Chronicle blogger blames ‘It Gets Better” project for LGBT teen suicides

Kathleen McKinley

Kathleen McKinley

Kathy McKinley is a self-described “conservative activist” who blogs for the Houston Chronicle under the monicker “TexasSparkle.” In a recent post McKinley took the “It Gets Better” project to task for what she believes is their culpability in the suicides of LGBT teens:

“These kids were sold a bill of goods by people who thought they were being kind. The “It will get better” campaign just didn’t think it through. They didn’t think about the fact that kids are different from adults. They handle things differently. They react differently. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE KIDS. You can grumble all day long how unfair it is that straight teens can be straight in high school, and gay kids can’t, but life is unfair. Isn’t the price they are paying too high?? Is it so much to ask them to stand at the door of adulthood before they “come out” publically? Because it may save their life.”

McKinnley’s primary confusion about the “It Gets Better” campaign (other than its name) is the assumption that the goal is to encourage teens to come out of the closet, or encourage them to become sexually active:

“Why in the world would you give teenagers a REASON to tease you? Oh, yes, because the adults tell you to embrace who you are, the only problem? Kids that age are just discovering who they are. They really have no idea yet. The adults tell you to “come out,” when what we should be telling them is that sex is for adults, and there is plenty of time for figuring out that later.”

I would like to encourage Ms. McKinley to watch the “It Gets Better” project’s founder Dan Savages’ video. Please, Ms. McKinley, listen, and tell me if you hear Savage or his partner Terry say anything about teens coming out or having sex. I think what you’ll hear them say is that all of the things that most kids, gay and straight, dream of (falling in love, starting a family, having the support of their parents, co-workers and friends) are possible for LGBT teens. I think you’ll hear them talk about how difficult their teen years were, and about the fears they had that their parents would reject them, that they’d never find success and that they’d always be alone.

Choosing to have sex is one of the most personal decision a person will ever make. For LGBT people, choosing to come out is another. I have not watched all of the thousands of videos from people who have participated in the “It Gets Better” project. It’s possible that there are a few that tell kids to come out right away, or to become sexually active, but I doubt it.

Every video in the project that I have seen has had the same simple message: that the person making it understands how tortuously awful the experience of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender in Junior and High School can be, but there is a wonderful world of loving, vibrant, successful, engaged LGBT adults out there and if queer teens can just hang on, just for a few years, they can join it. I doubt that any of the contributors to the project think that hanging on for a few years will be easy. I suspect that most of them remember, with excruciating clarity, contemplating ending those temporary years of terror with a permanent solution and that is why they choose to reach out.

I grew up without role models, where people like Barbara Gittings, Bayard Rustin and Harvey Milk didn’t exist . I grew up in a small town where the two men with the pink house were talked about in hushed tones that immediately fell silent when I walked into the room, because it wasn’t appropriate for children’s ears. I grew up in a world where my mother wouldn’t tell me what “gay” meant, where the evening news was turned off if it reported on the AIDS crisis, where I wasn’t given words to describe who I was, and so the only word I could find was “alone.”

I was lucky. My suicide attempt failed.

I was lucky, I survived, and went to college, and found a church that embraced and loved LGBT people. That’s where I met doctors and lawyers and business owners and teachers who were like me. That’s where I met two wonderful women who had built a life together for over 50 years. That’s where I discovered I wasn’t alone and that being gay didn’t mean that i couldn’t have all of those things I’d dreamed of.

That is what McKinley missed in her blog post. In her haste to lay blame on anything other than the overwhelming prejudice perpetuated by schools, churches and governments against LGBT people McKinley missed the fact that kids need role models. In her rush to shove queer teens back into the closet she forgot that human beings need the hope of a better world, lest they give up in despair.

McKinley got one thing right in her post. She titled it “Are Adults Also To Blame For Gay Teen Suicides? Yes.” Adults are to blame for LGBT teen suicides. When adults hide the stunning diversity of God’s creation from their children they create a vision of reality that some of those children can’t see themselves in. When adults tell LGBT teens that they should be invisible then it is all too clear who is to blame when those teens believe them, and take steps to make themselves invisible permanently.

To all the LGBT kids out there: it does get better. There are adults who care about you and want all the wonderful things you dream of to come true, but you have to hang on. If you need to keep who are secret to remain safe then do so. If you need someone to talk to please call the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-Trevor (866-488-7386).

—  admin

Final proof of inequities still to fight

Pioneering gay rights activist Frank Kameny died without enough money to pay for his burial

Frank-Kameny

Frank Kameny

Back in the dark ages when I was a teenager, I distinctly remember a conversation my father and mother had after dinner one night. Dad had just returned from one of his many trips to Washington, D.C., and on one of the flights he sat next to a doctor named Frank.

My father, a research scientist and member of dozens of honorary and scientific organizations, noticed that his seatmate was wearing a lapel pin. The pin was a gold “M,” and my dad assumed it was from a fraternal or professional group.

When he asked Frank about it he learned it stood for “Mattachine Society.”

That’s when my father’s voice dropped into a more hushed tone. He told my mother that the Mattachine Society was an organization of homosexuals and he had never imagined those kinds of people organizing.

Well that was in the 1960s and I was still a questioning teenager going through all the angst that a gay boy has when he is still trying to sort out his sexuality. Hearing the mention of the word “homosexual” in such hushed tones let me know in no uncertain terms it was not something polite people talked about, much less wore lapel pins identifying themselves as one.

I have no way of knowing the identity of that man on the airplane, but it is telling that the conversation stuck with me in such detail. Today, I wonder if the “Frank” my dad encountered on the flight from D.C. might have been Dr. Frank Kameny, a pioneer of the gay rights movement.

I will never know, but I do know that Frank’s work has affected me in ways that are profound.

Without the Mattachine Society and people like Frank Kameny, Harry Hay and others, I would not be writing in this publication, and most likely there would be no Dallas Voice.

Equally profound is the other connection I share with Frank — our age. No, I am not an octogenarian. But I am part of an aging LGBT population, and as such, I will most likely face some of the same problems.

Habaerman.Hardy.NEW

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

As the LGBT population ages, threading the maze of social services will most likely become more difficult. Unlike our straight brothers and sisters, we cannot rely on a spouse’s health insurance or, in most cases, on the assistance of our children. We face legal problems of proper power of attorney should we become infirm and even funds for burial when we die.

Dr. Kameny was fired from his U.S. Army Map Service job in 1957. With that firing, any pension or benefits he might have accrued went up in smoke. Not having a family to help with social services and support as he aged, Kameny was dependent on the generosity of organizations like Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS) and individual friends to survive.

Having given most of his life to fighting for LGBT rights, he was left with little in the way of retirement funds.

Which brings us to today. Dr. Kameny died on Oct. 11, and he left a rich legacy of activism and passion for LGBT rights. Unfortunately, his riches ended at the altruistic level.

His estate contains many historical documents but little in the way of cash. So in order to defray the costs of his funeral, his friends and family have set up a fund with HOBS. There will be a testimonial dinner on Nov. 10 honoring Frank, but in lieu of flowers or tributes, his family requests donations be earmarked for his memorial expenses and given to: Helping our Brothers and Sisters, 1318 U Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.

You can also contribute through their website at:  HelpingOurBrothersAndSisters.com/donate.html.

Giving Frank a fitting funeral will be a small effort to honor a man who wore his sexuality on his lapel at a time when few people were even willing to talk about it.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas