Montana LGBT Youth At Increased Risk for Suicide

Today, a groundbreaking piece in the Billings Gazette:

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting through adolescence is hard enough.

There’s the agony of puberty, the mood swings and the withering self-consciousness. Then comes the clumsiness of emerging sexuality.

It can be overwhelming.

For some young people, the passage can be even more daunting. For a few Montana kids coming to terms with their attraction to the same gender — in a religious and rural culture that doesn’t always know what to make of them — the challenge can be deadly.

A 2009 survey of more than 7,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender middle and high school students aged 13 to 21 found that in the past year, at least eight of 10 students had been verbally harassed at school; four of 10 had been physically harassed; six of 10 felt unsafe at school; and one of five had been the victim of a physical assault, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

LGBT youth also are at far greater risk for suicide. A national study of adolescents in grades seven to 12 found that LGBT youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.

There is little specific research in Montana concerning how much of a role sexual orientation plays in youth suicides, said Karl Rosston, Montana’s suicide prevention coordinator. However, national studies have shown about 15 percent of youth who reported suicide attempts also reported same-sex attraction or relationships.

In Montana between 1999 and 2009, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, behind unintentional injuries like auto and farm accidents.

In the two years between 2010 and 2011, at least 57 youth ages 15 to 24 killed themselves in Montana.

It’s difficult to figure the current number of gays and lesbians in Montana. However, according to a report from the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA researching sexual orientation issues, there were 1,600 same-sex couples in Montana as of 2005, up from 1,200 in 2000. This number is almost certainly higher, especially since the study didn’t include youth. The number of male couples and female couples were nearly evenly split, with 806 men and 853 women.

About 2.6 percent of Montana’s population — around 26,000 people — is gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the report.

Teen suicide is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the state, which has had one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation for more than 30 years. Consider that during 2010, at least 227 Montanans took their own lives. Another 225 people committed suicide in 2011.

D Gregory Smith, a Bozeman-based licensed mental health counselor and executive director of AIDS Outreach, counsels LGBT high school and college students, gay men and a handful of heterosexual men and women. He also counsels parents wondering if their child’s sexual preference can be changed, although he doesn’t believe that’s possible. He counsels parents on how they can better understand their child’s sexuality.

Most of his youth and young adult clients have contemplated suicide.

“Their biggest fear is believing they cannot have a good life,” said Smith, a former Catholic priest who is gay and HIV-positive. “They believe they cannot stay in Montana, be who they are and be happy.”
There’s so much more here: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/lgbt-youth-at-increased-risk-for-suicide/article_d7e8360a-f437-5ba6-8d03-8aeb2d67d701.html#ixzz2MVkAw1EE

Musical Nun Sings: ‘You Are Not Alone’

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

Bare-MusicalArtThe character of a nun, in an off-Broadway musical provocatively entitled Bare, is now singing a song which one writer thinks will become an anthem for LGBT youth facing bullying and harassment.

Despite the title, the show does not focus on nudity, but on the struggles of two gay high school students at a Catholic boarding school

In a Huffington Post piece, Mark Canavera draws attention to a song in the second act, “You’re Not Alone,” sung by the character Sister Joan:

” ‘You’re Not Alone,’ developed by lyricist Jon Hartmere and composer Lynne Shankel for the current off-Broadway revival of the musical Bare, will become a new anthem for LGBT youth. Bare churns in tempo with the lives of a group of sexually awakening teenagers who are struggling within the confines of a Catholic school. ‘You’re Not Alone’ comes late in the second act and represents the show’s emotional pinnacle, piercing through the turmoil. (Although no official recording of the song yet exists, a demo version is available to stream here.) Sister Joan, an empathetic nun, is consoling one of her gay students who is caught in the whirlwinds of the drama. She uses the clearest words imaginable:

“You’re created in His image. / You’re a perfect child of God. / And this part of you / It’s the heart of who you are. / It’s who you are / And you just need to know / You’re not alone.” ‘ “

Canavera describes how the song was developed, and the reason the composer and lyricist put it into the mouth of a teacher:

“That the song is sung by a teacher to her student illuminates the special role that teachers can play in supporting their students while opening new horizons. ‘I think that teachers have such an amazing opportunity-slash-responsibility to their students to open a kid’s eyes to what is possible beyond what they think is possible,’ says Shankel. Hartmere himself was a teacher who spoke frankly to his classrooms about his sexual orientation and the offense he felt at hearing insults tossed around. ‘One day on the yard,’ he describes, ‘I heard a kid call someone else gay, and one of the girls from my class said, “Don’t use that word because my teacher’s gay, and I like him.” ‘ “

Of course, more importantly is the fact that the character is not only a teacher, but a Catholic nun:

“In addition to being a teacher, Sister Joan is obviously a nun. Hartmere, who was raised Catholic and whose great aunt is a nun, believes that this character and her song should help to provide a counter-balance to conceptions of the Catholic Church as a monolithic, doctrinaire haven for sex offenders. ‘There’s another angle here,’ says Hartmere, ‘another way of looking at things. Nuns are an amazing group of people who have an amazing worldview that should be listened to more.’

“I couldn’t agree more. Listening to Sister Joan send her clarion message to the struggling student in a recent performance of Bare transported me directly to 1992, when I was a freshman at a Catholic high school in Charleston, South Carolina. I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, lonely, lost, confused, and yes, suicidal. My Sister Joan was Sister A.J. — short for Alice Joseph — of the Sisters of Mercy order. Sister A.J. was in her 50s when she taught me and passed away some years ago now; God rest her soul. Much like the teacher whose supportive note to a gay studentrecently went viral, Sister A.J. wrote the following note on one of my essays:

By the way, you were born homosexual, overweight, and with a loving heart. Don’t worry about your homosexuality. One day the pope will understand. PS…I love you.

” ‘You’re Not Alone‘ and such notes are crystal lasers of love, beaming direct and clear from the hearts of nuns to their LGBT students. May such love go viral.”

At New Ways Ministry, we’ve known for over 36 years how much nuns have been supporting LGBT people and ministry because they have been the backbone of our financial and spiritual support.  We are deeply grateful. We are glad that a song such as “You Are Not Alone” is helping to spread the message of nuns’ love–and God’s love–of LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

MT Schools Anti-Bullying Bill Pulled- But Not For The Reasons You May Think

From Rep. Jean Price:

Good news for supporters of the anti-bullying bill! 

It turns out that at the same time we were working on language for HB 219, the Board of Public Education adopted the same bullying prevention language in their school accreditation standards.  The Board of Public Education has the constitutional authority to adopt new rules for schools.

 The new standards require that schools adopt policies and procedures to address bullying.  You can find the document on the Board of Public Education website under proposed Chapter 55 Accreditation Standards. Here is the direct link:  http://bpe.mt.gov/content/PDF/VariousDocs/Chapter55.

These standards go into effect July 1, 2013. Taking the new rule adoption into consideration, and after discussion with the Office of Public Instruction, I have withdrawn HB 219 from consideration by the House Education Committee on Wednesday, February 6th.

Remember that this is good news!   I encourage you to share the section of the new standards with students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and other community members.

While we won’t have a state law on the books,schools will be required to abide by the new standards.

Thank you so much for your interest in HB 219.  I appreciate your commitment to this very important issue.

Rep. Jean Price

Fact:

Click for data

A (No Longer) Quiet Revolution: Intersex Awareness Day

By Jim Bruce, Communications & Youth Coordinator for Advocates for Informed Choice

October 26 is International Intersex Awareness Day.

This day marks our calendars because one of the first intersex advocacy groups, The Intersex Society of North America (operating as “Hermaphrodites with Attitude”), picketed the American Association of Pediatrics annual conference in Boston on October 26th, 1996. The picketers were angry that doctors attending the conference continued to recommend normalizing cosmetic surgeries on the genitals of intersex kids. Many of those protesting had been subjected to those kinds of damaging and irreversible surgeries when they were infants. As brave as these individuals were, their appeals for reason and restraint went largely unheard by the medical community that day. Many medical policymakers thought then- and many still believe today- that these protesters experienced “old surgical methods” and that “surgical procedures are better now” and “overall patient treatment is vastly improved.”

That was then, this is now.

And things have changed.

Today, Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC)  proudly announces the landmark publication of “What We Wish Our Doctors Knew”, a brochure written and produced by the first youth leadership development program of its kind: Inter/Act . Inter/Act is a space for young people with intersex conditions or DSDs (differences of sex development)  to come together from all over the world to express themselves, uniting their individual stories to develop a voice for a new generation. Inter/Act was created to help mold tomorrow’s intersex advocates with the goal of creating greater understanding among peers, parents, doctors, scholars, and supporters about the varied experiences and perspectives of young people with different bodies.

Now, for the first time, young people born with intersex conditions have a platform. This program helps them to speak directly to their doctors about how they experience treatment. Inter/Act allows young people a safe place to voice the complicated emotions of that come with an intersex condition. They can express their concerns, encouragement, fear, hope and anger- something those protesters in Boston were unable to do. For these reasons alone “What We Wish Our Doctors Knew” is revolutionary. AIC and Inter/Act believe this document will serve to advance the dialogue between young people, parents, medical providers and activists, and we’re sharing it with you. Please pass it on!

Finally, AIC simply can’t sit still, so we’re thrilled to unveil our newest program, The Interface Project (TIP)! TIP’s mission is to gather and share personal stories of people living with an intersex condition or DSD to spread the message, “No Body Is Shameful.” We have done some work to get the first videos (http://www.youtube.com/theinterfaceproject) produced but there is more to be done! With your help  we will continue to bring you powerful stories of people with intersex conditions in their own words.

Now you know some of the significance of October 26. Please help AIC and other organizations worldwide increase the visibility of a community that has been unseen for far too long.

Jim Bruce is the Communications & Youth Coordinator for Advocates for Informed Choice. A Louisiana native, Jim now lives in Missoula, Montana. 

For more information on Advocates for Informed Choice, Inter/Act , The Interface Project, or, if you would like a copy of “What We Wish Our Doctors Knew” (http://aiclegal.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/interact_ms-updated.pdf) email Jim Bruce at jim@aiclegal.org.

Coming Out

Here’s to Anderson Cooper, who so eloquently came out as a gay man yesterday.

Anderson Cooper at Qualcomm Stadium during the...

“…I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”

Being who you are is never a reason for shame. It can be, however, a reason for caution. It’s not always safe to be who you are- and everyone gets to make that call for themselves. For all the kids out there who may not yet be fully able to be themselves: Be patient, be gentle with yourselves and quietly gather supportive and loving people around you. Your day will come.

Bullied Youth Proposes LGBT Youth Advisor To President Obama

Photo courtesy of Brody Levesque

An inspiring story for going back to school….
You may remember me writing about Caleb Laieski, a 16 year old bullied youth from Arizona. Caleb was revently invited to the White House to share his experience as a bullied teen. Laieski was one of a few youth chosen to meet with President Obama for a photo opportunity. When they met, he proposed to President Obama that the administration appoint an LGBT youth advisor to the President. The advisor would serve as a liaison between the Obama Administration and our nation’s LGBT youth population to specifically address anti-LGBT bullying and other major issues that LGBT youth face and seek appropriate and immediate solutions. 
Laieski refused to accept bullying as a rite of passage for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens. Raising funds and creating awareness, he took his passion to Washington, DC where he used his personal experience to lobby Washington lawmakers on the Student Non-Discrimination Act. After meeting with almost 200 different legislators and various administrative offices in just 22 days, Laieski worked on Capitol Hill to promote a safe schools bill; The Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 998 – S. 999).
With his personal experience on bullying, he was invited to speak with the Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, to discuss the effect that bullying has on today’s lesbian and gay youth and the dire situation bullying creates for at-risk youth. The story stuck with Secretary Sebelius – a few days later, Laieski was included in the Secretary’s speech at the first-ever Federal LGBT Youth Summit that was held by the Department of Education.

Bullying has taken many at-risk LGBT youth and a recent study shows, that LGBT youth who come from “highly rejecting” families are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide than LGBT peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. In a tragic event that struck too close to home, Laieski lost a close friend his age to suicide last year. This friend had endured similar bullying- and Caleb has had several other close friends attempt suicide due to the same systematic and sustained harassment in public schools.

Reluctant to create more pain from his experience, Laieski has begun channeling his inner pain in a positive way by becoming a strong personal advocate for bullied LGBT Youth- an inspiring story, especially as students head back to school.

We’ll keep you informed about the LGBT Youth Advisor to The President….

More about Caleb here.