I am writing this response to Francis Michael Walsh’s recent PDN op-ed “Only two genders: male and female” out of concern for the young LGBTQ people who are among our students at UOG and part of our broader community as well.  I work with young people at the University of Guam every day and I see firsthand the harmful effects of bullying and harassment.

I am extremely concerned by his casual, throwaway reference to suicide. A recent San Francisco State University survey found that LGBTQ youth rejected or treated with hostility by their family are more than eight times as likely to commit suicide.  Youth who experience little or no rejection from their family or caregivers are significantly more likely not to choose suicide.

Youth rejected by their families for being what Walsh calls a “sin” are also more than six times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections by the time they leave adolescence.

Familial acceptance, on the other hand, helps prevents these problems.

Families, please do not reject your questioning or LGBTQ children or treat them with hostility. Do not tell them they are evil, sinful, or unwanted. Be compassionate and loving. Remind them that their lives are precious to all of us.

A 2004 study examined the effects of same-sex orientation on suicide risks for Guam’s Asian/Pacific Islander adolescents.  Same-sex orientation was associated with a greater risk of suicide attempt, especially for boys.  The survey concluded that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Asian/Pacific Islander adolescents in Guam deserve intervention and counseling programs to reduce suicide risk.

To the readers of this article: Would you cast out your own child? Would you help succor a traumatized LGBTQ young person? Would you give food and shelter? Help with medical issues?

What justifies such disregard for human life and safety?

I want to save and affirm life, not place it in jeopardy. I am speaking out of that concern.

To the young people of our community:

You are all inherently worthy of respect, acceptance, and human dignity. Your lives are immeasurably beautiful. You are the bearers of blessing and heralds of the future. No one has the right to blame you for the suffering you endure because of the homophobic Westernized culture that surrounds you.

In the Pacific, many traditional and historical cultures have embraced third-gender, transgender, and third-sex persons – for example, the fa’afa’fine in Samoa or the fakaleiti in Tonga. Ancient Chamorro culture balanced power between the genders and expressed the beauty and power of sexuality without guilt or shame.

Today, there are life-affirming indigenous Chamorro and Pacific resources available to you on island, including GALA Guam. These are safe places where you can find help and comfort.

Let us hear from the Pacific community and the LGTBQ community. Why should a discussion of gay people be conducted to the exclusion of the voices of gay people? Why should a discussion of our Pacific Islander young people exclude Pacific Islander voices?

Why does Walsh’s discussion of Catholicism ignore the statements of the head of his church?

Pope Francis has made several statements emphasizing acceptance and compassion. He has spoken of gay and lesbian people “socially wounded” by the church:

“But the church does not want to do this. Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”

Listen to your own Father.  Endorse the existence of your LGBTQ young people with love. Do not reject. Do not condemn.

Can we follow the leader of the Catholic church in emphasizing love and endorsement of the person, rather than to cast stones and scapegoat already vulnerable and ostracized young people?

I am horrified to see that Walsh’s concern for doctrine has led him to attack some of the most vulnerable members of our community with no regard for their exceptionally high suicide rates. Young people are directly harmed by rhetoric such as this that serves no purpose but to support homophobia.

Our society must never support Walsh’s decision to blame suicide victims.

As a priest ordained in the Catholic church, his primary concern should be the health and well-being of his people.  A political position or stance should never supersede his calling to protect his people on a very basic level — the right to life.

Finally, I also noted Walsh’s comments regarding sexual chastity. On our small island where at least three priestly sex offenders against children have been exposed recently – Raymond Cepeda, Randy Nowak, and Andrew Mannetta – it is worth asking whether this fetish and idol of sexuality has helped in any way to staunch the sexual abuse of children that is endemic among the Catholic clergy?  Or has it contributed to the abuse in some or many cases?  How does Walsh’s supposed gender binary relate to the issue of sexual abuse in the church, to priest and altar boy?

A genuine Catholic response to sexuality should never have ignored the worldwide epidemic of sexual abuse against vulnerable children by its own priests.

ginen si Isa Kelley Bowman 


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