Focus on the Family Blames Gay Teens and Activists for Unhappiness

Focus on the Family affiliate CitizenLink said in a radio segment this morning that teens “who identify as homosexual and transgender” are unhappy and engage in risky behavior not because they face discrimination, but rather because of how they self-identify. This claim is in response to a recently released report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), called Growing Up LGBT in America.

According to the report, which is the largest known survey of self-identified LGBT youth, when compared to non-LGBT peers, LGBT teens are half as likely to report being happy, and are twice as likely to be physically and verbally abused, be socially excluded, and to experiment with alcohol and drugs.

In the radio report, CitizenLink’s Jeff Johnston says, “there’s [sic] lots of kids who are confused about their sexuality and identity, and for years, groups like HRC and other activist groups have encouraged them to self-identify as gay or transgender. That’s just not good or healthy for these kids.”

The not-so-subtle implication here is that if LGBT youth, which CitizenLink simplified to “homosexual and transgender” youth, did not identify as such, they would be happier. Embedded in numbers of relentless abuse and pervasive discrimination, CitizenLink also seems to be implying that if these teens were not open about who they are, the people around them wouldn’t have to bully them all the time.

A group that defines “forging a better future for our children” as part of its mission, CitizenLink is not hesitating to blame the young victims.

“They’re confused about their sexuality and identity,” Johnston continues, “and Jesus came to seek and save the lost, including kids like these.”

The radio segment would have listeners believe that the struggles faced by LGBT youth come from within, that they are solely responsible for their own unhappiness and thus solely responsible for improving their situation. Calling these teens “confused” and “lost,” and encouraging them to be “saved” writes off their identity as nothing more than a reactionary response to pressure from “HRC and other activist groups.”

Along with seeking to invalidate LGBT teens’ orientation, CitizenLink overlooks the many social and environmental factors contributing to the lower rates of happiness, as outlined in the report.

 Asked to describe the most important problem in their lives, the LGBT teens identified non-accepting families, bullying problems in school, and fear of being out or open as the most common answers. Nevertheless, a strong majority, around 80%, report believing they will be happy eventually and things will get better. More than half believe they will have to move to a different city or town in order to achieve happiness.

“I live in such a narrow-minded community. It’s really hard on me,” says an unidentified youth in the HRC report. “I face so much ignorance on a daily basis.”

“This is me, this is how I was born and I’m happy with it,” says another teen.

It is clear from the HRC report that for LGBT teens, simply being an LGBT teen is not inherently discouraging; rather, the negative messages they hear in their communities, from institutions, and from the media--such as this degrading and evasive report from Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink—is what yields unhappiness. The young folks being targeted here should be applauded for maintaining their optimism and looking towards building a bright future in which they are open about and proud of themselves. If the people at CitizenLink and Focus on the Family are truly dedicated to improving the lives of youth in America, they should stop acting like (read: stop being) the very forces by which such youth feel targeted and hurt.

For more information on how to build inclusive and supportive environments for LGBT students, check out the links from this morning’s related post from Think Progress.