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Gay Teen Suicide is Not the Enemy

Yet another example of just how far “compassionate conservatism” goes, this time via Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Let me ask you this. Say you’re a conservative. Maybe a conservative Christian. Maybe even an evangelical conservative Christian. With a family, too. Say that one of your kids’ classmates is gay. Maybe he or she lives across the street from you, in a fairly conservative community where homosexuality is — to say the least — frowned upon.

Maybe this kid is isolated, ridiculed by classmates, and doesn’t know anyone else like him/her in your small town, because anyone like him or her knows the downsides to coming out in that community. So maybe this kid is depressed, and even suicidal. How does preventing his or her suicide harm your family or your “family values”? Is gay teen suicide a family value?

A minor $1,500 suicide prevention grant caused some major controversy during City Council and County Board meetings this week.

The reason: The focus of the grant was gay and lesbian teenagers, and the original grant funding would have been funneled through a gay-rights advocacy group.

Both the council and County Board approved the grant, but not before some vigorous debate and amendments aimed at de-emphasizing the gay and lesbian focus.

The grant was one of eight approved by a joint city-county board to be funded out of keno proceeds but the only one that was questioned by either body.

Originally, the keno money was designated toward Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays to identify and assist gay and lesbian youths.

But even removing PFLAG from the proposal wasn’t enough to win over objectors.

Councilwoman Robin Eschliman and County Commissioner Bob Workman disagreed, and even removing PFLAG as the grant recipient was not enough to garner their support.

Eschliman voted against the resolution Monday, saying it was controversial and “causes grief” to use tax dollars to fund gay and lesbian issues.

She said she’d rather give the money to something less controversial because people with “deeply held traditional family values” don’t want their tax dollars used for such causes, and she suggested the UNL Health Center could raise money to create the program.

Workman, who was the lone County Board member to vote against the amended resolution Tuesday, took a similar view.

“I believe this type of government funding can undermine traditional family values,” he said.

When told by a fellow board member the grant did not come from tax dollars but from money spent on keno, Workman angrily responded that there is no difference.

“These are government funds,” he said.

Of course, we’re giving evangelical organizations millions of dollars in government funds to use for proselytizing, but we can’t spend a measly $1500 to maybe prevent gay kids from committing suicide. It makes sense when you consider the mindset behind stuff like this. It’s the same mindset that demanded the removal of gay references from a federally funded suicide prevention conference in California and recommended “faith-based” prevention instead. (I’m still waiting to see what the Bush administration does to 1.800.SUICIDE.) So, arguably, the council members probably wouldn’t have objected to the same program being funneled through PFOX, because PFOX parents have the decency not to accept their children for who they are and the good sense to support politicians who want to discriminate against their children.

It’s the same mindset that thinks ridicule from classmates is a good thing, if it reinforces a “necessary boundary” that an LGBT youth has the temerity to cross. It’s the same kind of mindset that objects to anti-bullying programs that might prohibit or even penalize the kind of anti-gay harassment that can lead LGBT youth to consider suicide. (After all, a little “holy harassment” might be just the thing to save a queer little soul.) It’s the kind of mindset that thinks the anti-gay bullying that still going on in the schools I went to is a good thing, or at least not very big deal.

“Victimization of and aggression toward sexual minority youth is pervasive,” the study states. Georgia’s gay students are subject to humiliating physical and emotional bullying in the state’s public school system, but access to gay-straight alliances or other supportive organizations can help mitigate the effects, according to two separate studies released this month.

“Schools, Violence, and Sexual Minority Youth in Metro Atlanta,” a study commissioned by Atlanta’s YouthPride and conducted by the Georgia State University Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate & Classroom Management, surveyed 437 middle students about bullying and interviewed another 17 “sexual minority” high school students from in and around Atlanta.

The YouthPride study summarizes what other researchers have found for years: “Victimization of and aggression toward sexual minority youth is pervasive,” the study states.

To understand it, I keep going back to abstinence educator Pam Stenzel’s words about the how efficacy of abstinence-only education, and whether it prevented anything at all, was beside the point.

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate—a question she regarded as risible. “What he’s asking,” she said, “is does it work. You know what? Doesn’t matter. Cause guess what. My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public schools’ job should not be to keep teens from having sex.” Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!”

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you, to commit yourself to truth, not what works! To truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”

Later in the same talk, she explained further why what “works” isn’t what’s important—and gave some insight into what she means by “truth.” “Let me tell you something, people of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy. I will not teach my child that they can sin safely.”

Gay teen suicide isn’t the enemy either. And if prevention means teaching gay kids that it might be ok for them to be who they are, then it’s teaching them that they can “sin safely”; that they can “shake their fist in the face of a holy God” by finding self-acceptance and going on to live happy, healthy lives as out gay adults. Preventing gay teen suicide doesn’t matter.

Better a dead gay kid, than an out, proud, empowered gay adult. Because that’s the enemy.

4 Comments

  1. T-R-A-G-I-C. It may seem easier today to Come Out, but it is still a very tough process for young kids. If Gay people and PFLAG and all those sensible minded Americans do not start to Act Up a little more – – this will get worse and worse and worse.

    Come out to Atlanta November 4, 2006 and say NO to the HATE squad at the ‘Love Won Out” conference. Act Up, Raise Hell, let these assholes know that Enough is Enough

  2. Great article, shame that as a Gay Community many countires have come a long way – But we seem to be missing the whole point of being a “Community” if we let the Gay/les/transgender full through the cracks.

  3. Suicide is, unfortunately, an option considered for many young people who are struggling with their sexual orientation. Thanks for this Blog Chris. In my Suicide Prevention Help Directory, I have included resources for groups at risk, including LGBT and the bullied – because this information IS needed.

    Kind regards,

    Kenneth

  4. NEWS RELEASE
    Contact: Andrew Barnett
    Operations and Communications Manager
    Phone: (202) 546-5940 ext. 110

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    February 7, 2007

    SMYAL CALLS FOR RAISED AWARENESS OF SUICIDE RISK FOR LGBTQ YOUTH WASHINGTON, DC – The Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) today called on youth service professionals to be aware of the elevated suicide risk among young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning of their sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTQ). The statement comes after last week’s discovery of the bodies of two Montgomery County, MD teenagers who apparently took their own lives. Todd Peterson, Chair of the SMYAL Board of Directors, issued the following statement:

    “On behalf of the SMYAL Board, staff, and volunteers, I wish to express deepest condolences to the family and friends of Rachel Crites and Rachel Smith. This tragic loss demonstrates the importance for all youth workers to be vigilant for any signs of suicidal ideation, attempted suicide and depression in the young people they serve.
    “SMYAL urges our region’s youth service professionals to be aware of signs of suicidal behavior in all adolescents. While we do not presume to understand the thoughts, feelings and causes of this tragedy, social science research continues to show that LGBTQ young people are at significantly greater risk than their peers for attempted suicide and other behaviors which may lead to suicide.
    “For the sake of the lives of our young people, all youth workers must be particularly sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ youth and aware of the increased risks they face, including suicide, as well as other mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness as well as physical and verbal abuse.”
    # # #

    About SMYAL
    The Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) is the only Washington, DC metro area service organization solely dedicated to supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Founded in 1984, SMYAL is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.
    SMYAL’s mission is to promote and support self-confident, healthy, productive lives for LGBTIQ youth ages 13-21 as they journey from adolescence into adulthood. To fulfill our mission, we focus our commitment and energy on five focus areas: (1) Life Skills & Leadership Development, (2) Counseling & Support, (3) Health & Wellness Education, (4) Safe Social Activities, and (5) Community Outreach and Education.
    SMYAL also provides programs for LGBTQ youth in participating Maryland public schools and conducts LGBTQ youth cultural competency trainings to teachers, emergency housing personnel, social workers, and other youth service professionals across the region.

    Resources for LGBTQ Young People and Youth Service Professionals Youth are always able to refer themselves to SMYAL’s programs. Youth interested in learning about activities at SMYAL’s youth center can visit http://www.smyal.org/calendar/calendar.php , E-mail youthcenter@smyal.org or contact Victor Price, Youth Services and Activities Manager, at (202) 546-5940 ext. 107.
    School counselors and social workers who wish to refer a youth to SMYAL’s individual counseling program may do so by contacting either of SMYAL’s Mental Health Counselors:

    Sean LeSane
    sean.lesane@smyal.org
    (202) 546-5940 ext. 117 Xanthia Johnson
    xanthia.johnson@smyal.org
    (202) 546-5940 ext. 106
    LGBTQ young people who are contemplating suicide should call the Trevor Helpline at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386), a national, toll-free 24-hour suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ young people.
    Youth service professionals who wish to schedule LGBTQ youth cultural competency training for their staff should contact Christopher Lane, Acting Director of Programs, at christopher.lane@smyal.org or (202) 546-5940 ext. 103

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