by Dakota OutRight
The lives of our young people are increasingly at risk because of an anti-LGBTQIA climate created by a storm of conflicting messages on global, national, statewide, and local levels. It’s one thing to read about the wave of anti-trans legislation in our neighboring state of South Dakota, but another thing entirely that a North Dakota man makes headlines for terrorizing his lesbian daughter because of her sexual orientation.
According to the Fargo Forum, a father is accused of threatening to kill his teenage daughter because she came out to him as a lesbian. On Sunday night, West Fargo police received a report that a man pointed a gun at people in car at a gas station. When questioned, the father, Kamiran Bakir, said he was upset by the news she was a lesbian. According to the Forum, the 16- or 17-year-old daughter said that earlier the father told her “she was lucky that she’s not eighteen because he would have put a bullet in her head.”
That violent statement is nothing that any parent should ever say to their child, but what harm is done by seemingly lesser reactions from unaccepting parents? Can we use this awful incident as a reality check that our youth are in grave danger if we don’t do more?
Some media have quickly highlighted the fact that Bakir is Muslim, and the story is being framed in a way that suggests this extreme reaction toward an LGBTQIA person has something to do with “culture.” And they don’t mean our collective culture, they mean Islam. We need to avoid the issue being framed this way because it creates a distraction from the core issue of the climate toward LGBTQIA people right now, especially youth.
Let’s be clear: More youth in North Dakota, and in our country as a whole, have been harmed by equally extreme parents from non-Muslim belief systems. There are numerous religions popular in our state that hold similarly harmful views against the very existence of LGBTQIA people, and heartbreakingly, some LGBTQIA youth in our communities are rejected and harmed by their parents daily. While not downplaying the serious nature of this domestic violence situation that involved firearms, it’s important to understand the impact of parental rejection on LGBTQIA youth.
In 2013, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) published a survey of more than 10,000 LGBT-identified youth ages 13-17, titled Growing Up LGBT in America. When asked “What is the most significant problem facing you in life these days,” more than a quarter (26%) of LGBT youth answered “My parents/family not accepting.” But what about for kids who don’t identify as LGBT – what is their biggest problem? A similar number answered “Trouble with classes, exams, or grades” (22%).
Nearly 6 in 10 LGBT youth (57%) say that churches or places of worship in their communities are not accepting, and a third say their own church or place of worship is not accepting. Direct quotes from youth surveyed:
“I have been graciously received by my peers, but the biggest issue I face is my parents. I have been called sick and perverted by them.”
“I can’t come out to anyone I know at church because they will immediately see me as a bad person.”
“It’s very easy to look at me and tell I’m gay and it makes me feel afraid to walk around knowing there are people here in my hometown that hate me and people like me enough to attack me.”
“My relationship with my parents has become much more tense ever since I came out.”
This data has confirmed what we know anecdotally – LGBTQIA youth are being rejected by their families in our communities, too. Just because it’s not happening visible to the public doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The harm of parental rejection can come through verbal, emotional, mental, and physical abuse, not just the shockingly obvious cases involving firearms in public places. And if not stopped, if youth not supported, we see increased risk factors for substance abuse, depression, homelessness, and suicide.
Since the marriage equality ruling, North Dakota’s lack of protections for LGBTQIA people has created an environment even more conducive to bigotry. Despite the self-professed reasons why this father terrorized his own child, he can’t be charged for a hate crime in our state. He was already released on bail – the news reports say nothing about if he was allowed to be around his daughter or if she is being protected in any way from him. That deserves attention, too. His next appearance is more than a month away, and makes us concerned for her safety in the interim.
So what do we do? Reality can feel extremely isolating and overwhelming, but there are many things that you can do to support LGBTQIA youth in your community. Make it known that you are a supportive ally and inform youth in your life of this. Speak out against anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric, hate speech, and all the anti-legislation happening around us, and speak up for much-needed nondiscrimination protections for our state and other states. Support organizations like Youthworks in both Fargo and Bismarck that provide emergency shelter services for youth.
It is also the obligation of other adults in young people’s lives to create safer spaces in other environments because we don’t always know whether LGBTQIA youth are supported at home. Help do the hard work of educating other parents about the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and how their rejection can harm their kids. Dakota OutRight is debuting a Creating Safe Spaces toolkit this spring for educators, counselors, social workers, and any youth-serving professional that includes a comprehensive resource guide and awareness materials. A training is being held on April 2 in Bismarck. For more information on this project and training, go to www.dakotaoutright.org/css.
For more information and youth-specific resources statewide and for Bismarck and Fargo, go to www.dakotaoutright.org/resources.
No young person deserves to live in fear of their parent, especially for having the courage to be themselves.