The Violence of Silence

Quotation-Maggie-Kuhn-fear-mind-Meetville-Quotes-182615Recently an employee working at Goshen College’s library, Tabi Berkey, came out as a lesbian. After submitting her resignation, she spoke about the impact of Goshen’s discriminatory hiring policy on her. I am incredibly grateful to Tabi for using her voice to stand up for other closeted employees, and for the many of us who would never apply for a position there as long as their discriminatory practice stands. I am also sad that Tabi had the experience of living in secrecy about her identity, and the impact that could/may have had on her wellness.

Here’s the thing, my peacemaking Mennonite community members: when we cause someone to live in fear that one person discovering the fullness of their humanity could shame and isolate them from their livelihood and work community, we do harm. We commit violence. And it is time to repent and make peace.

The impacts of that violence on queer bodies and minds manifest in a variety of ways. A recent study by Columbia University showed that living in an environment with anti-queer prejudice decreases life expectancy by 12 years. Twelve. Years.

According to the study “suicide, homicide/violence, and cardiovascular diseases were all substantially elevated among sexual minorities in high-prejudice communities.” This makes sense because as the study’s authors also point out “Psychosocial stressors” – perhaps like living in fear that one person could take away your livelihood at any moment – “are strongly linked to cardiovascular risk. Discrimination, prejudice, and social marginalization create several unique demands on stigmatized individuals that are stress-inducing.”

This isn’t the first study to take a look at the effect of institutional discrimination on queer folks and our health. In 2010, a Columbia University study examined the effects of discriminatory policies on psychiatric health. “This and others’ research has shown that a social environment characterized by prejudice and stigma” – for example, a policy showing straightness as the only identity worthy of employment – “is detrimental to the health of LGB people in that it brings about life events – large and small – and other conditions that are stressful. This stress can cause injury in the form of psychological distress, mental health problems, suicide, and lowered well-being.”

If the impact of Goshen and other Mennonite schools’ policies on queer bodies is not compelling to you, worry about the violence that homophobia is doing to people holding and enforcing prejudicial beliefs and policies. The impacts aren’t as dramatic, but recent studies have also shown that the life expectancy of folks holding prejudicial beliefs is 2.5 years less than those not holding those beliefs. Beliefs like: “Should a man who admits that he is homosexual be allowed to teach in a college or university, or not,” an actual question asked in the study. As the Atlantic says:

“It starts with stress. Chronic stress has a well-known link to greater risk for disease, and even death. Stress comes from many sources, of course, but one of those sources can be prejudice.  In a new study, published in American Journal of Public Health, researchers at Columbia University and the University of Nebraska looked at whether anti-gay prejudice could similarly be linked to mortality.”

Spoiler alert, it can, to the tune of 2.5 years!

Silencing Tabi, and all our queer employees is a form of violence. Not to mention the violence of enforcing that policy, and either firing or not hiring a queer person – the emotional and mental health impacts, the financial impacts and in turn the impacts on access to housing, health care, and other basic needs.

And holding beliefs that a person’s sexual or gender identity causes them to be less than or other than fully human, and fully worthy of access to jobs, health care, basic needs, relationships, community, church, love, and God who is love – holding those beliefs is violence to yourself.

My peacemaking Mennonite community, it is time to repent, to love, and to make peace.

Here is Tabi’s letter (Click to enlarge):



2 thoughts on “The Violence of Silence

  1. These ‘high-prejudice’ communities do not just persecute against those of the LGBTQ community. It also persecutes against those who want to be voices of support to the LGBTQ community. My prominent Christian job has been in question numerous times because I refuse to take an active militant stand against same-sex attraction.

    Those of us who are sensitive to and hate how the gay community has been treated are under pressure to conform to the same judgment/violent front or risk being among the persecuted.

    I felt the same way in elementary school on the playground. The made fun of other kids so the bully would focus on them and not me.

    I admire Tabi for her courage and at the same time ask for her forgiveness. I am scared to lose my job and long to get out of the ‘Christian’ job sector so I can be honest. I have a mortgage, a little bit of debt, little experience outside the Christian sector, and a little girl at home that I want to provide for.

    • I’m sorry you’re also experiencing the stress and threat of joblessness because you desire a more loving and just workplace. I appreciate and support you for being willing to take the risk not to participate in hate just to save your job.

      Thank you for bringing to the surface just how deeply prejudice penetrates.

      Much love,

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