By: Alex Hale ~Staff Writer~
As I have grown older I have noticed that more and more people believe that it is cool, even desirable, to be gay. People have confessed to me that they would love to have a gay best friend to help dress them or go shopping with them. Popular culture has made being gay one of the coolest things to be.
Yet, according to Michael Hobbes of The Huffington Post, there are still studies that show that gay men are, depending on the survey, two to 10 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers and are two times more likely to have a major depressive episode. In a survey of gay men who had recently arrived to New York City, 75 percent suffered from anxiety or depression, abused drugs or alcohol or engaged in risky sex. Many cited some combination.
This isn’t just an American issue, either. In the Netherlands, a country which has had legalized same-sex marriage for 16 years now, gay men are three times more likely to have a mood disorder and 10 times more likely engage in self-harm. In Sweden, a country that’s had civil unions for 21 years, the suicide rate of gay men is triple that of others.
How can this possibly be? Many external factors have taken the blame over the years. But AIDS, marriage equality and bullying have all for the most part become afterthoughts. So why are gay men still so depressed?
There is one place that gay people still feel excluded from, and it’s a place I would argue they desperately need. According to Jaweed Kaleem of The Huffington Post, 48 percent of gay men don’t identify with a religion, and even among those who do, 65 percent seldom or never go to religious services regardless of religious background. For comparison, 20 percent of the general public is unaffiliated with a faith, and 29 percent seldom or never goes to religious services.
The benefits of religious faith, or even religious practices, cannot be understated. An organization called National Alliance on Mental Illness showed that those who do so maintain a stronger sense of community and reduced anxiety and that volunteer opportunities have been shown to improve moods.
I think that now more than ever, the gay community needs some sort of organized religion. However, it’s not hard to see why gay men in particular run far away from faith. These faiths often tell them they are going to hell and are complete sinners, unworthy of love. This is probably where all of these issues begin in the first place. Gay people get incredibly hurt by churches all the time, so why would they find shelter in a place perceived as hostile? However, many people in the Catholic Church would argue that it is still welcoming to members of the gay community, as it recognizes being gay is not a choice and that gay people are not damned for being gay.
How can the Church say it is welcoming when gay teachers in Catholic high schools in Cincinnati can be fired for having a relationship? Every other teacher at these schools is also a sinner, but they won’t be fired for the sins that they commit. This shows outright that the Church still singles out gay people for their violations of Catholic social teaching. Maybe we should ask if Christ would fire those teachers or if he would love them. Another way to put this is who can cast the first stone? These bans distract from the important message of Christ, that all people are worthy of love. The Jesuits understand this for the most part, and I would like to recognize them for their long ministry to the LGBT community. Despite this, the rest of the Church needs to show this love and respect that the Jesuits show.
The gay community needs the Church, and the Church needs the stories and the spirituality of the gay community. Only then will these tragic numbers of mental illness in the gay community go down, and only then will the Church truly be the most welcoming place.