American Friends Service Committee Supports Gay Youth Intern Targeted For Harassment

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) recently expressed its support for a youth intern working in the AFSC's Seattle-based Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (GLBTQ) Youth Program, who is the subject of an anonymous "Christian Alert" that refers to him as "a threat to our Christian and moral beliefs." The alert, a widely distributed e-mail message, calls upon recipients of the alert to "let [him] know how you feel" by visiting his personal website. "Robert (last name withheld) obviously has been singled out because of his courage and activism," said Judith Kolokoff, Director of the AFSC's Pacific Northwest Regional Office. "This alert is presented in the language of religion and morality, no doubt by people sincere about their religious beliefs. While the intentions of the writers may be simply to voice their convictions, a too-frequent effect of anti-gay proclamations using loaded and sensational language is to tacitly encourage the rancor and hate of individuals who are ready to lash out with violent words and actions. The resulting harassment of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender is anything but moral."

Plans for a public, interfaith witness, "Love & Justice: People of Faith Support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth," will be announced this week by the AFSC's Pacific Northwest Regional Office. The witness will be held in Seattle the first week in May.

Robert, himself a Christian, recently began receiving numerous vitriolic e-mails, all emphasizing the same basic theme: "You're a sinner, and God hates you," virtually all of them coming from self-identified Christians. But he was not aware of this "Christian Alert" until an unknown, but sympathetic, person shared it because he felt Robert ought to know that this document was circulating via e-mail.

Internet-based harassment is familiar to people in the gay community. Not long ago, a website established as a forum for people to share their grief and outrage over Matthew Shepard's hate-motivated murder, was shut down by a coordinated right-wing effort to spam the site continuously with hate-filled, anti-gay postings.

"Virtual harassment" has become so commonplace that the state of Washington recently joined the growing number of states that have made it illegal to harass or stalk individuals through the use of electronic communications, including Internet-based communications.

"All of us who work with Robert," Kolokoff said, "know him to be a young man of high moral caliber who believes deeply in the power of love to transform hatred. We are honored to stand with him, and with all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people who are struggling, against great odds, for a society that is just, compassionate and inclusive."

Robert said he's always been aware of the risks associated with being visible in his activism. "Every day, I encounter people who are afraid of gay people, who believe the most extreme and hateful stereotypes about us," he said. "It's impossible to grow up gay without knowing that. But it's scary, sometimes, to have that level of hatred directed right at you. "I believe God embraces us all. People sometimes speak in voices of hatred, contempt, and fear. But God always speaks in a voice of love and justice."

The authorship of the "Christian Alert" is unknown, according to Kay Whitlock, special AFSC representative for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender programs. "While we have traced some of the routing of this document through ultra-conservative, right-wing religious networks in Colorado and Texas, it's impossible to know which individuals or organizations ultimately are responsible for this."

She said the AFSC will respond by making its witness on behalf of GLBTQ youth more visible. "The AFSC religious witness is one of actively treasuring all members of the human community," she said. "To GLBTQ young people, we say that we have been standing with you for more than twenty years and will continue to do so."

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