Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi Calif., hanged himself.
Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Ind., also hanged himself. Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, shot himself in the head. Tyler Clementi, 18, a freshman at Rutgers, jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
All four committed suicide in September. Four young lives made unbearable by taunting. A senseless waste of life. Senseless sorrow for four families.
The common thread in these tragedies is bullying, particularly bullying because of the boys’ actual or perceived sexual orientation. It is past time we, as a community, said enough is enough. While calls are going out for schools to clamp down on bullying behavior, that is far from sufficient. Bullying, while it must be stopped, is just the symptom of a deeper malaise — hatred of people simply because they are different, because you disagree with their beliefs, their lifestyle, or you dislike some aspect of their identity (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc).
This weekend, hundreds of Americans are planning to march in Washington D.C. to voice their support for a nation based not on divisiveness but on unity. Their mission statement reads, “Our national identity is rooted in the ideal that all people – regardless of race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, heritage or ability – should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
This is not just a progressive or Democratic mission. Supporters include groups who represent a multitude of faith traditions, races and ethnicities, professions, gender and sexual orientation.
For the Muslim groups in that list of supporters, for my friends and acquaintances who are planning to attend the march (and those who aren’t), I challenge you to take some time this weekend to think about how Muslims — not the extreme fringe who have turned to violence and terrorism, but mainstream Muslims — contribute to the problem, how they perpetuate intolerance and hatred.
How many of our mosques are welcoming places where gay Muslims would feel comfortable coming to worship God in the community of fellow believers? How many of our mosques are places where women — all women, not just those who believe in segregation — feel they are valued and that they have a place that serves their spiritual needs? How many of our community centers are welcoming of people from different races and ethnicities? Of people from different understandings of Islam, whether that be Sunni and Shii, or progressive, liberal, conservative, Ahmedi, Ismaili, or whatever else. How many of our mosques are places where non-Muslims are greeted as fellow children of God, even if they are atheists or Jews?
After you think about that, I challenge you to ask the same questions about the mosque you attend most frequently. In particular, in light of this rash of suicides, I ask you to think about gay Muslims, and how they would fare at your mosque, because of all these groups, gay Muslims are the most likely to face discrimination, belittling comments even sermons against their identity at Muslim houses of worship. More, don’t just think about whether your mosque is actually a place where diversity is embraced and celebrated, but do something to make that place safer, more comfortable and more welcoming for the people you don’t see attending.
Muhammad taught that we should not deter people from coming to the mosque — whether it was women, or the ignorant bedouin who urinated in the corner of the prayer area. His family was close friends with a gay man. His muezzin was a freed black slave. Muhammad did not turn people away for any reason, nor should we. Equally important, if we preach tolerance and acceptance to the American people, we must live by those values in our own houses of worship, in our own communities. To do anything less is hypocrisy.