“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.
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,
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.
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.
[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.
Senior Regional Director
Ignorance requires ignoring people, so we can’t be surprised.