The XX Factor

It Doesn’t Always Get Better

Debates on the merits of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project aside, the need for something that addresses the plight of gay teenagers is becoming more and more apparent. News just broke that earlier this month, a gay 19-year-old from Norman, Okla., killed himself in his parents’ house. It was the sixth suicide by a gay teenager in four weeks.

Harrington had been out of high school for more than a year when, at the end of September, he sat through an unusually vicious meeting of the Norman City Council. Council members were voting on a proclamation to recognize Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History Month in the city. The resolution ultimately passed with a 7-1 vote, but the atmosphere in Oklahoma’s third-largest city was incredibly hostile. Residents spent three hours-the entirety of the permitted comments period-debating the proclamation. According to the Norman Transcript , “support for and opposition to the proclamation were fairly even,” but “it was hard to ignore the intolerant grumblings, the exasperated sighs and cold, hard stares that followed comments from supporters of the GLBT proclamation.”

And that was just the nonverbal commentary. When opponents of the proclamation spoke, they were venomous. “One man said he moved to Norman because he thought it was the kind of place that would never accept the GLBT community with open arms.” Another, speaking in language usually reserved for terrorists, claimed that homosexuals were going to “infiltrate the public school system, essentially allowing the ‘gay lifestyle’ to become a part of the curriculum.” Harrington, whom his family described as “a private young man who internalized his feelings and emotion,” listened to every word of this. Apparently he came to the conclusion that things were not going to get better. A week after the meeting, he killed himself.

Of course, it’s impossible to know exactly what ultimately compelled Harrington to kill himself, and it’s inconceivable that the city council meeting was the only factor. But his family believes it played a role. Harrington’s father believes “his son may have glimpsed a hard reality at the Sept. 28 council meeting, a place where the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents.”

Getting older isn’t going to help if the adults who surround you are as convinced of your depravity as the teens who made high school miserable. And who are the adults we’re talking about? I think it’s fair to say that often they’re Christians who believe the greatest threat to their way of life is “the homosexual agenda.”

These folks have some soul-searching to do. Growing up in Texas and going to school in Oklahoma (in Norman, actually), I’ve met hundreds of otherwise reasonable people who feel an obligation to oppose same-sex marriage and disparage homosexuals because they have been taught that their Christianity requires it.

According to the Transcript , several of the people at the city council meeting Harrington sat through “claimed the Bible was their guiding light, citing the ancient text as their primary reason for opposing the proclamation and the GLBT community in general.” Well, as Nick Kristof pointed out this weekend , that ancient text also advocates stoning women who don’t bleed on their wedding night and executing people who are disrespectful to their parents . Christians have figured out how to live with premarital (straight) sex and back-talking teenagers. It’s time they figured out how to live with boys like Zach Harrington.

Illustration by Wikimedia Commons.