Earlier today I participated in what we call a Paradigm Shift Initiative on the topic of sexual identity. These are discussion-based exchanges in which we explore as a group interesting and challenging topics. Today’s topic dealt with the legal case in Florida in which the parents of a 14-year-old girl filed charges upon learning about an inappropriate relationship with an adult. In some ways it is a straightforward legal case in Florida, as the youth was a minor and the other person was an adult.
However, the case took a dramatic turn in that a national campaign has come about to garner support for the 18-year-old female charged in the case (her name is Kaitlyn Hunt). In part because the adult is a female, several groups representing the gay community also weighed in with support for Hunt. The group anonymous has also weighed in to support Hunt. Some folks have likened Hunt to Rosa Parks; many have not found that comparison to be all that accurate.
So this case was the topic today. We had representatives from law, divinity, and psychology present, as well as students from those programs. Some of the discussion early on was about the legal perspective, about what prosecutors do in cases like this, and so on. One question raised had to do with the appeal by the gay community to an equality paradigm (for marriage equality); does that mean that when the law is broken, there should be equality in terms of consequences? That was interesting and would seem to be at the heart of the accusation that the case is one based on discrimination. Interestingly, not everyone in the gay community views prosecuting this case as discriminatory. For example, the Examiner is reporting that the Vero Beach PFLAG has not gotten behind the charge of discrimination.
We have not been able to find where the charges brought against this unfortunate young lady are inspired by homophobia, or are in any way anti-LGBTQ. The cry of discrimination, unless more facts come out, does not seem to apply here. Some very simple research yields cases where heterosexual kids have been arrested and prosecuted under the same law. – David McKinnon (Vero Beach PFLAG chapter)
The discussion then turned to psychological and emotional considerations surrounding adolescence, including the differences in maturity levels between a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old. We also discussed milestone events in sexual identity development, and how experiences can shape a person’s narrative or storied identity, including attributions and meaning-making. This raises questions about what sexual orientation is — are we discussing it as a fixed reality that is discovered (based on essentialism) or is a linguistic construct fashioned by society to name/label preferences (based on social constructivism)? That has been a matter of debate for years now and is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
There is also a clinical issue that arises in terms of working with a 14-year-old in a case like this. How does one navigate sexual identity questions in light of sexual experiences and meaning-making. The media attention would seem to only increase the challenges here. But even if that were not in play (the media circus), there would still be the question of how to provide services that allow a person to reflect on sexual identity questions in light of a range of considerations. One of the purposes of developing the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework was to offer some guidance in how that kind of exploration could be supportive with the goal mind of living a congruent life. In any case, time and patience are both friends of more mature decisions around sexual identity and behavior.
Then we turned to the church. The discussion included how youth ministry currently addresses this topic (or fails to address this topi). It was pointed out that when a church teaches, “Just stop being gay!” they end up making it very difficult for a sexual minority teen to know how to respond. To them, “being gay” is essentially having same-sex attractions or a homosexual orientation. They are unable to “just stop,” which often means their experiences go underground, which contributes to greater isolation and shame.
It was an interesting discussion, especially toward the end. As you can see, the Hunt legal case was really just the discussion starter, as we ended up taking it in a variety of directions that are relevant to church and culture today. We definitely needed more time to do the topic justice. I think they are planning on a Part B to follow-up.