Cultural Criticism
In the debate between religion and LGBTQ+ communities, there is more common ground than expected
Religion is impeding the decisions of too many people choosing to love who they want. Several depictions and interpretations of the Bible point to same-sex attraction in a negative light. But, the Bible nor God ever mention homosexuality as sexual orientation wasn't an established idea yet. Regardless, churches have debated the appropriate response to an increasing number of LGBTQ+-identifying members for years.
On one side, there are LGBTQ+ affirming churches that actively celebrate people's identities and sexual orientations. On the other, churches that believe an LGBTQ+ identity and a Christian faith are inherently conflicting, and people who experience “same-sex attraction” must choose one or the other. 
On both sides of this stale battle, there are religious leaders who want to create a safe space for people who experience “same-sex attraction.” They both believe that God wants you to live a life of faith, but approach this issue in different ways.
A church that follows the affirmation model is the Old South Church in Copley Square. Katherine Schofield is the interim associate minister at Old South and has been a member since 2006. When I sat down with Schofield, my fear of churches was bubbling inside me. I didn’t grow up in a religious household, so this issue doesn’t apply to me in any life-changing way, but I’m gay. I know that an unaccepting faith can cause distress and self-hatred in teens and adults, to the point of driving people to suicide, so sitting down with church officials naturally made me nervous. I also knew Schofield identifies as a lesbian though, and I thought if she’s made it this far within an institution that may consider her a sinner, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. 
“I definitely had fear, fear around coming out, fear around being accepted,” she said. “[But] I never felt that God didn't love me, which is a blessing for me — that I grew up being taught that God is love.” 
When I started this article, I planned to prove that it was impossible to be ex-gay. During the interview I brought that up, assuming Schofield would agree, but I assumed wrong. 
She removed the issue from the context of faith and explained how anyone could go through an experience that changes how they see the world or how they love altogether. That opened my eyes because I never thought of looking at without the lens of faith. People’s experience and identity can both change for many reasons, and that’s all someone’s sexual orientation is. I now believe that anyone could go through anything and potentially be “ex-gay,” but let’s not use that term as it’s been disavowed by people in all communities.
As good as this mindset is that God loves you just the way you are and it does not matter how you live, not everyone agrees.
Brenna Kate Simonds is the leader of a Christian ministry called Alive In Christ, which aims to “offer hope for those who are impacted by same-sex attraction.” Alive in Christ hosts weekly support groups for Christians who are distressed by their attraction, as well as their family and friends. It's important to note that they do not actively recruit members — instead all of their members have come to them looking for this type of support.
Simonds is an amazingly interesting woman, who lived a part of her life identifying as a lesbian. She was both romantically and sexually involved with women, but then these temptations as she calls them were gone. She now chooses to live in a wonderfully-committed heterosexual marriage.
I felt some hostility while gathering background info on Simonds and Alive and Christ. The website was somewhat outdated and plain, which gave it a cold feeling, but seeing Simonds sitting in the Starbucks where we met had an instant calming effect. Through a computer screen, I couldn't see her personality well — I could only see her beliefs. Meeting her in person with a coffee and a smile on her face reminded me that she's a human just as I am, even if her beliefs conflict with my lifestyle.
Simonds explained that Alive in Christ is designed for people that want to reconcile their faith with their sexuality.
“I want them to feel like there are people who understand,” she said. “There are people who've been where they are. And [I want them] to feel heard, because I do think that's kind of a problem in the church in general.” 
This statement made me happy because she was giving people a space to say what was on their minds. I just wasn’t exactly keen on the title of “Strugglers” that these people are given through AIC. 
From both sides of this conflict, there was one thing that stuck out in a good way. Both Schofield and Simonds believe that knowing someone in the LGBTQ+ community as a person, regardless of their faith, is so much better than worrying about if they believe they are a sinner.
”You could go back and forth about biblical interpretation and what the text really means, but that won't make as much of a difference as actually knowing somebody who's LGBTQ and getting to know [them] as a person,” Schofield said. 
I can write this article and argue with anyone who disagrees with it, but at the end of the day, we’re all just humans who have the same characteristics and share the same world. We can still get to know each other and become friends regardless of how we choose to live out our faiths. Though Simonds personally believes that she couldn’t follow her faith and be in relationships with women, she thinks accepting others’ choices is also part of her faith.
“Whatever your beliefs are — [Nathan] you have rainbows on your ears, and because you contacted me on Facebook I looked at your Facebook page, and you have a rainbow flag,” she said. “I kind of assume you identify as gay or queer or something like that. If I want to have the right to live my life, the way I feel God is telling me to live it, I need to give you the right to live your life, the way that you feel like is best.”
Both Simonds and Schoefield believe they are doing what God intended for them to do. I think this is important as God may speak to everyone differently. Personally, I draw the line at changing or twisting someone’s thoughts, and I’m sure they would as well, though one may argue that’s what Simonds does. 
I started this journey trying to find out why Christianity is incompatible with homosexuality and I think I got an answer. At the end of the day, no one can save you but God. You were not born into this life to compete with the others for the worthiness of God’s love. You already have it. Remember that.
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Cultural Criticism
Understanding China's brainwashing camps
Ever since 2014, the Chinese government has employed sophisticated surveillance technology in the Xinjiang region, according to The New York Times. The technology is designed for struggling cities and impoverished communities to crack down on illegal actions. But in 2017, China began sending Uyghur Muslims, a small Turkic minority-ethnic group, to “re-education camps.”
Over the past three years, about 100,000 Uyghur Muslims have been detained and brought to camps in Xinjiang, according to the BBC. The dormitories in these camps can hold up to 10 people per room, with only a thin sheet of fabric as bedding along with one pillow. The detainees are forced to reject their religion and beliefs. For example, most Muslims are forced to eat pork and drink wine, which is forbidden in their religion.
If a detainee decides they don't want to leave their religious beliefs behind, the Chinese government reportedly puts that person into solitary confinement. This means they are separated from all of society and it's just them, a bathroom and a bed in a small cell. Some Muslims contemplate suicide after a few weeks in the facility.
When Jannet Hasan, a 10th grader at the John D. O’Bryant, first heard about the re-education camps, she felt sick to her stomach. 
“How can they sleep at night knowing they’re ripping families apart?” Hasan, a Muslim herself, asked. “In all honesty, I am in no way surprised that this is happening ... ever since 9/11 Muslims have been targeted and it escalated when Trump got elected.”
China believes that it is stopping “terrorism … and separatism” by running the camps. According to the BBC, “(China) claims voluntary training schools for Muslim-majority Uyghurs are in fact heavily policed re-education camps.” In November 2019, 400 pages of leaked files were exposed to the public. In response, the Chinese government said the leaked files are “fake news.” 
“China is a communist country and, with that said, the leader runs the whole show and has the view that most, if not all, of China should be Hun Chinese,” Christian Scott, a history teacher at the Patrick Lyndon Pilot School explained. “If not, they are looked at as lower than anybody who is.” 
In the past, China has done other human injustices, such as thehe Tiananmen Square massacre. The Tiananmen Square protests were “student-led demonstrations calling for democracy, free speech and a free press in China,” according to The Human Rights Watch. This protest ended with many fatalities caused by the Chinese government, and thirty years later Chinese authorities have not acknowledged the atrocity or provided justice. While the goal of communism is to create a classless society, in practice, a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production, making it hard to get unbiased information. 
As of right now, we still don't have definitive data about the situation in China. We should continue to pay attention to the issue, though, and look to established news outlets.
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Cultural Criticism
Awareness of the long-term effects of child abuse is critical
Kids all around the world experience abuse. They face it from day to day — not all kids have a sweet friendly life. Child abuse is overlooked by some because everyone has their own opinion on what child abuse is. 
Types of abuse include physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. Part of the challenge is that it can be hard for kids to ask for help. For example, if a kid tried to call someone, they might get abused worse by their guardian. Although the incidence of child abuse and neglect has been decreasing, at least 678,000 children in the United States were abused in 2018, according to the Children’s Bureau. Child abuse happens everywhere from wealthy families to poor. It can occur in any race or religion.
According to Healthy Place, the largest consumer mental health site, some of the long-lasting effects of abuse are eating disorders, anti-social behavior, apathy and lethargy, depression, and sometimes even attention problems. As you can see, it's not something kids should be going through. Kids can become very anxious and fearful, and it can also be hard for them to express their emotions. They won't have the sweet, loving life of a kid. Instead, they will be traumatized.
Imagine being hit or touched in a way you don’t like. Imagine having to relive that day or year or even having to experience it now. Not only do these experiences have an impact in the moment, but those effects often stay with children who are abused. 
In school, children are often asked to put on a pretty face to show nothing is wrong. While with friends, they may not be able to have the fun they would like to have. School can actually be a triggering space for many kids because their peers don't really know what personal space is. For children who have experienced abuse, their tolerance for touching is often very limited.
Furthermore, trauma can negatively impact social life as well. When a student’s friends talk about their lives, it’s often difficult for students who have experienced abuse to just open up. Many kids find it hard to form long-lasting and real relationships. They tend to struggle to trust people in ways that may seem easy to others.
Across the nation, child abuse is a vast issue and many kids are affected by this issue. Depression, PTSD, concentration difficulties and many other conditions can be caused by trauma. The youth are stripped away from the childhood that they thought they’d have. Instead, they are terrified of the ones that are supposed to give them that security and warmth. Without addressing this it will become more of a problem than it already is. Stop abusing your children, stop making their self-esteem and confidence dissolve into nothing but ash. Love your children whom you swore you’d protect and love unconditionally. 
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Cultural Criticism
We need to stop using LGBTQ+ slurs
Imagine walking through the halls of your school, your hands gripped tightly onto the straps of your worn out, heavy backpack. Excitement and happiness flow through your veins as you feel unstoppable. Today is your day. You’re going to accomplish the hardest of tasks. You walk into your homeroom with a prance, a proud one at that, but you stop, your feet glued to the ground as soon as you hear the word linger off of one of your classmate’s mouths.
“Get off of me, f----t!” A boy yells to one of your classmates, forcefully shoving him out the way. The two are just playing around, or so it seems. Your eyes widen with shock, your mouth not able to mutter a single word as it feels as though it’s sewn shut. 
Suddenly, your world feels like it’s crumbling down. All of your hopes of today being a good day clash into the fact that today is ruined. You feel hurt. No, you feel angry. Angry that someone would use such a degrading term. As you finally free your feet from their glued position you walk over to your seat and sit down with a huff. You try to hold back the tears, a lump forming in your throat. Today is ruined and you can’t do anything to fix it.
Some people believe the common, reclaimed “f-slur” is an acceptable word, but it’s not. People who are not in the LGBTQ+ community may think that saying the word will make them popular and cool. Some kids in this society just want to fit in, so they do or say disrespectful things. People in the LGBTQ+ community work on their self-confidence to tell themselves that they’re normal and nothing is wrong with them. If someone who doesn’t identify with the community uses the slur, it can damage LGBTQ+ people’s self-esteem and confidence, putting them into a deeper hole than they were before.
Ethan Smith, a 17-year old student attending TAFE, a vocational school in Australia, identifies as a queer male. “[People using slurs] makes me upset because I don’t think people understand how much it hurts other people or the impact it has,” he said.
These words that people use so freely make people feel excluded, uncomfortable and out of place. “When I was younger I had a friend named Joel,” Smith recalled. “He was kicked out of our friendship group because the kids kept calling him LGBTQ+ slurs.”
People also don’t know what this term means. The dictionary definition of the f-slur is “a bundle of sticks or sticks bound together as fuel,” but over time, it came to mean, “a male homosexual.” In a Huffington Post article, writer Casey Cavanagh explains the atrocious history of the word.
“They used to burn the witches at a stake, but they thought the homosexuals were too low and disgusting to be given a stake to be burnt on, so they used to just throw them in with the kindling, with the other f----ts,” she writes. “So that’s how you get ‘flaming f----t.’” 
The history of this word reflects the horrible events occured in the past. People who don’t know the definition of the word don't know the impact it could have on someone when they use the word freely.
People in the LGBTQ+ community work so hard to accept themselves and their gender or sexuality. Building up their self-confidence to finally come out to their loved ones is hard, and hearing someone say the f-slur in a disrespectful manner is discouraging. 
Many people in the community — or those who are just assumed to be — have been targeted with hate crimes because of their identity. According to the Clarion Ledger, in 28-year-old Trevor Gray was beat by two men who believed he was gay in Wayne County, Mississippi. The men met Gray at a bar and beat him senseless, leaving him with a broken jaw. One of the attackers, Tomos Sion Brown called him a queer, which is another slur, though some have chosen to reclaim it. This shows why people who are in that community might be scared or uncomfortable to come out because of the hate crimes being committed. 
Hannah Kibirige, author of an education guide on tackling homophobic language states, “... the unchallenged use of ‘gay’ to mean bad or rubbish has a profoundly negative effect on gay young people’s self-esteem.” In this generation, since youth are exposed to so much negativity on social media platforms, the words people use affect us more and we take it to heart.
People need to stop using these words because of their horrific history. LGBTQ people are often scared to reveal their true selves because of how others use this term in a joking or disrespectful way. If people knew the actual definition of the word maybe they wouldn’t use it. After knowing the history and telling people how many community members have been physically and emotionally hurt you shouldn’t say it in a joking or disrespectful way. Instead of calling people this term, use their real name, or refer to them the way they identify themselves. 
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Photo by Teens in Print
One time there were tears running down my face, and my friend Jayleen saw me crying. I was standing near the front door of the bus about to get on. She asked if I was okay and let me sit next to her on the bus ride home. Her being there made me feel much better. You have to be there for your friend. If your friends don't treat you right, then they don't deserve you. It is okay to let your friends go sometimes. It doesn't mean you are a bad person at all. Some people aren't cut out to be your friend. Think about it, do you have good friends or not? 
Did you know it's good to have friends in preschool? Both girls and boys form strong attachments to others, and both need social and emotional support. Good friends can be anyone: big or small, strong or weak. If they have your back and have a big heart, they’ll be a good friend. They can also make you a better person, and a good friend will challenge you to do new things. If you need advice, friends give good advice. 
A good friend is someone who won't judge you based on your appearance, and won’t want you to change who you are just to be their friend. If they are a good friend they will learn to accept you for who you are. A good friend will be there for you if you need a shoulder to lean on or a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to support you when you are not feeling your best. A good friend will listen to you, and won't push you into something you don't want to do. They will support you and help you reach your full potential. And they will help you be your best self. Even if all else fails and you feel like the world is ending, they won't give up on you or let you down. A really good friend is someone who will come running to see what’s wrong when you shout their name—just like a superhero! My best friend is my own superhero and has always been there for me when I needed her. Even when we get into arguments we always end up making up in the end. I don't know of any BFFs that don't fight—do you? 
If you have a real friend, a true friend, then they won’t get you in trouble. And the real ones keep in touch with you throughout your life. However, the fake friends will leave when they don't need you anymore. They will use you to get what they want from you because they know you’re an easy target or you’re just vulnerable and emotional. Fake friends will try to use your vulnerability to manipulate you to get what they want. Your real friends would never blackmail you. Your real friends are like family and they will fight for you. The point is, fake friends cannot be trusted and are toxic. If you have a fake friend, do me a favor and please get rid of them. They’re a waste of time and you do not need them in your life. Fake friends are like poison. All they do is cause drama and make your life worse.   
I don't think people realize that we have the power as a civilization to make other people feel good. We can make a huge difference if we just ask someone to sit with us if they look lonely. It wouldn't kill you to be nice, and you’d probably make that lonely kid’s day. It will also make you feel good to do something nice for someone else. You can make the world a better place by being nice and making sure that there’s one less kid who doesn't have a friend. Our choices, good or bad, have consequences on other people's lives, and could influence others to make bad choices in the world. Just because you see someone doing something bad doesn't mean you have to do it too. Don't be a follower. Be who you want be—not who someone else wants you to be.
You might think people are not watching, but they are. Kids or adults will start to notice how you treat your friends, and even your friends will start to notice too. If you’re lucky, they will stick around. Friendship is about understanding. You need to understand the other person to have conversations, and you need to understand their feelings, too. A lot of people take other people’s feelings for granted, and that can cause problems in your friendship. Friendship can sometimes be complicated, but once you establish a good friendship, you will figure out how to make it work along the way.
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