Anti-Gay Bullying Is Today’s Witch-Hunting

Krystle Collins portraying the slave Tituba in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"

This Halloween many of our American children will dress up as witches. And we’ll hear their laughter and see their smiles as they joyfully go door-to-door trick-or-treating.

But not all of our children will.

Due to homophobic bullying. some of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) children feel like they are looked upon as today’s witches.

And in some places across the globe children would never pretend to be witches because the consequences are too deadly.

For example, organizations like the United Nations Children’s Fund, Africa Unite Against Child Abuse, and Save the Children have stepped in where they could to stop the witch-hunting of children. But the phenomenon of “witch children” is so widespread throughout Africa these organizations have set up “witch camps” as shelters for children who cannot be safely placed with a relative.

Throughout history people described as witches have been tortured, persecuted, and even murdered. And it is usually society’s most vulnerable who are targeted as we see with bullying.

Many would argue that anti-gay bullying is our present-day form of witch-hunting. And let us not forget the role religion has and continues to play in both witch hunts and anti-gay bullying.

“Hell Houses” are today’s contemporary form of both anti-gay bullying and witch-hunting. Created in the late 1970s by deceased fundamentalist pastor, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, “Hell Houses” are religious alternatives to traditional haunted houses. They are tours given by evangelical churches across the country designed to scare and bully people away from sin. And one of those sins is homosexuality.

In 2006 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) put out a report titled “Homophobia at ‘Hell House’: Literally Demonizing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth” explaining how hell houses specifically targets youth.

“Instead of spooking youth with ghosts and monsters, Hell House tour guides direct them through rooms where violent scenes of damnation for a variety of “sins” are performed, including scenes where a teenage lesbian is brought to hell after committing suicide and a gay man dying of AIDS is taunted by a demon who screams that the man will be separated from God forever in hell,” the NGLTF stated.

A study published in the Journal of Psychology stated that a strong belief in Satan is directly related to intolerance of gay (LGBTQ) people.

Religious leaders who support Hell Houses believe that by scaring LGBTQ youth into “heterosexual” behavior they are saving their souls. However, the message that “homosexuals” are going to hell can have a deleterious impact on our youth. For example, the NGLTF report tells the story of Bobby Griffith, a gay teen who wrote in his journal that he was afraid he was going to hell and committed suicide.

Residing just a stone’s throw from Salem, Massachusetts, as the nation gears up for Halloween this weekend, I am reminded of one of this nation’s earliest examples of witch-hunting – the Salem Witch Trails of 1692.

This haunting history of the Puritan’s execution of innocent women, and certain men too, is a window into how their bullying of religious fanaticism, misogyny, and homophobia destroyed not only the moral fiber of their town, but how it also decimated its own Christian zeal to become a “city on the hill.”

While today new light is being shed on the Salem Witch Trials, little is still known about the first women accused of witchcraft who sparked the trials – Tituba, a black slave.

Born in Barbados, earlier white historians depict Tituba as Carib Indian. However, African American feminist historians depict Tituba as black. With Tituba married to a man named John Indian, at the time the trans-Altantic slave trade was transporting Africans throughout and among the Caribbean islands, also known as the West Indies, Tituba’s racial identity is only obscured to those who erase the history of slavery.

Although a slave, Tituba was nonetheless subjected to the same gender restrictions placed on Puritan women. And Puritan men had only two views of women: the good wife and the bad witch.

Clerics’ sanctioning of Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, not only gave men biblical legitimacy to control women, but it also gave them a legal license to kill them.

Homosocial circles of women threatened the Puritan’s paradigm of male dominance, giving rise to the charges of witchcraft, because of the theological belief that women ought not be in the company of each other without the presence of a man. And without the presence of a man, of course, women could not help but engage in sorcery, paganism, and lesbianism.

Rev. Irene MonroeWitch-hunts have always created moral panic, mass hysteria, and public lynching of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized.

This Halloween, as I think of the children in Africa and of the recent death of our LGBTQ children here to anti-gay bullying, I am reminded of our present and past witch-hunts.

Rev. Irene Monroe


  1. Anonymous Me says

    I have a membership here, but am hesitant to use my real name or registered email addy. Why? Because I am Pagan, specifically Wiccan and, as everyone knows, that usually means witch. Rev. Monroe, you are so right – most of the people in this world have a “zero tolerance” policy for anyone who is not exactly like them – in this country, that means white, middle class, and to the far right of the religious and political spectrum.

    I was bullied as a child simply because I was red-haired, freckled, near-sighted, skinny, and extremely intelligent. Had I also been lesbian, I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like based on what I was already suffering. These children deserve to be loved and accepted, not hunted down, shamed, scorned, ridiculed, and shunned because they’re different. Now, as an adult, we have to hide our religious beliefs in an ultra-conservative, redneck, backwoods area of the midwest or expose ourselves and our family to slashed tires, a burned-out home, or the poisoning of our household pets. Does it make me want to kill myself sometimes? You bet. But I’m fifty years old, and I’ve survived like this a long time so I’ll make it. Not so for children. God/dess help them, because we can’t seem to protect them.

  2. law student says

    The Gay and Lesbian’s continued comparison to the plight of people who have dark skins is atrocious. I would appreciate it if you would stop. Yes I am aware you have piggybacked of the Civil Right’s movement and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Please tell me where there is a new field of “Strange Fruit” wherein homosexuals which is what you certainly are, have been hung, their genitalia severed, and where you are denied jobs, especially in the soft fields and profitable media, fashion, publishing, etc..the glamor jobs.

    Keep your deviant behavior to yourselves. I am not receptive to your desire to have everyone accept your life style. That is your business.

    • Jon Carl Lewis says

      Keep your fists and your torture and your violent behavior to yourself and I will believe that you think our behavior truly not your business. Nobody forced you to read this article. Or comment. I always more than wonder about people who go out of their way to speak negatively about gay and lesbian people. Those who respect the privacy of others to live their own lives don’t spend a whole lot of time telling others they need to hide or shut up.

    • Annette says

      Gays and lesbians have been targets of violence for millennia. You’re a law student? You might want to brush up on common law throughout history and how churches and governments have terrorized the public by torturing and killing various “outsiders,” most often gays and lesbians. Historical documents barely expose the savagery that came from the most eminently civilized Catholic Church in their terrorist mission to subdue and control populations, especially their own followers. Surpassing the slaughter of the Crusades, the Catholic witch trials resulted in more than 20 million deaths, which far out-rivals even the Nazi Holocaust.

      Even in contemporary times, thousands of gays and lesbians have been tortured and killed around the world, especially in theocratic countries that have a strong religious control over the populations and government. What has been done to African Americans in this country is atrocious, but in sheer numbers alone, the gays have had it much worse throughout history. Not that there’s any need to compare oppressions. The fact is, there are clear parallels between racism and homophobia, both in the manner of oppression and the terroristic effects on the target population.

      Homosexuality is completely natural. It is found in all mammals that have evolved group social behavior. There’s nothing deviant or abnormal about it, although from your tone I have to wonder why you feel so strongly about forcing gays to hide.

      There is no “piggy backing” going on when it comes to equal rights. Minority groups that are oppressed will always work to stop that oppression, and in this country, we have a Constitution that stands as the backbone for equality. Have you studied that in law school yet?

      It seems like you might have some personal issues with gays and/or lesbians, Mr. law student, but for the sake of understanding your field, you might want to remember that homosexuals are American citizens, and as such, they are entitled to equality under the law.

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