Supported and Ignored

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

I have been incredibly encouraged by the support so many families have shown for me recently, it is truly incredible.  A lot of my recent journey has felt pretty lonely, but knowing that a whole community is supporting me has really made it much more bearable.  It is not surprising but deeply disappointing to realize that I have received more unconditional love and acceptance from the families that Young Life is trying to reach with the promise of unconditional love and acceptance than from any Young Life staff.  Their silent avoidance speaks volumes, and their actions speak louder than their carefully chosen, deceptive words.  Below are just a few of the many, many letters parents and students have recently written to Young Life  in efforts to support me and see me restored to leadership. All communications received the same response that skirted responsibility and attempted to make me the bad guy for communicating about my sexuality and exposing what I believe is the reality of prejudice, bigotry, ignorance and homophobia present at the top and local levels of Young Life.  Blaming and shaming the victim is a classic technique used in all kinds of discrimination; it is similar to blaming a rape victim for inviting the sexual assault by wearing revealing clothing.  Attempting to silence the victim, control what is shared about the discriminatory actions, and spin the situation in a way that releases liability is another.  These families are intelligent enough to recognize and see through these techniques, which are as old as the prejudice they are so desperately protecting.  They only legitimize what I have been sharing.  Although many families took the time to write these letters, Young Life’s response to me was one sentence that can be seen at the very end of this post.

Dear Mason,

My wife and I both grew up attending Young Life events on Mercer Island and Bellevue respectively. These were great events, where everyone was accepted and there was no distinction between athletes and band members, cool crowd or not; everyone was welcome. We all were interested in learning more about God, but also learning more about each other. It was and continues to be a unique experience.

We now have three children of our own (ages 17, 14 and 12) and the two oldest have both, amazingly, been though the same experience with Younglife; they have memories already for a lifetime. These memories would not be possible if not for [this leader]

[This leader’s] energy and passion for Young Life is invigorating, passionate and real. The kids, our kids, are forever grateful to him for getting them involved. They both came back from Young Life camps this summer in a much better place, with new friends, incredible memories and a new perspective. However, this has gotten complicated for them now with [this leader’s] departure.

How do we answer their questions about how a seemingly accepting organization has turned its back on someone so dedicated to its cause. So passionate, that he has rallied a new generation of Young Lifers that fill a parking lot In a Bellevue church as they load buses headed towards camp. In business, we refer to these impact employees as leaders and the reality is, there is simply not enough of them! You have one with [this leader!]

Do the right thing and bring back [this leader] as the passionate Young Life leader he is, as his absence is continuing to have a real perceptive negative impact on this new generation of Young Life kids, and that as a parent is tough to explain.

Please feel free to email or call us at anytime.

Dear Mr. Rutledge,

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the YL organization, their leaders, programs and particularly, the ease at which their leaders are able reach these kids on their level, and get them to spend time thinking about their lives as Christians, and to commit or recommit themselves to God.  My two children have grown up with YL, in weekly meetings and camps each summer. I too have attended my own Christian bible studies for the last 5 years and my husband grew up in a devoted Catholic family. We are a family that is committed to our church and to the YL organization. I never would imagined I would be writing a letter to the administration to complain, but I believe YL has made a huge error in judgement on the topic of gay leadership, in the particular case of [this leader]. This decision has ramifications that could negatively reflect on YL’s local reputation for years. This not only hurts a good Christian on a very personal level, but it denies YL kids a well-trained and devoted leader, and in my opinion, most definitely sends the wrong message to their community.
I want to tell you a little about my kids YL experience with [this leader], so that you may have a sense of our family history with YL. My oldest, our daughter, had several different leaders throughout her YL experience, all whom were fantastic. [Name], my 17 year old son, has really only had 2 or 3 leaders in his 6-7 years with YL. The leader he most identifies with in YL has been [this leader]. [Our son] adores [this leader], in the way one would hope a student loves and respects their YL leader. He has always said about [this leader] that he’s just like one big kid (which is why he related so well).  [Our son] never imagined that [this leader] might be gay. When [this leader] took [our son] aside and told [him] personally, (I give him tremendous credit for this), [our son] reported to us later that he laughed a little in disbelief and surprise, and then when he realized this was serious; they had a very nice chat about it. [Our son] came home and casually told us about his conversation, and said that although he initially was in disbelief, that he thought he handled it well and treated [this leader] with respect and love. That was important to my son – I was very proud! [Our son] reported that nothing would change. He has no problem with [this leader] being gay. [Our son] had not and does not feel uncomfortable or threatened in any way. In fact, [he] has felt more at ease with [this leader] than any other adult in his life thus far! I think that speaks volumes to the credit of [this leader’s] positive impact and effectiveness in the boys’ lives that he has touched. Teenagers in particular need adults outside of their parents that they feel comfortable with and could come to in a tine of crisis. I know that [this leader] has been there for both of my children, as well as, for friend’s children. I could recount several stories of how [this leader] has been supportive and a huge asset to the families he has touched.
In [this leader’s] communication about his coming out, he has made numerous strong cases for why being gay should not be discriminated against. My thoughts would likely pale in comparison to his great points. One point he made that really resonated with me was how, in the intentional termination of a gay person who just came out, YL is essentially sending the message to these YL teenagers, that it is not okay to be yourself; to be gay (if you are). In teenagers in general, identity crises are rampant. These crises, if let go, can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide or worse. If I were in the administration of YL, I would be much more concerned about this message being sent and it’s potential impact on vulnerable teens, than I would about allowing a good leader to continue leading. The message then would be one of love, compassion and non-judgement, if YL were to embrace [this leader] and accept his personal lifestyle as his personal business. I think YL should respect that [this leader] made the choice to live his truth, as we all should do, as long as it also happens to be to live with God. [This leader] certainly appears to intend to continue to do that. I think we can trust him and his commitment.
The other point that keeps coming to mind for me is that God loves us all. There are likely hundreds of scriptures that could be cited that speak to this pinnacle point throughout the Bible! How can one love unconditionally, if one doesn’t also show support in their time of need? I maintain that [this leader] has done nothing wrong to deserve termination, that YL would be hard pressed, even among their talented crew of leaders, to find one more devoted and effective with their students.
Thank you, Mr. Rutledge, for listening to my story, thoughts and considering my points as you move forward with your dealings with our friend, [this leader].

Dear Mr Rutledge,

As a supporter of Young Life, I am sending this note in support of [this leader].  He should be reinstated as a Bellevue WA Young Life leader.

[This leader]  has so positively impacted my son, [name], life and the group of boys he has been working with since middle school at Chinook.  He has had so much patience and true support for [our son] and his group of friends.   He is like a brother to the boys – they open up and talk to him about everything.  When the boys face difficult issues they turn to [this leader] for guidance.  Never once has [our son] felt threatened or awkward from [this leader]. The kids trust and respect him.

It takes a special person to cultivate such good relationships with teenage boys.  [This leader] has never given up on these kids even when they are typical boys doing typical boy things.

[Our son]feels so strongly about [this leader] returning to YL that if he doesn’t get reinstated,  [our son] said he won’t support or be affiliated with YL again. I have heard that from several boys.

I believe we are all children of God and everyone should be shown respect and dignity – for YL to not allow LGBTQ leaders I think it is very hypocritical.  I think YL is great and I truly hope you can adjust to the times.  There is not room for judgement.

A lot has changed in recent years and this is a trend that is way bigger than YL,  [this leader]  and Christianity, but my family supports you taking a step to make things right for a leader who has given so much. He is TRUELY a Christian.

Dear Mr. Rutledge-

I would like to say, [this leader] is one of the most, if not the most, influential people in my life surrounding the idea of Christianity. He was the person who was standing there with open arms inviting me to believe in Jesus. He is the one who gave me the courage to take the next step in my belief and the one who gave me the encouragement that  I needed to say Jesus is a huge part of my life.  [This leader] has really helped me work through my problems. Not only has [this leader] introduced me to Jesus, he was the one who explained how Jesus had helped him and how if I accepted Jesus my life would be for the better. He never made me feel pressured into believing anything, he just told me what the bible stated and put me on the right path of Christianity.  Please reinstate [this leader] as a Younglife leader.

–      [Student], 14, a YoungLife member

I would like to add my voice to [our student’s]: Please reinstate [this leader] as a Younglife leader.

Mason –

I am writing to you in response to [this leader’s] recent termination from the Young Life organization.
I have had the pleasure of knowing [this leader] since my son, [name], was in middle school (approximately 7 years).  [My son] was involved with Young Life and frequently attended many of the small group activities [this leader] helped to facilitate.  Additionally, I know [this leader] as a tutor, mentor, neighborhood helper to many families (including ours)  in the Bellevue area.   He has been a positive role model, confidant, and advisor to these boys.  I am a single full time working mother who without hesitation trusted [this leader] to help in [my son’s] faith journey as well as in his journey from child to teen and now as a young adult.
While I cannot speak first hand around his work at Young Life, I can be certain that his work as a successful, respected and trusted business owner in the community translates into his work with Young Life.  His decision to finally free himself and come out as openly gay serves as a role model to many kids who are struggling with their own identity.  In a community such as Bellevue, I commend and support [this leader’s] decision.  Young Life would not only be remiss in not taking full advantage of someone like [this leader’s] gifts to reach young people but would also miss out on not using [this leader’s] journey as a turning point for change within the organization itself.

Dear Mason,

I am  the parent of a 16-year-old girl, [name], who is active in Young Life in Bellevue, WA.  The purpose of this email is to let you know that [this leader] has our full support and the support of hundreds of other students and parents in Western Washington.  The fact that he was terminated, for telling people that he is gay, is outrageous and unacceptable.

[This leader] tutored our daughter for two years and she has seen him frequently at Young Life events and camps.  He has been nothing but kind, generous, loving and a superior role model for the youth that he tutors and leads.

This decision sends a terrible message to the youth in our area — that it is not ok to be your true self, that those who are anything but heterosexual should be ashamed and hide it and that God does not love and treat LGBTQ people the same as everyone else.  All psychological associations agree that human sexuality is natural, biological and unchangeable, and that trying to hide or change a sexual orientation can cause severe psychological damage, leading to significantly higher rates of depression and suicide in LGBTQ people, especially teens.

Our hope is that you reconsider your decision to terminate [this leader]– he is someone you should be proud of having on your team!

Dear Mr. Rutledge:

I am writing on behalf of [this leader] and in support of retaining his leadership position with Young Life Bellevue.  [This leader] has been a kind-hearted, genuine, thoughtful Young Life leader for my son and his friends throughout Middle School and now entering High School.  He has been a positive influence on boys in this Freshman class (just ask them) and has encouraged them to talk to him about some of the teen stuff they are all dealing with.  My understanding from the boys is that he is a good listener and sounding board for kids who need to talk.  He has influenced these kids to form a friendship bond that I believe wouldn’t have happened without his guidance and encouragement.

[This leader] is also a responsible businessman in the community as he successfully owns and runs [a business].   He has been tutoring at our house for the past few months.  He is always on time, patient, very focused and operates with the highest level of integrity when he works with my student.  His dedication to tutoring my son (and others) has given my son confidence in Geometry and has helped raise his grades significantly.

Dear Director Rutledge,

We understand you are currently considering your next steps with regard to [this leader]. With that in mind, we wanted to share some thoughts and experiences with you.

[This leader] has been camp counselor, tutor and a fabulous role model for our son, [name].  [Our son] met [this leader] in seventh grade at Chinook middle school and has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with him since then.  When we think about [our son’s] life over the past three years we can’t pick out a stronger role model in the community, across all his teachers, coaches, and friends. We feel fortunate to know [this leader] and to have him in our lives. Beyond our interactions with [this leader], we see his impact on other young boys in the neighborhood who look to him for coaching and guidance in their teenage years. [This leader] keeps the boys responsible, helping them navigate and develop a strong moral compass.

[This leader] has clearly devoted his life to Christianity and to helping others.  Those were [our son’s] words to me this evening when I asked him what we should share with you in this mail.  We’d like to see [this leader] be given the opportunity to continue to play this positive role in our community.

To Whom it May Concern-

My son first met [this leader] back when [he] was going into his freshman year of high school. At that time, he went to his first Young Life camp at Creekside in Oregon. Over the few years that [our son] has known [this leader], he interacted with [this leader] through many different YL events such as Summer Life, club meetings throughout the school year and both the Canyon and Malibu summer camps. Throughout these occasions, [our son] says that [this leader] has always been a great leader that everyone likes to be around and interact with during any event. [This leader] has the rare ability to make everyone at a Young Life event feel welcome even when it is their first time. [Our son] has not seen [this leader] recently.
We have heard that [this leader] is being terminated because his coming out may influence other young people. However, [our son] said that being around other LGBTQ people at his school in no way makes him question his sexual orientation. We do not believe that sharing news that one is gay is a negative thing. Instead, being accepting of differences among peers allows honest relationships to be built with trust and respect for our individual nature.
I really hope that [this leader] is able to continue his work as a Young Life leader because he has influenced many of our young peoples’ lives in a positive way.

The response:

[Name], while we truly desire the best for you in your future endeavors, Young Life will not reconsider its decision to terminate your role as a volunteer leader.

 Mason Rutledge

Senior Regional Director

Ignorance requires ignoring people, so we can’t be surprised.

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