even sit to close to each other for fear of ridicule. One time, when walking down the street, not even holding hands, we were called “Faggots!” for walking too close to each other.
- I have to reconsider my entire wedding. My parents will likely not be attending. Most of my friends who I grew up with will not attend as well for fear of “endorsing my sin.” If they do come, I have to wonder if they ACTUALLY support me. For example: if I have a marriage problem down the road and I come to them for help, will they actually fight for my marriage? Or will they secretly be hoping I’ll divorce my partner to save my soul?
- I must monitor/research my travel. I love traveling, but there are certain countries I simply should not go to for fear of my life. There are even certain parts of the U.S. I wouldn’t travel to with a future partner for fear of my safety.
- I have to be mindful of where I receive health care because I’ve been shamed for being gay and I have been more knowledgable than my provider about resources for my wellbeing as a queer person.
- While working for a Christian software company (yes… they exist…), I had to hide my sexual identity for fear of how my boss would react or how people would interpret me. And while I can’t confirm this suspicion, straight peers were able to support their spouse and kids while working at this company, when my salary would not be able to do that. I couldn’t even buy a home on that salary, let alone provide for dependents. Even though I was the highest producer on my team, I was receiving one of the lowest salaries.
- As a future English teacher, I have to be mindful about which district I choose because I have friends who have faced discrimination for their sexual orientation. Most of my friends who are educators are forced back into the closet, whether explicitly or implicitly for fear of how parents or faculty would respond.
- Because I’m gay, I’m viewed as a sexual deviant. I have multiple friends who were serving in youth ministry or working with kids who were called pedophiles and told to die by parents (yes, you read that right) because there is a false misconception that LGBTQ+ people are all child rapists when most child molesters are actually rarely gay. In fact, in this study, none of the sexual offenders were gay.
- I have to hide my romantic life. Period. The other day I mentioned a cute boy to my parents. My dad left the room, and my mom deterred me, rather than getting excited with me (which I know she would with a girl because she had in the past). One time I got into an all-out screaming match with a friend because I made a comment about not being attracted to women.
- I will never be able to have my own kids. This one is kind of a given, but it’s something that people forget. I will never have a mini-Brandon running around that is also the DNA of my partner without a TON of money and nerve-wracking science. So the solution to having kids is adoption. But if I do decide to adopt, I have a sinking terror that my children will be bullied or that they will be broken in some way because they don’t have a mom and dad (compliments of the rhetoric of my parents and upbringing in the church), even though the data out there doesn’t support this belief.
- No matter how much work I do on myself — no matter how much therapy, no matter how much social advocacy, no matter how much theological research — people will always think my soul is tainted and that I’m going to hell. And this is probably the one that hurts the most because this transcends my physical experience — this touches my eternity, my inherent value. It touches the very substance of who I am am as a human, a substance God calls REALLY GOOD, and twists that narrative to call me evil, twisted, perverted, wrong. From the same voices that tearfully sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” come the voices of “love the sinner; hate the sin;” voices that bar me from grace and love. That’s the one that stings the most. I could take the harassment, the barring from adoption and job opportunities, even the opportunity to marry, if I knew my spiritual family — a family who proclaims love — would love and support me in spite of what the world says. The shame here is that the “world” has been doing a better job of loving than the church has, and it’s pushing queer people and allies alike from her arms — arms that should be embracing and holding and proclaiming the Father’s eternal love over His beloved children, queer and straight alike. Those are the arms that I wish most would hold me close, but instead turn me away, and that is the greatest oppression I have ever felt.