January 16, 2017
December 11, 2016
To the outside world, they were part of a crowd of teenage boys. They hung out together, went to parties and chased girls.
But out of the gaze of their parents and peers, 18-year-old Mathew Shurka and Mark had fallen in love.
For months, the pair hid the nature of their relationship but then, without warning, Mark rang Mathew to say he no longer knew if “the whole gay thing” was what he wanted. From now on, he couldn’t see Mathew at all.
Yet that explanation was far from the truth. For the previous two years, Mathew’s father, a New York businessman, had been paying for his son to undergo “conversion therapy” to “rescue” him from his attraction to other men. But when Mathew’s desire only intensified, and he confided the depth of his feelings for Mark to his therapist, it was decided that the relationship could not be allowed to continue.
Mathew says: “Unknown to me, my father met Mark and told him to call me and end our relationship without telling me why. As a young gay man still in the closet, Mark was so petrified, he agreed. When that phone call came, I was destroyed. He was my first love.”
Ten years on, Mathew, now 28, is an out gay man fighting to ban conversion therapy – a battle that may continue because vice-president-elect Mike Pence has previously appeared to support public funding for it.
But perhaps more surprising is the fact that Mathew has forgiven the father who betrayed him so totally.
We talk while Mathew is in the UK to give a lecture for the Forgiveness Project – an organisation that collects and shares stories to help people move forward with their lives.
In the US, conversion therapy has been outlawed for minors in just a handful of states. In the UK, any therapist is strictly banned from giving such counselling, but Mathew believes it is still happening underground.
From the age of 12, Mathew had “a stomach pit” feeling he was gay. “I created a double life. Though I was one of the popular kids, inside, I was suffering. So I’d use words like ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ against others, to show I belonged.”
Ironically, when he shouted “fucking faggots” at two local boys during an argument, it was the trigger for him to come out, aged 16. The injuries from the beating he sustained healed, but Mathew was shaken on a deeper level. “I was falling for Mark at the same time as I was trying to look heterosexual to my peers. I was terrified I’d be found out so I started skipping school.
A few weeks later, his father took him for a drive. He asked what was wrong. Mathew cried and told him: “I’m not sure what my sexuality is.”
The response was what every gay young person coming out wants to hear. “He told me he loved me, no matter what.” But panic quickly took over the place of love and his dad started to look for a therapist to find out if it was all just a phase.
His father came across a state-licensed psychologist who subscribed to the widely discredited theory that some gay men form same-sex attractions as a way to make up for troubled relationships with their fathers, or because they have been molested.
“My dad bombarded me with every outdated stereotype of gay life there was. He said I’d never be happy, I’d live a promiscuous, empty life without real love, that I was more likely to commit suicide as a homosexual man. I was only 16 and I loved and respected my father. I believed him.”
The problem was, the sessions led to Mathew not speaking to his mother for three years: “The first guess was that I had too much of a feminine influence in my life from my mother and two sisters. So I was told to distance myself. I’d come down in the morning, eat the breakfast she made for me and leave without saying goodbye.”
But unlike her husband, Mathew’s mother was supportive. “She would say: ‘Matt, you’re gay. It’s OK.’ But I was policing myself. In response, I’d throw the biggest tantrums.”
But then, eight months after Mark was told to get out of Mathew’s life, Mark called and explained the real reason he had dropped out of sight. Mathew confronted his father, who insisted it was for his own good. “So I moved to LA to get away.”
Finally, over the next four years, Mathew started to see for himself that those dire warnings about gay life were unfounded. And in his early 20s, he returned to New York City, where he came across countless happy and successful gay people who made him realise there was nothing to be afraid of.
He also took a self-help course that helped him see his story in a new light. “For five years after our estrangement, I had a filter constantly running in my head which made me see my dad as a hateful homophobe. When I stripped that away, I saw it differently.”
Mathew called his father: “We took a walk. He then proceeded to give me the same speech as always. This time, I listened. I heard what he had to say. For the first time I got his pain. I saw he thought he’d been doing the best for me. I said: ‘Dad, I know what the world is and who I am. I’m going to take life as it comes and it’s going to be great.’ And he looked at me and said: ‘OK.’”
Since then, Mathew and his father have spoken every other day on the phone. They have reached a point of mutual understanding.
But beyond the ethics of a therapy that does little more than create feelings of shame and failure, Mathew believes his story is ultimately about forgiveness: “I hated these people. But when I came to realize parents, therapists and old adversaries are operating out of fear, feelings of rejection or because they think it’s the best thing, I dropped the hatred and started to understand.”
[Mark’s name has been changed]
June 17, 2016
Imagine growing up hearing from those you love and trust that certain groups of people are evil. In fact, these people are so bad, so wrong, that God himself will punish them. Imagine absorbing this hatred deep into your bones. Imagine that you then discover, at some point in your adolescence, that you are one of these people. They are the hated. You are the hated.
We don’t know the details of Omar Mateen’s sexuality. Perhaps he did not fully understand. But according to some, Mateen expressed romantic interest in men. A classmate from his 2006 police academy class told the “Palm Beach Post” that Mateen had asked him out. Sometimes, after class, Mateen would go with friends to gay nightclubs, the classmate said.
And we know that in a video made after the shooting, Mateen’s father said, “God himself will give punishment to homosexuality.” It’s conceivable that this is a sentiment Mateen heard more than once.
We will never understand what triggered Mateen. But there is abundant evidence that the prejudice we face is toxic. And when anti-gay prejudice comes from parents or religion, the effect is profound. According to University of Tennessee Knoxville psychology professor Dawn Szymanski, research shows that experiencing rejection from parents of your sexual identity is linked to traumatic internalized negativity – what psychologists call “internalized homonegativity” or “internalized stigma.” The same is true when a person belongs to a religion that rejects homosexuality.
One consequence of this internalized stigma is violence: Studies of same-sex couples show that internalized homophobia is significant predictor of violence within a relationship. Self-hatred also creates profound psychological distress: One meta-analysis found that higher levels of internalized anti-gay stigma were correlated with worse mental health. The psychological distress can include anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and hyperarousal – a state of increased tension that includes irritability, anger and aggression.
The stress caused by internal stigma can evoke a biological response. According to Stephanie Budge, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, there is broad consensus in the research community that “minority stress” — including internalized self-hatred — creates massive physical health problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, this kind of cumulative stress disrupts almost all the body’s processes. Indeed, gay people who live in communities with high levels of anti-gay prejudice have a life expectancy that is shorter by 12 years.
Anti-gay prejudice is especially pernicious because it creeps into the intimacy of one’s own family. For other forms of bias – racism, for example, or prejudice based on one’s religion — the family can be a refuge against the hatred of the outside world. But anti-gay prejudice is different. The hatred comes from not outsiders, but from loved ones. Parents’ rejection of their children is the one of the biggest reasons as many as 40 percent of homeless youths are LGBT.
Will Cox, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies prejudice, was one of these kids. He grew up in a strict Mormon household and was rejected by his parents when he came out as gay. “I felt guilty,” he says. “I’d pray for forgiveness. The religious piece was so strong – at one point I had email exchanges with my parents discussing same-sex marriage and my mom said, ‘Will seems to be making a lot of good points. Do you think that is because Lucifer is influencing our thoughts?’”
Politicians will continue to use “radical Islam” as a culprit. But it’s not clear that Mateen was motivated by ideology; indeed, he claimed to support a jumble of groups with conflicting points of view. On the other hand, his ex-wife told CNN, “It doesn’t surprise me that he was leading two totally different lives and was in such deep conflict within himself.” No psychologist, says Budge, would say this conflict was the triggering cause. But it’s impossible to imagine that the deep distress of this internal struggle did not contribute in some way to Mateen’s mental state.
Hours after the Orlando massacre, Sacramento pastor Roger Jimenez delivered a hate-filled speech, in which he expressed happiness that the tragedy had happened. He said, “The bible says they’re wicked, they’re vile, they’re predators. And they deserve the death penalty for what they do.”
Imagine a young person sitting in his congregation, listening. Imagine this young person absorbing that certain people deserve to die because of who they are. Now imagine that child growing up to discover that he is gay. He, too, deserves to die. Imagine the chaos and self-hatred growing inside his heart.
September 9, 2014
January 16, 2014
November 15, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS — A woman says she can't visit herunconscious same-sex partner in a local hospital because the partner's mother has banned her from the room.
Sarah Bray, 34, says her partner was taken Wednesday morning to Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis after a drug overdose. Bray says she was able to visit her partner until her partner's mother arrived and ordered her to leave.
"This is a clear violation of LGBT hospital visitation rights," David Stevens, a spokesman for GetEqual Indiana, said about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals. Bray reached out to Stevens' group about her concerns.
The case raises complicated questions about hospital visitation rights, especially for same-sex partners. Gay rights advocates argue that Bray's rights are being violated. But legal experts consulted by The Indianapolis Star say not enough details are known to determine whether the hospital is discriminating against her by allowing Bray to be banned from the room.
A memorandum signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 extends hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners at hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid — even in states such as Indiana that don't recognize same-sex partnerships. It also extends patient care decisions to same-sex partners if they have been designated as the next-of-kin representative.
The patient typically determines who that next-of-kin representative is. But in cases such as the St. Francis one, in which the patient can't voice that choice, doctors ultimately have the power to decide.
In either case, legal experts say, a next-of-kin representative must make a strong argument to ban someone from visiting a patient, such as concerns over disruption or harm to the patient.
"You'd have to have a good reason," said Jennifer A. Drobac, a professor of law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. "It would have to boil down to a medically necessary decision."
Banning someone simply because of animosity or disapproval of an individual — which Bray says is happening in her partner's case — isn't a strong enough argument, Drobac said.
"That clearly is discrimination," she said.
Joe Stuteville, a hospital spokesman, acknowledged that the hospital usually gives the upper hand to a patient's next-of-kin representative to determine who can or can't visit. "Without having the specifics on this case," he said, "I can only say we do not discriminate. We understand end-of-life issues."
Bray said her two sons, 10 and 12, discovered her partner facedown on a bathroom floor, foaming at the mouth, about 6 a.m. Wednesday. Bray said her partner had overdosed on several medications in what she believes to be a suicide attempt. The Star generally does not identify people who attempt suicide.
About 6:45 a.m., Bray's partner, who is an employee of St. Francis, was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where Bray was able to visit her for about an hour. That is when Bray called her partner's mother to alert her of the incident. Bray's sons then arrived and visited her partner for several minutes, crying and hugging her. However, Bray said, when her partner's mother arrived, she ordered the three of them out of the room.
Bray said she hasn't been allowed to see her partner since, claiming that the hospital sided with her partner's mother's wishes to keep her away. Bray said her partner's mother does not support their relationship, which is why the mother didn't want her in the room. When reached by phone Wednesday for comment, the patient's mother said, "We're not interested," and hung up.
"She's playing with the wrong person," Bray said, "because I know that I have rights, and I'm going to fight for those rights no matter what."
David Orentlicher, a professor at the IU law school, acknowledged that arguments between families and partners can make things tricky.
"Sometimes you have situations where the person that is closest by blood or marriage is not necessarily the best representative for the person," Orentlicher said. Those cases, he said, are more subjective when a doctor ultimately decides whether someone else fits the bill.
Stuteville, the hospital spokesman, said cases in which families and partners disagree do not happen often.
"It is rare," he said. "In the end, we think families and friends come together in terms of end-of-life care."
Bray and her partner have been together since May but have known each other for nearly 13 years. The two plan to marry in Iowa next month and picked out rings Tuesday, Bray said.
June 12, 2013
NEW ORLEANS, La. — Jonathan Allen, a 20-year-old aspiring singer from Lawrenceburg, Tenn., appearing Tuesday night on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” captured the hearts of judges and viewers after learning that, at age 18, he was disowned by his family because he is gay.
Allen said he was kicked out of his parent’s home on his 18th birthday due to his sexual orientation, and is now persuing his dream of becoming a singer.
“With your talent, the show has become your family,” said judge Howie Mandell. “And we’d like to say, welcome home. We love you, and we accept you.”
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