Last week, the Jehovah's Witnesses released a video on their website to indoctrinate children with an intolerance of homosexuality. It's a very well produced cartoon that has received some unwanted attention and criticism, given that it is aimed at children. Its point is to insist that LGBT people can change, and must change, in order to be accepted by God. The animated video begins with a young girl's drawing of her family, but in her drawing, the face of her younger brother is unfinished. Blank. He has no identity.
There's an unintended message from the Jehovah's Witnesses in this video. That little boy in the drawing, the one which his sister didn't complete, is invisible and could represent so many other gay kids who grew up under an enormous boulder of religious intolerance, like me. He represents so many children today who are told they cannot exist.
I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness. As a child, homosexuality was depicted by my father and my religion as solely being about the sexual activities of effeminate men who wore women's clothes and referred to each other as "Sweets." Strangely, those conversations never included mention of women. Lesbians didn't exist in the construct of the Jehovah's Witness religion at that time. As a child, I didn't understand any of it. I had known from the age of seven who I was, and I knew it wasn't allowed. I was not to exist, as I knew I should. I could not embrace the identity I believed I was.
The Jehovah's Witnesses have never been tolerant of people like me, and aren't afraid of going out on a limb by publishing their myopic but ever-changing views on homosexuality. In 1976, just before I became a teenager, the Jehovah's Witnesses produced a book for children that explained homosexuality from the JW perspective.
"Should you experiment with your sex organs? Is there anything wrong with rubbing them in some way until the excitement is climaxed?
This practice is called masturbation. It is very common. Lying and stealing are also common today. Yet you wouldn't say this makes them natural and proper, would you? The "common" cold is quite universal, but this certainly doesn't mean that you want it, does it?
Weakly giving in to sexual desires by masturbation will certainly not give you strength when faced with a situation tempting you to commit fornication -- or even homosexuality. Just the opposite, it cultivates wrong thinking and wrong desire. In fact, masturbation can lead into homosexuality. In such instances the person, not satisfied with his lonely sexual activity, seeks a partner for mutual sex play.
This happens much more frequently than you may realize. Contrary to what many persons think, homosexuals are not born that way, but their homosexual behavior is learned. And often a person gets started when very young by playing with another's sexual parts, and then engaging in homosexual acts." (Your Youth -- Getting the Best out of It, 1976 p.35,36,39)
At my age of twelve, I believed what the Witnesses told me. My impure and sexual thoughts of other boys had only been created by masturbation, apparently -- making me a homosexual. I had certainly discovered the activity of self-pleasure by then, but I resolved to stop such behavior and believed it would result in my ceasing to exist in the way I thought I was. I only needed to be a non-masturbatory boy in order to evolve into a girl-chasing heterosexual, it seemed. So I prayed a lot, hoping it would help.
A few years later, in 1978, two Hollywood homosexuals got married. The Jehovah's Witnesses reported on the event in their Awake! magazine. I read the story and tried to imagine what a homosexual-marrying-church would look like... envisioning a wedding procession with a man wearing a floor-length wedding dress... intrigued to learn about others who might be like me... feeling horrible pangs of guilt for being titillated by a few trivial words describing them. Before then, it had never occurred to me that homosexuals would marry each other. God hated homosexuals, I was told, and that fact came up in religious conversation frequently. People like me should not exist, my religion told me. I didn't understand how effeminate mannerisms connected to homosexuals, or how they related to me, or how I could possibly be a homosexual if I wasn't that way. My prayers frequently included the heartfelt request for help, but the discovery that one homosexual wanted to marry another completely challenged my perception of what it really meant to be one, and to question all the things my father and my religion had said about them. For anyone who hasn't yet embraced the significance that is afforded by marriage equality today, I can tell you that the right to marry is empowering. The recognition that gay marriages could even exist affected me at a time when I was fighting to be someone I wasn't.
So today, the Jehovah's Witnesses have come out with a new video, targeting children and parents and instructing them on the subject of homosexuality and intolerance. I wonder how many children will see it and suffocate their identities, embracing the intolerance of their religion? How many children will embrace self-loathing and shame after watching this video? How many gay children will see this video and believe they are worthy of nothing other than being blank faces in a drawing?