In our opinion: End the abuse of LGBT teens in Utah

Published: Tuesday, June 12 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Mockery is a rust that corrodes all it touches." So wrote Czech playwright Milan Kundera. It's a piece of wisdom that too many people seem determined to learn anew, the hard way.

Officials from the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit group dedicated to achieving equality for people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, were in Utah last weekend with a report that shows more teenagers feel harassed or unsafe here because of their orientation than in other states. In a survey, 69 percent of self-described LGBT Utah youths ages 13-17 said their community is not accepting of them. That compared with 42 percent nationwide. The vast majority of them said they feel they don't fit in, with three-quarters saying they believe they would have to leave the state in order to feel accepted.

These are troubling findings. The survey may not be statistically accurate. Researchers used social media to collect answers from 10,030 youth who described themselves as LGBT. These were compared with about 500 responses from a market research panel, which was used to measure the "straight" population and its feelings. Young people who self-identify on the Internet as LGBT may be among the most vocal of that demographic, and there may be others whose feelings were not reflected. A more representative sample might push the results in either direction. In the end, however, that is hardly important. What matters is that young people, regardless of their personal or religious beliefs, learn to respect the opinions of others and treat everyone with dignity.

Chad Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign, said, "I don't believe that there is any church, any school, or any set of parents that want to intentionally inflict harm on our young people, particularly in their most vulnerable years." True, and yet one must assume that, aside from perhaps some youthful lack of judgment, the incidents of taunting or bullying in Utah are, to at least some degree, a reflection of attitudes found within some of the homes where the bullies live. The problem likely extends beyond the boundaries of youth.

Another troubling aspect of the report showed that the Volunteers of America Utah Youth Homeless Drop-In Center is being visited by more local teens than ever before — a 166 percent increase over the past five years. VOA officials say abuse, whether physical or sexual, is the main reason teenagers end up homeless, but other factors contribute, including the troubles that may ensue from telling parents about their sexual orientation.

Young people are a precious resource. They deserve safety and dignity as they mature and develop a sense of self-worth. They need to understand the value of treating others with respect, especially when they disagree. That is a necessary virtue in order for a free society to continue to prosper. No one should tolerate abuses of young people, regardless of the reason or the type. Even mockery, as Kundera noted, causes damage far beyond what is readily apparent.

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