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Posts for March, 2011

Alexandria’s Echo Press publishes spin on Lundsten’s toxicology report

Timothy Kincaid

March 9th, 2011

Yesterday television media in Alexandria, MN, followed up on their coverage of the local anti-gay bullying problem. They confirmed the claims of anti-bullying advocates in reporting that toxicology reports reveal that, indeed, Lance Lundsten’s death was due to suicide. This contradicted the position taken by the local newspaper which had been insisting that Lundsten had died due to a medical condition.

As of late afternoon yesterday, the Echo Press had made no mention of the toxicology results. At some point after Box Turtle Bulletin criticized them for their silence on the issue, the following blub appeared on their website:

18-year-old’s death in Miltona determined to be suicide
Toxicology reports indicate that 18-year-old Lance Lundsten of Miltona was a victim of suicide.

Lundsten, a senior at Jefferson High School, died on January 15 at his home.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigated the death and initially described it as a medical call/sudden death.

Family members said they were initially told that a preliminary autopsy indicated that Lundsten had cardiac edema, a medical condition caused by an enlarged heart. The family was told it would be six to eight weeks before complete toxicology results could be determined.

Those results are back now and they show “a mixed drug ingestion” led to the death and that the manner of death was suicide, according to Douglas County Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Spanbauer.

Not much there… but the language included – and excluded – is worth noting as an example of a newspaper deliberately seeking to deceive its readers.

The Echo Press carefully strung together a few sentences, each of which may be factual but when taken together tell a false tale. And all of it is designed to cover the butt of publisher Al Edenloff.

First, yes it was a “medical call/sudden death.” This is a pretty broad description and could cover anything.

But the Echo Press included this terminology for a very specific reason: to imply validation for their campaign to deny the true cause of Lundsten’s death. Lookie there, the sheriff used the word “medical” so we’re justified in insisting that the cause of his death was “cardiac edema, a condition caused by an enlarged heart.”

Then Edenloff defends his scolding editorial and incorrect reporting by shifting blame to fourth-party information. “Family members said they were initially told…”

To those who have not followed the drama, this looks to be some little story of the medical examiner discovering that the cause of death wasn’t what he thought after all. To the shock of everyone, this was a suicide. Whoda thunk it?

But what happened is quite something else. A false story was spread to cover the truth behind Lundsten’s death and the motivation appears to be to cover up the community’s entrenched anti-gay bias. And Echo Press was the main culprit in the propagation of this story.

Mr. Edenloff was angered that “anti-bullying groups” were covering the story in ways that reflecting badly on the city and the school. He didn’t like that Senator Al Franken had used the story to highlight the need for anti-bullying legislation.

And I suspect that he may have truly believed his happy fairly tale that swept everything under the rug, caused no reason to question the attitude that Alexandria and Jefferson High have towards gay kids, and implicated no one in the death of a high school student. Or he chose to believe it.

But he was wrong. And rather than admit this and apologize to those whom he chastised and criticized, he’s trying to act as though the reporting and editorializing of the Echo Press was reasonable. It was not.

Oh, it’s possible that Edenloff will run an editorial “explaining” his actions. And while I can hope that some humility may creep in, I suspect it will ignore the story behind the story: that Alexandria’s gay youth are going though torment while its adults blithely traipse along refusing to see or do anything about it.

I doubt that Edenloff will suddenly join those who are calling for protection for students, like Lance, who are bullied at Jefferson High. He has not yet been willing even to acknowledge that Lance was reportedly bullied, or even that he was gay. Perhaps he thinks that this would smear Lance’s reputation.

In January, the Echo Press titled its editorial “Lessons from the death of an 18-year-old” and set out to lecture on what others could learn. But it’s time for Edenloff to look at the situation and see what lessons are there for him.

He would do well to ask himself what, exactly, is the role of a newspaper in today’s instant media society. While newsprint once could serve as community scold and publisher of opinion, that role has now been taken over by blogs and social media.

The real value of newspaper media is that unlike instant media they – at least in theory – publish hard facts. They do background and talk to source and try and see a bigger picture. Newspaper reporting is presumed to be fact-checked and accurate. This is what differentiates them from much of the blogosphere.

But what value is a newspaper that prints known falsehoods rather than facts? If the Echo Press has no more accuracy than the most agenda-driven and biased of bloggers, then it no longer has any value or purpose.

Obamas Speak Out Against Bullying

Jim Burroway

March 9th, 2011
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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will host an anti-bullying conference at the Whte House tomorrow which will be streamed live at WhiteHouse.gov. The conference includes teachers, students, and community leaders, and will include online live chats. In preparation for the conference, the President and First Lady recorded this Facebook message.

You can submit questions here, and you can RSVP for a “Facebook live” chat here. There’s also more information at StopBullying.gov.

Last October, President Obama released a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign, aimed at stemming the epidemic of youth suicides brought on by bullying.

Born This Way

Jim Burroway

March 9th, 2011
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CNN profiled an interesting blog called Born This Way. Paul V., who created the blog acknowledges, “Yes, I know – the awesome Lady Gaga is calling her new CD this as well. But that name and this idea has been brewing in my head for a long, long time, and I finally got off my ass to at least start the project here.” The photo/essay project invites readers to submit childhood photos and pictures reflecting their earliest memories of how they expressed themselves in unique and foretelling ways. “Nurture allows what nature endows,” he reiterates, and his blog is a great participatory project with the goal of showing kids that being different does not make them a freak. It makes them beautiful.

Alexandria’s Echo Press ignores Lundsten’s toxicology report

Timothy Kincaid

March 8th, 2011

On Saturday, January 15, 2011, openly gay 18 year-old high school student Lance Lundsten died. Fellow students reported that Lance was openly gay and subjected to bullying at school and expressed their sadness and their wish that some adult had protected him. But the adults in Lance’s life had an entirely difference response.

Jefferson High School, where Lance was subjected to homophobic bullying, has no gay-straight alliance, has no inclusive anti-discrimination policy, and no acknowledgment of the existence of students like Lance or any provisions to address their need or concerns. The school superintendent Terry Quist issued a statement that not only refused to consider that bullying could have played a part, but chastised and criticized Lance’s friends for suggesting that Lance’s death may have been at his own hand and due in part to bullying he experienced while under Quist’s supervision.

We are aware that statements attributed to unidentified students have been reported by the media. However we have no information regarding the source of or any factual basis for the statements. It would be disrespectful, as well as a violation of privacy laws for us to engage in speculation regarding the cause or circumstances of Lance’s death.

But lack of “factual basis” did not limit others from engaging in a public relations effort to deny who Lance was, squelch any talk about issues that could have led to his death, and craft a pretty lie to replace the story that fellow students were presenting. Rather than allow the tragedy to be an opportunity to acknowledge that Alexandria, MN, has a culture of animus and hostility towards gay people, including their own children, those who should have protected Lance instead joined together to bully him after his death.

Lance had a strained relationship with his parents and was living with his grandparents at the time of his death. After his son killed himself, his father stepped up as spokesman for his estranged and now dead son and declared that it was a medical condition that killed the young man.

And although the coroner refuted this claim, Jon Lundsten was not interested in considering whether his son had been bullied or whether Jon’s own difficulties with his son had contributed in any way to Lance believing that life was not worth going on. So he stuck with his “enlarged heart” tale.

Besides diverting any need to talk about any icky gay stuff, this solved a more immediate problem. Declaring Lance’s death not to be a suicide allowed for his memorial and burial to be through the Catholic Church. Rev. Father Steve Binsfeld could officiate.

And Jon Lundsten had found himself an ally in his campaign of denial and deceit: Al Edenloff, the editor of the local newspaper. Over the next several days, the Echo Press, which calls itself “The Official Newspaper of Douglas County!” ran several stories on Lance’s death:

Throwing caution (and subtlety) to the wind, the first, on January 18th, was titled “18-year-old from Miltona, Minn., dies from medical condition

According to preliminary autopsy results that were shared with the family, he died from cardiac edema, a condition caused by an enlarged heart.

There was no evidence that drugs or alcohol played any role in the death, according to a family member interviewed by the newspaper. The family was told that it would be six to eight weeks before complete toxicology results are determined.

This was a pure fabrication. But on the 21st, that story was expanded and renamed “School copes with loss of 18-year-old“. It repeated the “preliminary autopsy report” claims.

But across town, the television news was not going along with Jon Lundsten’s diversion. Instead, they ran a story on the reports of bullying, talked with the coroner’s office, interviewed a gay former student from Jefferson, and exposed the truth that Jon Lundsten, Al Edenloff, and Terry Quist wanted to keep hidden.

And fellow students who saw through all the denials began to band together, insisting that if the adults wouldn’t protect gay kids, then they would do what they could to help. Being of the social media generation, they used Facebook to not only expose the lack of concern of the adults, but also to reflect on how they could work together to address bullying.

This was certainly not the message that reflected well on the adults. Rather than have media interest in Lance’s death quickly die off as a tragic tale of a young man cut down early by a heart condition, the story began to grow as one about callous administrators who refused to take responsibility for their own actions. Even worse, the public was becoming aware that the school board’s decision not to protect gay students could lead to death.

So Edenloff went into crisis mode, writing an editorial that again denied that Lance had broken under
Alexandria’s intolerance and the lack of support in his family and his school. Seeking to keep the city and the school from being portrayed as “a backwoods little punkwood town”, he went on the attack against those students who dared to make a difference.

Calling his scold piece “Editorial – Lessons from the death of an 18-year-old”, Edenloff began with a lecture:

Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook. And don’t post things on the Internet that you’re not entirely sure of when it comes to someone else’s life.

And although by this time Edenloff had to know that Jon’s story was not being backed up by the medical examiner, he surged ahead with accusations and insinuations.

Unfortunately, whipped up by the Facebook frenzy, the distorted story of Lundsten’s death took on a life of its own. A TV station reported about the Facebook speculations and it snowballed quickly from there, getting reported by other media outlets as well – a sad case of media reporting what other media were reporting, even though it was untrue.

Today the toxicology reports came back.

Lance’s death was a suicide.

KSAX

The mystery surrounding the January death of Lance Lundsten, the Miltona teen whose controversial death sparked a conversation about teen suicide across the nation, has now been revealed by the Douglas County Medical Examiner.

Dr. Mark Spanbauer confirmed Monday, March 7, that the teen’s manner of death was ruled suicide. The toxicology report from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and MEDTOX, determined the cause of death to be a mixed drug ingestion, according to Spanbauer.

“It was a mixed drug ingestion and suicide was the manner of death,” Spanbauer said.

The Echo Press decided not to cover this story.

UPDATE: At some point after we posted this commentary, the Echo Press ran a blurb noting the cause of death.

Texas school supervisor would rather kick off Christian athletes than allow gay students to meet

Timothy Kincaid

February 26th, 2011

The Equal Access Act is pretty clear: if you allow student groups to meet on campus you can’t exclude groups because of the content of their position. Originally intended to force school districts to allow Bible Study clubs the same access as the Chess Club, this law has been the legal foundation behind Gay-Straight Alliances being allowed on campus.

But some school districts – and some supervisors – are so anti-gay that they would rather have no clubs than allow gay people to meet and provide emotional support for each other. One such district is Flour Bluff Independent School District, near Corpus Christi, TX, where Supervisor Julie Carbajal is determined that gay kids will continue to feel excluded from school life. So committed is Carbajal to her anti-gay agenda that she is willing to kick other groups off campus.

Superintendent Julie Carbajal said she has asked the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to meet off campus while the district studies the legality of allowing the club while disallowing a club supporting homosexual students. She said there is no chance the district will approve the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance, but she will make sure all other school clubs are following the district’s policy.

Now the school had already decided back in 2005 – in a move to preemptively exclude gay-inclusive organizations – that it would allow no non-curricular clubs on campus. But that was not enforced when it came to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. So now they have to go.

Carbajal would rather have a school with no student support, no organization, no community, no spirit, rather than have one that didn’t tell gay kids that they are worthless. She thinks that this is the moral position, one “fair and equitable to all students.”

What a tool.

Tennessee Lawmakers Propose Ban on Mentioning LGBT People in Schools

Jim Burroway

February 23rd, 2011

Tennessee State Sen. Stacey Campfield (left) and Rep. Bill Dunn (right), both R-Knoxville

Two Tennessee lawmakers, State Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Bill Dunn, have introduced a bill in the state’s legislature that would ban schools from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality. The bill, House Bill 229 and Senate Bill 49 (PDF 36KB/1 page), says in part: “No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill presents serious problems for students whose family members may be gay, or who may be gay themselves:

“The Don’t Say Gay bill raises all kinds of issues about anti-gay bias, free speech and government overreach,” said Ben Byers with the Tennessee Equality Project. …”It limits what teachers and students are able to discuss in the classroom,” Byers said. “It means they can’t talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have gay family.”

The brilliant Zach Wahls

Timothy Kincaid

February 4th, 2011

You’ve probably seen this before, but if not, Zach Wahls gives testimony to the Iowa House on being raised by two mothers.

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My New Hero: Alice Anne LeMay!

Rob Tisinai

January 7th, 2011

A Catholic school district in Canada has banned gay-straight alliance clubs.  Says school board chair Alice Anne LeMay:

Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Okay.  I mean, it’s a Catholic school, after all.  I’ll have second thoughts if they’re receiving taxpayer funds, but so far it’s a pretty straightforward explanation of the ban, one that many (most?) straight North Americans would find quite reasonable.  This sort of opposition is the hardest for us to fight.

But there’s more.

Here’s the full quote:

We don’t have Nazi groups either. Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church.

YES!!  Way to equate gay 14-year-olds with the most brutal mass murderers the planet has ever seen!

Alice Anne Lemay
Unintentional hero in the battle for equality

Thank you Alice Anne LeMay, thank you.  Not everyone can make our opponents look so ridiculous in so few words.

I can’t resist taking a little time to explain why her comment is so offensive — offensive and illogical.  Her reasoning only makes sense if it works like this:

We don’t allow [something mild], so why would we allow [something more extreme]?

For instance, it makes sense to say:

We don’t allow soft drinks on campus, so why would we allow tequila?

It makes no sense to say:

We don’t allow tequila on campus, so why would we allow soft drinks?

But Alice Anne LeMay has it backwards.  We don’t allow kids to celebrate the most extreme incarnation of evil our culture can name, so why would we allow gay clubs?

This only works if you think gays are worse than Nazis. I am sure I would bet I hope Alice Anne LeMay doesn’t see it that way, which is what makes her comment so dumb.

Anyway, thank you Alice Anne LeMay.  Every time someone like you makes such an asinine comparison, our job gets a little easier.

Gay kids punished more harshly

Timothy Kincaid

December 6th, 2010

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health spent years gathering information about youth. And, as a part, they looked at gay youth and how they fare. Interestingly, they found that gay kids are punished more severely than heterosexual kids for the same infractions. (WaPo)

The results showed that, for similar misconduct, gay adolescents were roughly 1.25 to 3 times more likely to be sanctioned than their straight peers.

The greatest inequalities were with girls.

The sexual-orientation disparity was greatest for girls. Girls who identified themselves as lesbian or bisexual experienced 50 percent more police stops and reported more than twice as many juvenile arrests and convictions as other teen girls in similar trouble, the study said.

Let’s Be Frank

Rob Tisinai

November 14th, 2010

Just once I’d love our anti-gay religious opponents to speak with total clarity. I believe it would sound like this:

  1. We fight the homosexual agenda to keep people from falling into the clutches of the Enemy and spending eternity in Hell.
  2. We believe gay teens who kill themselves do so because they believe they can’t change their orientation.
  3. However, even if it were proved that our work against the homosexual agenda does lead to gay teen suicide, we would be wrong to stop.
  4. Stopping our work would mean far many more people succumbing to the homosexual agenda and going to Hell.
  5. So if our performance of God’s work does lead gay teens to suicide — which we heartily deny — then so be it. We are ready to sacrifice these 13-, 14-, and 15-year-olds in our efforts to bring souls to God.

I believe that’s a fair summation of their position. Would they actually disagree with a single statement above? And then we could have a real conversation about bullying.

Suicide, Responsibility, and the Teenaged Brain

Rob Tisinai

October 28th, 2010

Anti-gay activists are working hard to duck responsibility for anti-gay bullying and teen suicides. These attempts occasionally veer into sheer lunacy, as when they claim gay teens are in despair because society is too accepting of homosexuality. But there’s one dodge I find particularly offensive. From the comments on NOM’s Facebook page:

The only people responsible for the suicides are the people that comitted them.

Nobody forces anyone to take his own life; ergo, only those who commit suicide are responsible.

Each person is responsible 4 their own actions. U make believe u r gay. God did not make u gay & He does not make u commit sucicide. nor does anyone else

I don’t know if gay is always a choice, or not. But suicide is ALWAYS a choice. The ultimate cop-out.

To be fair, I don’t see this from polished anti-gay leaders. But it’s all over the comments on their web pages and blogs. It’s a strange argument coming from conservatives, who generally believe teenagers require strict discipline and are still learning to make wise decisions. They think a 15-year-old like Billy Lucas can’t handle alcohol, a car, the vote, or serving in the military, but he’ll have no trouble hearing that in the core of his being he’s an abomination, a pervert, an affront to God.

We have good reason not to trust kids to their own judgment when it comes to the big stuff. The human brain isn’t mature until it’s 23 to 25 years old. Through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists are now able to track blood flow — and therefore activity — in the brains of adults and teens as they confront information and solve problems. The science is new, but some differences are clear:

Between childhood and adulthood, the brain’s “wiring diagram” becomes richer, more complex and more efficient, especially in the brain’s frontal lobe, or front outer mantle, which is the seat of such higher order functions as learning and socialization. An important part of the frontal lobes is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is often referred to as the “CEO” or executive of the brain and is responsible for such skills as setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies, controlling impulses, and allocating attention. New research suggests that the PFC is one of the last areas of the brain to fully mature…

[O]ne key MRI study found that when identifying emotions expressed on faces, teens more often activated their amygdala—the brain area that experiences fear, threat and danger— whereas adults more often activated their prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain linked more to reason and judgment—and performed better on the task. Behaviorally, the adult’s responses were more intellectual, the teens’ more from the gut. These findings and others suggest that although the plasticity and changeability of the adolescent brain are extremely well suited to meet the demands of teen life, guidance from parents and other adult institutions are essential while decision-making circuitry is being formed.

Impulse control, planning and decisionmaking are largely frontal cortex functions that are still maturing during adolescence…[O]ne reason adolescents may have difficulty inhibiting inappropriate impulses is that the circuitry needed for such control is not fully mature in early adolescence, thereby making such tasks relatively difficult.

In short, kids have less impulse control than adults, and they listen to their gut when processing emotional cues.

Adults: prefrontal cortex

Teens: amygdala

Imagine then that you’re a gay teen, and you’re watching this Jimmy Swaggart broadcast with your parents, who have demonized gays in front of you all your life. Look at Swaggart’s face as he speaks. Take in his “emotional cues.” Hear your parents murmuring “Mm hmm. That’s right.”

Imagine reacting from your gut, not your intellect. Imagine your brain has only limited impulse control.

Imagine all that — as the only life you know.

Maggie Gallagher wants to know if she has blood on her hands. Jimmy Swaggart. Peter Sprigg. Tony Perkins. Bryan Fischer. Linda Harvey. Whether you’re calling us an abomination, or phrasing it more gently (like Maggie) and merely saying we can never feel the love that a man and a woman can. You all have blood on your hands.

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.

Mother of Bullied 11-Year-Old Who Committed Suicide Last Year Calls on President Obama to Do Something to Protect America’s Youth

Jason Cianciotto

October 16th, 2010

First, watch this video from CNN in Atlanta.

The epidemic of bullying in schools has been close to the top of the news cycle for over a month now. The American attention span, often reduced to 30-second sound bites, remains focused on the heart-wrenching stories of young people and their families from around the country. The youth in these stories have ranged in age from 11 to 19 and they have come from all manor of background and socio-economic status.

What they all share in common is the tragic impact of bullying and a lack of successful intervention by those tasked with ensuring the protection of students in school on a daily basis. Inconsistency in action by school teachers and administration is matched by inconsistency in laws and policies designed to address and prevent bullying in schools.

As of September 2010, only 14 states and the District of Columbia have laws that addresses discrimination, harassment and/or bullying of students in school based on sexual orientation and gender identity: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

In addition to those states, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin ban discrimination and/or harassment based on sexual orientation (gender identity is not included as a protected category).

A number of additional states have anti-bullying laws that do not enumerate categories of protection, including sexual orientation or gender identity. No doubt these laws were created, in part, to allay the concerns of social conservatives who fight tooth and nail to prevent sexual orientation and gender identity from being included in legislation.

However, as former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the landmark ruling against Colorado’s Amendment 2, “Enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply.”

In other words, nondiscrimination and anti-bullying laws should absolutely include sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as other categories of protection.

In an earlier post, I wrote about unique opportunities that arise to create legislative and social change, often without some coordinated plan by activists and pressure groups focused on a particular issue. This is one of those opportunities to address bullying and discrimination in schools.

I applaud and honor Masika Bermudez-Carrasquillo, in memory of her son, for appealing directly to President Obama to do something to force schools to better care for bullied students and ensure accountability for those who fail to do so, including the parents of bullies.

Leading up to and post the mid-term election, Congressional leaders and President Obama have a historic opportunity to take leadership on an issue that the overwhelming majority or Americans will support: Protecting our nation’s youth.

There is an opportunity to revisit legislation already languishing in Congress – the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) - to see whether their provision adequately address the need to protect students. For example, many Box Turtle Bulletin readers, commenting on a previous post about those laws, called for more explicit provisions that allow parents to take legal recourse against school districts and administrators who fail to protect students.

While the tragic affects of bullying will likely continue, at some point the American consciousness will move on. Our major news outlets will be enraptured by the outcome of the mid-term election and momentum to create change on this issue will diminish.

NOW is the time for the President and Congress to act. I encourage you to contact your Senators, Representatives, and the President to ask them to take leadership on this issue.

I also encourage you to contact the leadership at HRC (202.628.4160), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (202.393.5177), and GLSEN (212.727.0135) to voice your hope that they are doing everything they can to seize this moment to protect our nation’s youth.

Middle School Student Takes a Stand Against Bullying

Jason Cianciotto

October 16th, 2010

An NBC affiliate in California covered this story about 7th grader Marco Melgoza, a victim of anti-gay bullying at his middle school in Madera, CA. Despite efforts made by school administrators to curb the bullying, Marco reports that it is still happening. It’s amazing to see youth standing up for themselves with the support of their parents.

Seth Walsh’s “Daily Gauntlet”

Jim Burroway

October 7th, 2010

The mother of Seth Walsh, the Bakersfield-area teen who committed suicide in response to a daily dose of bullying in school, quietly mourns the loss of her son. She is refusing to speak to the public, as are Seth’s friends. But Seth’s grandparents have opened up, and the world gets to see just a bit of the incredible kid that we lost:

Judy and Jim still laugh over his tastes. He colored his hair blond on occasion and wore it with a long swoop that partly covered his eyes. Judy took him shopping once, and he went to the girl’s department to find pants with tapered legs. He added a vest, and a few months later she noticed the style everywhere.

…He was a gentle child, they say, who preferred to “relocate bugs” rather than kill them, who made sure his younger brother got his share of Easter eggs and who once apologized to a bed of flowers when he picked one and placed it on the grave of the family dog.

But the Walshes realize that Seth’s gentleness made him a target, and they recall listening to Wendy (Seth’s mother) as she shared her worries about Seth and what he had to endure.

The teasing and bullying began in fourth grade. At first it was because he was different — more comfortable with girls, not interested in sports, neither aggressive nor assertive — and then it was because he thought he was gay. Once classmates found out and the news spread, the abuse became more focused and cruel.

When Judy learned from her daughter that Seth was gay, she became concerned for the challenges that lay ahead of her grandson.

“Life is hard enough,” she says, “but this makes it harder.”

“Especially in a small town,” Jim says.

The Los Angeles Times’ profile is a must-read.

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