Matthew 5:47-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The smell of wet glue and drying paint lingered near the kitchen table filled with new arts and craft projects. My sister asked if I could tell which of the creative pieces had been made especially for me? I nodded no and then she slowly began to point out all the ones with glitter. We hadn’t yet talked to the kids about my sexuality, but as an out gender-queer gay person I chuckled with her at what my young nieces and nephew had seemingly picked up on.
I’m not personally a fan of glitter, but it’s been around a long time. It can be traced all the way back to cave paintings in 40,000 B.C. Ancient civilizations (including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans) used it. It’s quite possible glitter could have been a part of any number of our Bible stories. Maybe the dramatic Bathsheba wore it in shimmering make up long before the androgynous Ziggy Stardust in the early 1970’s? Maybe the prodigal son had celebrated with it like the New York City club kids did in the 1990’s?
The at-risk and homeless LGBTQ youth I minister with LOVE glitter for all the reasons I don’t. Glitter reflects light, it covers up imperfections, and it has a dark side. Yes a dark side, because it gives a false impression. For these beloved youth, glitter brings sanctuary. Through their experiences they’ve been taught they’re unattractive, unworthy, and disposable. The glitter hides deep scars and makes the ugliness of their world appear more beautiful. God knows they deserve some beauty.
Skylar Lee became a statistic this week. He was a 16-year old high school student and transgender advocate with a bright future. He was an accomplished writer and had just published a story about his difficult journey to self-discovery. Identifying as a queer transgender person of color, he found it difficult to survive while sharing messages of hope to other young struggling trans teens. Last Monday Skylar posted a suicide note on Tumblr and then took his own life. Social media was abuzz.
We act surprised. We grieve. But let’s keep it real. A 2014 analysis of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey by the Williams Institute found that more than 50% of the students who were bullied in school due to anti-transgender bias had attempted suicide. If that wasn’t bad enough, the number of reported suicide attempts jump to 78% for students who’ve experienced physical or sexual violence at school. And surveys of shelters in 2011 & 2012 found that 40% of homeless teens identified as LGBT. That number is staggering when you consider what a small percentage of homeless teens actually identify as LGBT. These are our children. Why are we so apathetic to their plight? Why do we reinforce the negative lessons they’ve learned, through our silence? Why aren’t we diligently working to create positive systemic changes for them? Why don’t we realize they’re dying?
The Hebrew word for “perfect” is “tamiym.” It’s translated as without blemish, whole, and complete. I believe our LGBTQ youth/young adults are perfect. They’re almost all survivors of the worst neglect and/or abuses. I thank God every day for the miracle that they are still alive, and fighting to remain so. A few have served time in prison, a few have issues with alcohol and/or drugs, a few sell their bodies for food and shelter; and I’d like to believe in God’s eye’s they all remain unblemished. We need to be the adults. We need to take responsibility for relegating so many of our own children to the gutter. We’re the imperfect ones, we should be carrying their scars.
In faith we are asked if we are greeting anyone besides our own brothers and sisters. We are asked to move into perfection ourselves by caring for the unlovable stranger. I’ve heard it preached that perfection in the Bible is often referred to as blameless. Skylar Lee was blameless. We failed to teach Skylar of his worth and now he’s gone. No doubt there will soon be another announcement of an LGBTQ youth/young adult committing suicide.
Isn’t Skylar’s life enough? What are we going to do? What are our churches going to do? When will we attempt to move toward perfection by making a difference in the lives of today’s LGBTQ youth and young adults? They don’t need glitter. They need us.
While dreaming of a world where glitter is no longer needed, we pray to our unlimited and unconditionally loving God. You have called us toward perfection. May we be moved toward you by loving the unlovable. May we be moved toward you by giving voice to those told they are disposable. Move us through our complacency to action as we bring health, wholeness, and justice to our LGBTQ children. Amen, let it be so.
DID YOU KNOW?
The first American transgender suicide helpline, entirely staffed by transgender people, has just opened. God’s transgender children can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. Please share some light and spread the word.