Eric James Borges was teased his entire life for being different. Though he didn’t come out publicly until his sophomore year of college, he recalls emotional and physical abuse as far back as kindergarten for his differences. And though most children undergo some degree of hazing from time to time, the seeming indifference of the adults in his life made matters dramatically worse.
In a video recorded for the “It Gets Better” Project, an LGBT advocacy group focused on offering hope and community to LGBT people on the margins, Borges, 19, recalls being physically assaulted in a full high school classroom while his teacher stood by and watched.
The distressed teen had nowhere to turn at home either. His Christian parents decided to perform a ritual exorcism on him with the hope of “curing” him of his orientation. When that failed, they kicked him out of the house.
Though Borges went on to advocate for LGBT rights through the “It Gets Better” Project and through his work with The Trevor Project (a group committed to preventing suicide among LGBT teens), the demons of his past still lingered. Despite finding a community that affirmed and embraced who he was, the damage had already been done.
In the suicide note he left, Borges wrote:
My pain is not caused because I am gay. My pain was caused by how I was treated because I am gay.
This is a point lost on many Christians who condemn what they call the “gay lifestyle.” Not only are we, as followers of Christ, called to set aside our judgment, hateful rhetoric and disdain for those in the LGBT community; we’re bound by a covenant of compassion to advocate for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
If we don’t, we’re no better than the teacher who stood by indifferently as his students beat Borges in his classroom.
In spite of the tragedy of Borges’ suicide, he left behind some gifts by which we all can remember him. In the face of all he had suffered, he still mustered words of love and hope for his fellow LGBT teens.
The following is a quote from the “It Gets Better” video Borges made in December 2011:
You will date, fall in love, fall out of love, have your heart broken, just like the rest of us. You will love, and be loved, and I love you. you have an entire life fit to burst with opportunities ahead of you. Don’t ever give up, and don’t ever for one second think that you aren’t a valuable and beautiful contribution to this world.
Unfortunately, some of the power of the positive message can’t help but be lost in his absence. What’s worse, Borges' story is not atypical.
An estimated 30-40 percent of LGBT youth have been reported to have attempted suicide.
LGBT people between the ages of 15 and 24 are four times more likely to commit suicide than their peers.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among LGBT people in this age group.
The same population is three times more likely to report hazing, abuse and/or harassment by peers than straight people of the same age.
It’s easy to feel there’s no hope for progress in the Christian community when we hear such stories. After all, silence on the matter simply isn’t enough. Ambivalence is equivalent to complicity. For this, we are collectively responsible for the sins of indifference, inaction and aggressive hate, all in the name of Jesus.
There are a few glimmers of hope in the overwhelming darkness. Organizations such as the Marin Foundation seek to “build a bridge between the religious and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in a non-threatening, research and biblically oriented fashion.” And there are others.
Unfortunately, too often the advocacy work is left to members of the LGBT population themselves. For real, systemic change to take hold, those on the side of privilege (ie, those not harassed and abused for our inherent sexual orientation or identity) to care enough to say that things have to change.
Not just because we know someone who is gay. Not just because we feel bad for those pushed to the margins. But because we are called out by Jesus himself to confront such evil, to call it out, and to rob it of its power through the transforming power of love.
This is an active love, and not simply a rhetorical, tolerant, “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of cop-out love. For those whom we love, we are willing to risk that which we hold dear for their sake. We are willing to forgo the acceptance of our peers to stand side-by-side with our marginalized sisters and brothers.
Loving in word is not enough. We have to demonstrate such sacrificial, Christ-like love with our whole lives.
Until then, the deaths of so many thousands of persecuted youth are on our heads.
Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.