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Posts for November, 2010

Glee’s bully: It Gets Better

Timothy Kincaid

November 16th, 2010

There are, by now, thousands of videos of those who have joined the It Gets Better Project all of whom tell bullied kids that some day life gets better. Max Adler, who plays the football player who bullies gay kid Kirk Kurt, has added his voice.

These video range from amateur but sincere to polished and scripted. But few feel quite as natural and spontaneous as this one. Although I’ve more or less decided not to post any new It Gets Better Videos (there are so very many), I’m making an exception:

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The divided McCains

Timothy Kincaid

November 12th, 2010

SEE UPDATE BELOW

Since his failed campaign for the White House, John McCain has taken on a new role: curmudgeon in chief. As the voice of the partisan angry conservative wing of the Republican Party – an position that does not align well with his legislative history – McCain has spoken loudest in his grumblings against gay rights.

So it is confusing for many in the gay community that McCain’s wife Cindy and his daughter Meghan have increasing become a pro-gay advocates. Both lent their images to the NOH8 campaign in support of marriage equality and Meghan’s speaking engagements and book tour have left no doubt of her support.

Meghan’s pro-gay positions are probably properly seen in the context of young Republicans who may advocate for fiscal restraint but share many social values of their generation. And, indeed, there is a long tradition of the children of politicians speaking in opposition to the positions of their parents. When Ronald Reagan was in office, his daughter Nancy Davis was a very vocal critic of his policies.

But Cindy McCain is more difficult to explain. While spouses of presidents and party leaders do take up issue, they usually are in areas of social benefit or public good. It is virtually unheard-of for the spouse of someone as prominent as John McCain to take up advocacy for a controversial issue, and I know of no instance in which the issue has been in direct confrontation with one of their husband.

Yet, while John McCain is threatening to filibuster the Defense Appropriations Bill so as to ensure that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is not repealed before the report can be analyzed (if then), Cindy McCain participated in the following message:

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Yes, the message is one in opposition to bullying, but the words spoken by Cindy cannot be ignored:

“Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth that they have no future… they can’t serve our country openly… our government treats the LGBT community like second-class citizens, why shouldn’t [bullies]?”

It is difficult to fathom the motivation for two spouses to very publicly and strongly take opposing positions on this issue. And considering that Cindy McCain is not known for her political advocacy on other issues, this makes the situation even more peculiar.

As this is Cindy’s second go round at this, I am beginning to think that my speculations at the time of her NOH8 appearance are confirmed. This is not a naive move on Cindy’s part. Nor do I think it is an indication of some strife in the McCain household.

Rather, I am becoming convinced that this is a deliberate action taken with the full knowledge – and perhaps even approval – of her husband and other party leaders.

Republican Party leadership may be hostile gays, willing to capitalize on animus, and hesitant to change, but they are not fools. And they know that the future holds very dim prospects for a party defined by its opposition to gay rights. It takes very little calculus to look at the polls of of younger voters and know that a day will come when even rural Alabama won’t vote for an anti-gay politician.

What I suspect is that the Republican Party – if not actually encouraging Mrs. McCain to take a public stance in opposition to that of her husband – welcomes the message that her participation sends. By refusing to criticize Cindy (and I’ve found no outrage from the leadership) they implicitly give permission for Republicans to support gay rights. And when taken with Laura Bush’s after-the-fact support for marriage equality, it might even be construed that support for gay equality is sort of “the Republican woman’s position”.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that a vote for a Republican politician is a vote for equality. In most cases it would be quite the opposite. And I may, of course, be reading far too much into Cindy McCain’s appearance in the anti-bullying ad.

But there is much encouragement to be found in the fact that the wife of the chief opponent to repealing DADT is advocating for its repeal and that no one finds this to be a shocking betrayal. At the very least, it says that the visceral hatred that our community once felt from a united Republican Party has to some extent dissipated and that the partisan divide on our issues may be beginning to fall.

AND ALSO

We should keep in mind that Cindy McCain has not developed her views in a vacuum. She has two sons currently serving in the Military.

UPDATE

It’s never pleasant to discover that one is mistaken, but it’s even less pleasant when it means that a hoped for step may not be a step at all.

Cindy McCain has now corrected the impression that she thinks that politicians such as her husband are telling gay kids that they have no future when they deny them the ability to serve their country openly. (NY Daily News)

But on Friday night, she appeared to have a change of heart – at least on Twitter.

“I fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to be a part of it. But I stand by my husband’s stance on DADT,” she tweeted.

I’m not exactly sure what is supposed to be meant by this conflicting message. I suppose the best we could say is that perhaps she thinks his “stance on DADT” is to wait for the report before moving forward.

But, whatever it is that she means, I am somewhat still encouraged that she has indicated support for “the NOH8 campaign”. This does still give Republicans permission to “fully support” at least some aspects of our community’s quest for equality (and, let’s be pragmatic, any support is better than none).

But I am also disappointed by her backtracking. A rather powerful impact has now been diminished.

Lutheran Leader joins It Gets Better campaign

Timothy Kincaid

October 29th, 2010

Some conservative Christians are dismissive of the notion that their campaign against “the normalization of homosexuality” contributes negatively to the mental health of young people. They may say “no one should be bullied,” but this brief aside is quickly drowned out by protestations of innocence and further denunciation of gay people. Take, for example, the statement released by a coalition of some anti-gay activists led by Linda Harvey:

“Gay” activists nationwide are fueling an effort to indict traditional moral values as “guilty until proven innocent” in some bullying incidents involving teens. Their proposed solutions end up sexualizing teens at young ages into known high-risk behaviors and silencing concerned parents.

In debate, they loudly insist that those children who go to church are taught not to bully, and that the guilty parties in most of the cases were not regular church attendees. We do not have any way of knowing the extent to which bullies do or do not attend regular services, but considering that anti-gay activist have taken their culture of condemnation of homosexuality outside of the boundaries of their sanctuary and into the public square, it really doesn’t matter.

It is, one would assume, incontrovertible that statements which rail against “homosexual activists” (defined as any self-identified gay person) in terms of contempt and loathing would have some impact on kids who recognize within themselves same-sex attraction. Any person working from logic would have to recognize that national organizations who claim that God doesn’t want a same-sex attracted kid to be able to have a support group in school has to play havoc on that kid’s self-worth.

Yet, the loudest voices who claim to speak for Christianity deny any fault. They are only speaking “the truth in love.”

We are not fooled by this, but they really don’t believe it themselves. They know – though they may not admit it – that bullied children are a victim in their war on our lives, freedoms, and civil rights. They know that those kids who commit suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying are a direct consequence of their political and social endeavors.

They simply believe it to be a sad but acceptable collateral damage. Yes, it’s a tragedy, but it’s better that that some kids be dead than that others think it is okay to be gay. As one anti-gay activist (who, to their credit, did not sign on to Linda Harvey’s statement) responded in private correspondence to my concern, “You are willing to put children through suffering in the assumption that your understanding of scripture is correct. Because of what you believe, others get to suffer.”

Timothy, you are affirming homosexuality to children based on your assumption that your understanding of Scripture is correct, and if it’s not, your facilitating their eternal suffering and separation from God. Eternity is a very long time.

But the blame does not lie solely with those who come bringing accusations of “abomination” and fears about the destruction of society. It also lies with those who let such statements be credited as holy. And for far too long, those less hostile within the Christian faith have been complicit in this message; they have stood aside lamenting the pain that was being caused, but doing little to counter-act it.

Those who read here regularly know that I defend Christians and others of faith from blanket accusations. But let me be bold to say that the Christian Church in America, collectively, is the primary facilitator of the message of condemnation that young gay kids hear, be it by active denunciation or by failure to counterbalance those who do.

So it was with a great deal of joy that I watched the contribution of Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the It Gets Better campaign.

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Hanson speaks of love, he speaks of being the person God created you to be, he speaks of nothing being able to come between you and God. And at no point does he feel compelled to temper his comments with denunciation of “homosexual acts” or rants about agendas. He even acknowledges the hurt caused by some Christians and takes ownership for the pain caused by the silence of others.

I truly hope that every gay kid out there who is being raised in a Christian family and has equated their own person as being immoral or vile or ungodly will hear this message.

It is of tremendous importance that the inclusive Christian denominations find their voice in the debate over the place of gay men and women in society and the church. I welcome Hanson’s contribution, and hope that it is but the first of many positions on which the Lutherans, along with the other mainline churches, will be willing to speak out in favor of love and inclusion and in opposition to those who would usurp the authority of Christendom to engage in evil against our community.

Researcher Questions Intense Focus on LGBT Youth Suicide: Is it Time for a More Holistic Approach to Supporting LGBT Youth?

Jason Cianciotto

October 22nd, 2010

On October 21st, Ritch Savin-Williams, professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University, was interviewed by NPR’s Robert Siegel about LGBT youth suicide and the significant attention the issue has received over the past several weeks. In the interview, Savin-Williams claims there is no “epidemic” of LGBT teen suicide and that attention to the issue may be stigmatizing the majority of LGBT youth who are, in fact, just as happy and healthy as their straight peers.

SIEGEL And what, if anything, is harmful about all this attention?

Prof. WILLIAMS: For me, first off, scientifically it’s not true. That is that, as a developmental psychologist, when we look at the wide population of youth who identify as gay or who have same-sex attractions, it appears to me when I look at the data that they’re actually just as healthy, and just as resilient, and just as positive about their life as are straight youth.

So from a scientific perspective, there is certainly no gay suicide epidemic. But the more problematic aspect for me is that I worry a great deal about the image that we are giving gay-identified youth.

Savin-Williams is a noted researcher and published author. He isn’t a right-wing hack with an anti-gay agenda hiding behind a faux academic mask.

Rather, much of his work has focused on the experiences of LGBT youth, the resilience factors present in their lives that enable them to thrive in anti-LGBT climates, and the new ways LGBT youth are assimilating and expressing their identities, often without adopting the labels used by established LGBT culture. (For more, see his book The New Gay Teenager).

When asked in the interview about the differences between reported research confirming that LGBT Youth are significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers and his own conclusions, Savin-Willams claims that those results may be skewed by lack of representative samples:

…As we get a more representative sample of youth who identify as gay, who have sane-sex attraction, what we discovered is that difference begins to narrow considerably. So, do we emphasize this kind of difference, group difference, or do we begin to say, well actually it’s not quite as bad as we have portrayed it to be , or at least as how the medical sciences, the mental health providers and research, and the public policy people have said.

While many academics are just as quick to point out limitations of research on LGBT people  - an issue often discussed here on BTB – Savin-Williams seems to stand nearly alone in his conclusions that life for LGBT teenagers is not that bad. He admits that it is possible to “cherry pick” studies that support either conclusion about LGBT youth, but for him it is more about the strategy and message employed by those working to support and protect them.

Do we solely focus on the cohort of LGBT youth struggling the most? Or, should we broaden our attention to the larger proportion of LGBT youth who are healthy, well-adjusted, and not suicidal?

In the interview, Savin-Willams concludes:

Most gay youth – how many gay youth? I would say 90 percent – are actually doing quite well. They are not depressed, They are not anxious. They are not attempting suicide. They are really quite ordinary adolescents.

On the surface it may seem like this interview is fodder for anti-gay leaders’ efforts to discredit research on LGBT populations and absolve themselves of responsibility for the affect the homophobic society they create has on young people.

However, Savin-Williams is simply trying to get us to look at the “other side” of the data often cited when we are confronted by tragic incidents of LGBT youth suicide.

For example, in 2007 the American Journal of Public Health published the results of a study of over 14,000 youth ages 18 to 26 who participated in the federal National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Nearly 5 percent of youth who identified as LGB in the study reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6 percent of non-LGB youth. In other words, LGB youth were over three times more likely to attempt suicide – certainly cause for alarm.

However, approximately 95 percent of the LGB youth in the study did not report that they attempted suicide.

This is not merely a matter of semantics. There is a critical need to examine the lives of the overwhelming majority of LGB youth who are not suicidal. The goal is not to be critical of the focus on youth in despair. Rather, a better understanding of the factors and circumstances that support resilience and health in the lives of LGB youth will help us further support and decrease the prevalence of suicide for those most in need.

Still, I personally struggle with trying to balance focus on the lives of LGBT youth when confronted with the seemingly never-ending, heart-breaking stories about those who have completed suicide.

More than 15 studies have consistently shown that gay and lesbian youth attempt suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers (see: Kitts, R. L. (2005, Fall). Gay adolescents and suicide: Understanding the association. Adolescence, 40(159), 621-629.) Clearly LGBT youth suicide is widespread, even if “epidemic” is not the appropriate word to describe it.

To further explore this struggle, I took a closer look at  Savin-Williams earlier research, in which he hypothesizes that LGB youth who participate in studies through their connection to programs at LGBT community centers or who are willing to identify as LGB on a government survey may be at higher risk for suicide than the population of LGB youth as a whole.

Additionally, he points out that many of the surveys used to asses suicide risk do not ask questions that differentiate between reported and more serious suicide attempts, such as those that are life-threatening and require medical attention.

In support of his assertions, in 2001 Savin-Williams published the results of a study of 226 youth ages 17 to 25 recruited at introductory human development and sexuality college courses, which though small may have provided a more representative sample than participants recruited at LGBT community centers and youth programs.

While he did find that the LGB men and women in his study were more likely to report past suicide attempts, the magnitude of difference decreased when only “true” and “life-threatening” attempts were considered. For example, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women reported the same incidence of life threatening attempts (3 percent).

However, gay or bisexual men were still significantly more likely to report a life-threatening attempt (6 percent) than heterosexual men (0 percent).

In 2005, a study of 528 LGB youth in the New York City metro area incorporated some of the critiques of Savin-Williams and other researchers concerned about the impact of research design. While nearly 33 percent of the LGB youth in that study reported a past suicide attempt, less than half (15 percent) reported “serious” attempts, about half of which required medical attention. (See D’Augelli, A. R., et. al.  .(2005, December). Predicting suicide attempts of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 35(6), 646-661).

The researchers compared these findings to comparable epidemiological data from New York City, which showed that approximately 11 percent of high school students reported planning suicide. They concluded that, when making a reasonable assumption that many of the attempts reported in these epidemiological data were not serious, LGB youth still attempt suicide at higher rates than heterosexual youth, even if only attempts that are serious and life-threatening are considered.

What should we conclude based on this analysis and should our approach to the needs of LGBT youth change based on Savin-Williams’ critique?

First, there is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence that LGB (and T, though there is a need for more quantitative research) youth attempt suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers. Yes, the magnitude of that difference may decrease when more representative samples are studied and when only attempts that are “serious” or “life-threatening” are considered. However, we should continue to focus attention and resources on creating socio-political pressure and demanding appropriate policy change that addresses this threat to the health and well-being of America’s youth.

Second, the goal of reducing the incidence of LGBT youth suicide would be even better served by researchers and activists focusing as well on the resilience factors that enable the majority of LGBT youth to be healthy and well-adjusted despite the anti-gay climate perpetrated by conservative religious political leaders and organizations. Caitlin Ryan’s research on family rejection is an excellent example of how we can identify critical factors that affect the health and well-being of LGBT youth and direct public policy and public education efforts accordingly.

Finally, in addition to focusing resources on creating long-term and large-scale social change, we need to concurrently support the growing number of programs and interventions that make it better for LGBT youth today. From Gay-Straight Alliances and other programs at schools that create community for LGBT youth to innovative efforts like the It Gets Better Project that connect youth to the millions of adults, gay and straight, who support them and have survived despite their own struggles, there are considerable opportunities to provide hope to youth who are struggling and continued support to those who are thriving.

We must never forget the youth whose lives were taken far too soon – their stories inspire us to work even harder. Concurrently, a more holistic approach to understanding the lives of LGBT youth will only enhance our efforts to support and protect them.

It Gets Better: President Barack Obama

Jim Burroway

October 21st, 2010
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Whatever complaints and irritations the gay community has right now, this video matters. People do still listen to the President in a way in which they don’t listen to us bloggers and activists. Yes, people will make potshots at the speech. We’re pretty angry over DADT, DOMA and all the other areas of active discrimination that are written into our laws.

And as Alvin McEwen’s facebook friend said, “Heck, we can’t even thank someone without getting into an argument. ”

Well, I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: thank you Mr. President.

Read the transcript after the jump

More Videos Like This One, Please

Jim Burroway

October 20th, 2010

From a straight (albeit sometimes questioning) Christian young man:

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Warren Throckmorton responds:

This video is a direct challenge to far right observers who believe the distress felt by many young people is due to their sexual orientation. This young man identifies as straight and yet reports repeated harassment due to perceptions that he was gay.

I believe that observation is in rebuttal to people like Tony Perkins, who blamed the recent rash of suicides on the kids’ sexual orientation in a Washington Post op-ed. By the way, the controversey over that op-ed continues to reverberate.

It Gets Better: From Perry, IA

Jim Burroway

October 20th, 2010

If you’ve never seen the web site I’m From Driftwood, you really owe yourself a heart-warming visit. The site is made up of stories submitted by people from all over. Each story’s title says where they come from — “I’m from Sheboygan Falls“, “I’m From Lake Charles“,  you get the picture — and they talk about what it was like growing up there, before they were out and as they were coming out. In many ways, it could be seen as a forerunner to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, which was begun in response to the rash of LGBT suicides we saw in September.

In a few of the I’m From Driftwood posts, you can see considerable overlap between the two projects. This one, “I’m From Perry, IA”, begins with Samuel describing his harrowing experience with a brutal and punitive ex-gay conversion therapy experience. Watch it:

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Samuel’s experience is not altogether rare. If his story ended there — conditional love as long as he pretended to be straight — we would see the perfect setup for a life of torment. But there’s another ingredient involved that, for now, is making the story’s ending different from where it could have gone. That ingredient is Sam’s fortitude. Things still aren’t any better with his parents — they still insist that he “change” before they allow him back into the home. But now that he’s in college at Kansas State, things have somehow started to get better for him. But in a very different way and on his terms:

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…But, I do recognize that I will give them that chance. What my parents did was part of what they believed. They thought they were losing their child and they wanted to help him, so I have to forgive them, I have to move forward. But I think the reason why I was so excited to be able tell the story was that if there’s other people who have gone through conversion therapy, who are having those feelings of, “I’m the only one alone”, you need to know that there are people who have made it through and, you can’t change what I never chose.

The sad tragedy to all of this is that Sam’s story is both unique and not uncommon. There’s hardly a month that goes by that I don’t get an email from someone asking for advice. Either they are trying to recover from an ex-gay experience or, more commonly, a friend or relative asks what they should do when someone they know enters some kind of “treatment” program. These are hard stories to deal with, but one good resource is Beyond Ex-Gay, a network of ex-gay survivors. It’s not only for survivors themselves, but also their families and friends. I know that they have provided valuable support to those who are coming out of the ex-gay experience.

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