The Impact of Toxic Hate and Shame on LGBTQ Youth from Anti-LGBTQ State Legislature – excerpt from final paper for 2022 Liberation Theologies course

Shame is a debilitating emotion many LGBTQ people learn at an early age.  Whenever we did something non-heteronormative that our parent, grandparent, family elder, or teacher felt was unacceptable, we were scolded and informed that this behavior was inappropriate for our gender. This early programming of shame is used as a social control, as well as a device used in rightwing affective political strategies for the continuation of heteronormativity and patriarchy.[1] As a moral emotion like guilt, compassion, regret, and sympathy, shame helps a person to be aware they might potentially be compromising their personal values and placing themselves in a vulnerable position of emotional pain. A person ought to feel shame as either functionally: when they are about to compromise their value system or morally: to sustain personal integrity and develop self-respect.[2] This can be seen as healthy shame. Toxic shame is imposed upon a person by another, as a means of control or oppression.[3]

Toxic hate and shame of homophobia and transphobia

Culture affects how we view sex, and the ‘normalization’ of heterosexuality promotes a socially preferred performance of sexuality.[4] A commonly held belief by many is that each person they meet is heterosexual – until proven otherwise. The sexual phobias of the few affect the sexual freedom of the many. This enforcement of heteronormative values upon sexual minorities has caused extensive damage to the emotional and spiritual health of the LGBTQ community.

The very nature of how conservative heterosexual Christians stigmatize and inflict traumatic shame upon LGBTQ members of their faith communities presents a contradiction to the commandment of love that is at the heart of what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 22:39 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The challenges that LGBTQ youth endure as they explore who they are as non-heteronormative individuals can be daunting and traumatic without the added framing of them being seen as an abomination in the eyes of their faith community, where they are seeking connection with God and others.[5] I agree with the notion of any theology or faith community that suggests God receives some and rejects others is not reflective of the teachings of Jesus.[6] 

The unjust dispensing of toxic shame towards LGBTQ folks illustrates the moral and ethical hypocrisy seen within the greater conservative Christian community. Offering forgiveness repeatedly to cis-gender heterosexual members who have committed sin, even of a sexual nature happens all the time within conservative Christian communities. However, any consideration for offering a similar forgiveness of LGBTQ members is rejected due to their violation of heteronormativity and going against gender complementarity.[7] The sanctification of heteronormativity instills a hierarchical nature of men being at the top of the order, followed by women and any below them can be considered the “other” or ‘monsters’ and undeserving of God’s love or acceptance.[8] Only through embracing their unhealthy shame, these LGBTQ members can be accepted conditionally into some faith communities—acceptance that is contingent upon their maintaining dispositional shame.[9] This enforcement perpetuates patriarchy and heteronormativity perpetuates an environment for the ‘otherization’ of gender and sexuality outlaws.[10]

Impact of toxic hate and shame on LGBTQ youth

LGBTQ youth face many challenges each day. For those who come from a loving and accepting families, life at home can be a refuge and a place of safety.[11] Too many LGBTQ youth come from homes where they are not fully accepted, where they must either live an inauthentic life or risk being kicked out and become marginally housed or homeless.[12] The pressure to fit in at school with heteronormative peers can cause some LGBTQ youth to have feelings of shame and self-hatred towards their non-heteronormative thoughts and feelings. This can lead to feelings of internalized homophobia or transphobia, which can inhibit living a flourishing life for these youth.

LGBTQ youth are inundated with toxic hate through repeated news reports and articles about anti-LGBTQ state legislatures and similar rhetoric heard in community or around dinner tables. This toxic hate is also very prevalent in U.S. schools:

[H]omophobic students verbally and physically abuse LGBTQ youth in US schools is well documented by the GLSEN study, which found 86.2% of LGBT students experience verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation and 66.5% because of their gender expression (p. xii). It also found that 44.1% of LGBT students report having been physically harassed because of their sexual orientation and 30.4% because of their gender expression.[13]

This study by GLSEN goes on to argue that homophobic and transphobic school environments have a detrimental impact upon the scholastic achievements for these LGBTQ youth.[14] Enduring this toxic hate and shame can become internalized and also impact academic attendance and/or withdrawal from school altogether for these LGBTQ youth.[15] Being a high school dropout can have an economic impact and add to social stigma for these LGBTQ youth.[16]

Homophobic bullying in school effects all youth regardless of their sexual or gender identity. In a recent study  from 7 states that included over 15,000 youth, over 7% of the self-identified heterosexual kids surveyed reported homophobic bullying in their schools.[17] This is significant compared to the almost 23% of the queer youth who reported homophobic bullying. This toxic hate can have a detrimental effect on the emotions of those youth receiving it. Feelings of sadness (25.2%) were reported, as well as considering (11.9%), planning (10.2%), or attempting suicide (5.6%) was reported across the board, regardless of sexual identity.[18] The toxic hate and shame experienced from homophobic and transphobic bullying has a negative impact on all youth. This adds to the suffering of LGBTQ youth who are already feeling marginalized and oppressed by their peers as well as by institutions and state governments.

[1] (Graff & Korolczuk, 2022, p. 29)

[2] (Manion, Autumn, 2009)

[3] (Kaufman & Raphael, 1996, p. 67)

[4] (Tonstad, 2018, p. 84)

[5] (Tredwell, 2017, p. 5)

[6] (Flunder, 2005, p. 7)

[7] (‌Moon & Tobin, 2018, p. 454) “gender complementarity, which posits that God created male and female as complementary opposites to be united in marriage.”

[8] (‌Moon & Tobin, 2018, p. ??)

[9] (‌Moon & Tobin, 2018, p. 452) “dispositional shame, namely, the experience of making chronic shame a requirement for the recognition of one’s personhood.”

[10] (Bornstein, 2016)

[11] (Hinojosa, 2021, p. 36)

[12] (Hinojosa, 2021, p. 27)

[13] (Blackburn & McCready, 2009, p. 223)

[14] (Blackburn & McCready, 2009, p. 225)

[15] (Blackburn & McCready, 2009, p. 225)

[16] (Blackburn & McCready, 2009, p. 228)

[17] (Parent, Johnson, Russell, & Gobble, 2020)

[18] (Parent, Johnson, Russell, & Gobble, 2020)