Breaking the Silence on Sexuality within the Orthodox Church

Further to Metropolitan Jonah

The following was written by my partner, Eric, in response to Metropolitan Jonah’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” letter, from the perspective of a non-Orthodox-Christian who rightly points out that it affects him as well. The hyperlinks in his addendum unfortunately didn’t come through when I copied this, but I can send some or all of them in a private message to anyone who’d like them. Let me know via private message or email–Dave

Dear Metropolitan Jonah –

I recently read your letter of May 2, 2010 to U.S. military officials outlining what you describe as the Orthodox position on the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy – as well as the broader issues of homosexuality, “gay lifestyle,” and “gay marriage.”

In your capacity as a religious leader, your statements carry weight beyond that of an ordinary person on the street. They have the potential to influence public policy for good or ill. Your May 2 DADT letter is a public document that has such potential. Sadly, that letter contains untruths that must be challenged.

I am not a member of the Orthodox faith, and as such, I have no standing to debate matters of Orthodox doctrine or tradition. However, as a thinking human being, I have standing to challenge untruths and injustice when they occur.

In addition to my credentials as a thinking human being, I am an openly gay man who has been in a loving same-sex relationship for 16 years. Through many years of health promotion work at one of the nation’s largest AIDS service organizations, I am also well versed in the medical and social-science research concerning HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, and the destructive impacts of stigma and discrimination on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. And as someone who, in the past, struggled with my own sexual identity – and has witnessed similar struggles of many others through my life and work – I know first-hand how painful and damaging misconceptions and untruths about homosexuality can be.

Although I identify as gay, this is just one small, but important, aspect of who I am. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are three-dimensional human and spiritual beings like any others. We love other men and women like ourselves, and it is no less natural or moral to express that love physically than it is for heterosexual couples.

Claiming that all LGBT persons are called by God to lives of celibacy is, at best, naïve and at worst a form of dehumanizing cruelty. How easy and convenient to dismiss another person’s human needs for connection and love by granting us lifelong celibacy. Celibacy is a life choice, a commitment that – judging from the tiny number of lifelong celibates – apparently few persons are emotionally or spiritually prepared to make. In contrast, one’s sexual identity is not a choice; it is an essential part of who we are – what God made us.

In your letter, you claim that homosexual activity and gay identity are “ultimately destructive” and sinfully self-deluded. I ask you simply: What and where is your evidence? Arguing solely on ideological or theoretical grounds, or citing tradition, do not constitute evidence in the realm of public policy – nor, I would argue, are they sufficient in matters of faith.

There is a large and growing body of medical and social-science research indicating that anti-LGBT stigma, discrimination, and denial of one’s identity are damaging and destructive – not same-sex attraction per se.

For your review, I have compiled as an addendum to this letter some of the literally hundreds of studies that support this statement. This list was compiled through a literature search of the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database ( I encourage you and your staff to search the medical and social-science literature for evidence-based, peer-reviewed research to support your claim that homosexual activity and gay identity are “ultimately destructive” and self-deluded.. Review and compare the evidence supporting and refuting your views, and then share what you find with those who look to you for spiritual guidance.

Citing long-standing tradition doesn’t free any man or woman – much less a spiritual leader – from the responsibility to reflect on the justice and consequences of such traditions. Slavery, racial discrimination, and the subjugation of women were all traditions of long standing. Fortunately, the vast majority of thoughtful men and women now recognize these institutions as dehumanizing and profoundly destructive. I am hopeful that the stigma and discrimination directed at LGBT persons will likewise soon be recognized for what it is – unreasoned, destructive prejudice – and relegated to the dustbin of history.

In your May 2 DADT letter, you claim that having a gay identity “entails a complete submission of oneself to a sinful state of self-delusion.” Please forgive me if I misunderstand your words: You seem to be saying not only that same-sex sexual activity is sinful, but that even accepting one’s same-sex attraction – that is, acknowledging an essential part of who one is – is inherently sinful and self-deluded. In so doing, you apparently claim to know the minds, hearts, and souls of all LGBT-identified men and women: We are to you, one and all, self-deluded and in a state of sin.

Fortunately, as you yourself point out, it is never too late to right a wrong. Quoting your May 2 letter: “There is, however, repentance.” I do hope that, following further reflection upon your unsupported pronouncements regarding homosexuality, you will take your own counsel for repentance to heart. Quoting your letter again: “The call to repentance is a call to healing, to forgiveness and to transformation. It is the core teaching of the Church for anyone caught in sin.”

Sincerely yours,

Eric Brus

Watertown, MA

Addendum: Research Papers and Articles on the Impact of Sexual Identity, Stigma, and Discrimination on the Health and Well-Being of LGBT Persons

Note: The title of each document below includes a hypertext link to either an abstract or full-text version of that document.

Homosexuality. Landmark 1994 literature review published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The authors’ conclusion:

“ Although there has been rapid growth recently in our knowledge about human sexual orientation, fundamental questions remain. Enough data have accumulated to warrant the dismissal of incorrect ideas once widely accepted about homosexual people. Many areas of law and public policy are still influenced by views discarded by behavioral scientists. Thus, homosexual acts are still considered criminal in many states. Decisions about custody, visitation, and adoption are frequently made on the basis of sexual orientation. Homosexual partners are not afforded the same protection as marital partners. In addition, homosexual people receive unequal treatment in the military. There are no data from scientific studies to justify the unequal treatment of homosexual people or their exclusion from any group.”

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health. From the recently launched “Healthy People 2020” Initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The overview section of this document notes that: “Research suggests that LGBT individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. Experiences of violence and victimization are frequent for LGBT individuals, and have long-lasting effects on the individual and the community. Personal, family, and social acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identity affects the mental health and personal safety of LGBT individuals.”

A later section of the report discusses some specific health consequences of LGBT stigma, discrimination, and victimization:

  • LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • LGBT youth are more likely to be homeless.
  • Lesbians are less likely to get preventive services for cancer.
  • Gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other STDs, especially among communities of color.
  • Lesbians and bisexual females are more likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Transgender individuals have a high prevalence of HIV/STDs, victimization, mental health issues, and suicide and are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals.
  • Elderly LGBT individuals face additional barriers to health because of isolation and a lack of social services and culturally competent providers.
  • LGBT populations have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use.

Health hazards of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Abstract from an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The following link has the full text of a commentary written by the physician who wrote that article.

How homophobia is fueling Africa’s HIV epidemic. Extract of article from the British Medical Journal.

Global prevention of HIV infection for neglected populations: men who have sex with men. This paper from the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases notes that, “Homophobia and discrimination limit access of MSM to prevention services and markedly increase vulnerability, as does criminalization of same-sex behavior.”

“God Made me Gay for a Reason”: Young Men who have Sex with Men’s Resiliency in Resolving Internalized Homophobia from Religious Sources. Full-text paper from the Journal of Adolescent Research.

Social justice and social determinants of health: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed, and queer youth in Canada. Abstract of paper from the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.

Criminal-Justice and School Sanctions Against Nonheterosexual Youth: A National Longitudinal Study. Abstract of article from the journal Pediatrics.

LGB and questioning students in schools: the moderating effects of homophobic bullying and school climate on negative outcomes. Abstract of paper from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Sexual orientation and bullying among adolescents in the growing up today study. Abstract of paper from the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The impact of gender-role nonconforming behavior, bullying, and social support on suicidality among gay male youth. Abstract of paper from the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Playing it safe: addressing the emotional and physical health of lesbian and gay pupils in the U.K. Abstract of article from the Journal of Adolescence.

Emotional distress among LGBT youth: the influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Abstract of article from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

The health and health care of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents. Abstract of paper from the Annual Review of Public Health.

National policy and sexual health of men who have sex with men. Abstract of paper from the British Journal of Nursing.

Avoiding shame: young LGBT people, homophobia and self-destructive behaviours. Abstract of paper from Culture, Health, and Sexuality.

The relationship of stigma to the sexual risk behavior of rural men who have sex with men. Abstract of article from AIDS Education and Prevention.

Social support and disclosure as predictors of mental health in HIV-positive youth. Abstract of article from AIDS Patient Care and STDs.

Homophobia, hypermasculinity and the US black church. Abstract of paper from the journal Culture, Health, and Sexuality.

Brief reports: Unequal treatment: mental health care for sexual and gender minority groups in a rural state. Paper from the journal Psychiatric Services.

Family and community influences on the social and sexual lives of Latino gay men. Abstract of article from the Journal of Transcultural Nursing.

Effects of violence and discrimination on the mental health of bisexuals, lesbians, and gays in Mexico City. English abstract of an article from Cadernos de Saude Publica.

Rates and predictors of mental illness in gay men, lesbians and bisexual men and women: Results from a survey based in England and Wales. Paper from the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Young people, social support and help-seeking. Abstract of paper from the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health.

Preventing HIV among Latino and African American gay and bisexual men in a context of HIV-related stigma, discrimination, and homophobia: perspectives of providers. Paper from AIDS Patient Care and STDS.

Increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases in homosexual men in Western Europe and the United States: why? Abstract of paper from the journal Infectious Disease Clinics of North America.

Recollections of bullying at school and their long-term implications for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Abstract of paper from the journal Crisis.

Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Paper from the journal Psychological Bulletin.

Sexual risk as an outcome of social oppression: data from a probability sample of Latino gay men in three U.S. cities. Abstract of article from the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

Do family and friendship networks protect against the influence of discrimination on mental health and HIV risk among Asian and Pacific Islander gay men? Abstract of article from AIDS Education and Prevention.

Homophobia, stigma and HIV in Jamaican prisons. Abstract of paper from the journal Culture, Health and Sexuality.

Homosexuality: Mental health and quality of life in a Brazilian socio-cultural context. Abstract of article from the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.

Barriers to optimal care between physicians and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning adolescent patients. Abstract of paper from the Journal of Homosexuality.

Relationship trajectories and psychological well-being among sexual minority youth. Abstract of paper from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Stigma, social context, and mental health: Lesbian and gay couples across the transition to adoptive parenthood. Abstract of article from the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

Harassment, discrimination, violence, and illicit drug use among young men who have sex with men. Abstract of article from AIDS Education and Prevention.