Celebration of Love Gala raises funds for Lesbian Health Initiative

The scooter's way cuter in pink, sorry Liz

The Lesbian Health Initiative of Houston is celebrating Valentine’s Day a little early with their Celebration of Love Gala Saturday, Feb. 11. at the Double Tree Hotel downtown (400 Dallas Street). The 10th annual gala is the 20-year-old organization’s major fundraiser of the year.

This year the gala features comedienne Susanne Westenhoefer, who claims to be the “first openly-gay comedian to appear on television” (yep, she was out before Ellen).  Dorothy Weston, co-founder and CEO of The Rose (a breast cancer prevention and treatment organization) will be honored  for her years of service. In addition the evening includes dinner, dancing, a silent auction and the raffling of a pink Vitacci 50cc Retro Scooter. LHI executive director Liz James is particularly excited about the raffle even if she didn’t quite get her way on the prize. “I wanted it to be a black scooter, as I’m a bit on the butch side,” said James, adding that more “femme” forces in the organization prevailed and a pink scooter was selected instead.

Regardless of the color of the scooter, the Celebration of Love Gala promises to be a fun filled night, not just for sapphic romantics, but for anyone looking for a valentine’s date night that supports a good cause. Tickets for the black tie affair start at $100 and can be purchased at lhihouston.org. Doors open at 6 pm.

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White House bullying conference set

According to an e-mail sent this afternoon from the office of the White House press secretary, President Barack Obama, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services will be hosting a Conference on Bullying Prevention at the White House on Thursday, March 10. The conference will include “students, parents, teachers and others” from “communities from across the nation who have been affected by bullying as well as those who are taking action to address it.”

The announcement said participants will have the chance to talk to the president and “representatives from the highest levels of his administration” on how to work together to prevent bullying.

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New federal task force on LGBT youth suicide prevention is launched

Welcome news!  As promised, The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (“Action Alliance”) has launched three new task forces to address suicide prevention including one for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention today added three new task forces to address suicide prevention efforts within high-risk populations:  American Indians/Alaska Natives; youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT); and military service members and veterans. …

Studies from organizations such as the Suicide Prevention Resource Center report that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are from 1.5 to seven times more likely to report having attempted suicide than their non-LGBT peers, while transgender youth are believed to have higher rates of suicidal behavior as well.  

Co-leading the LGBT Youth Task Force are Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, U.S. Department of Education, and Charles Robbins, Executive Director of The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among LGBT youth.

“This task force will bring together the best minds in the country to combat suicide and make sure that every LGBT youth has the opportunity to grow up in a supportive, accepting community and to enter adulthood safely,” Robbins said.

Encouraging is the systematic, scientific approach Action Alliance is taking.  As we know with anything LGBT related, data collection and reporting can be woefully lacking.  Back in November Action Alliance launched its first batch of task forces to “identify and develop systems and strategies to improve data collection and surveillance of suicidal behaviors, prioritize research on suicide prevention, and update the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.”

The Data and Surveillance Task Force will address many critical issues including the need for more timely data on suicides and suicide attempts, both of which would improve intervention and prevention efforts.  This represents a major advancement for suicide prevention since it currently takes several years to detect new trends as they develop.

“The Research Task Force will develop a dynamic, ongoing process that capitalizes on the latest discoveries, identifies the most significant gaps in current knowledge of suicide prevention, and prioritizes the nation’s research efforts,” said Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and Research Task Force co-lead.  ”We will develop a process to prioritize topics in suicide prevention research; and with my co-chair, Phillip Satow of the National Council for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation, the task force will look for ways to integrate science and service, which is essential if we are to bend the curve of suicide rates and ensure that suicide deaths decrease dramatically in the next decade.”

The Action Alliance is coordinated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at US Department of Health and Human Services.  SAMHSA also administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  SAMHSA’s Administrator is Pamela Hyde is an openly gay Obama appointee.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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New federal task force on LGBT youth suicide prevention to be announced

Pamela Hyde

On World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10th, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates launched a new public-private partnership called National Action Alliance on Suicide Prevention (“Action Alliance”).

“This alliance gives us an opportunity to engage every sector of society-public, private and philanthropic,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Now we will be able to work together more effectively than ever before to reach people at risk and help them stay safe.”

The Action Alliance’s own press release was more specific about groups at risk, acknowledging that “…we have high rates of non-fatal suicide attempts in other groups, especially young Latinas and Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) youths.”

The Action Alliance is coordinated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at US Department of Health and Human Services.  SAMHSA also administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

SAMHSA’s Administrator Pamela Hyde, an openly gay Obama appointee, stated in a recent letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) that Action Alliance “will shortly announce the establishment of a task force to reduce suicide among LGBT youth.”

The task force, she said, will be co-led by Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, US Department of Education, and by Charles Robbins, Executive Director of The Trevor Project.  The Trevor Project is a national suicide prevention program for LGBT youth.

Jennings founded the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which “strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.”  Like Hyde, Jennings is an openly-gay Obama appointee.

“SAMHSA recognizes that LGBT youth face unique risk factors that make them vulnerable to suicide,” said Hyde.  Her agency “will use its programs and initiatives to ensure a focus on LGBT youth. …We are deeply committed to improving the social-emotional conditions and circumstances for LGBT youth.”

Planning for the task force began in September with the convening of the Action Alliance Executive Committee and was an outcome of the interests and expertise of its members, Sally Spencer-Thomas from the Action Alliance Press Office told me in a telephone interview.  Hyde, Jennings and Robbins all sit on Action Alliance’s Executive Committee.  

The LGBT task force will be formally announced by the end of the year, said Spencer-Thomas, along with task forces geared for other at-risk populations including American Indians/Alaska Natives, military veterans and their families and Latina youths.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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Suicide Coverage: Caution is Warranted If We’re Serious About Prevention

(Trigger warning: If you're in tender space related to suicide, grieving, recovering, or feeling vulnerable, feel free to move on.)

Cindi E Deutschman-Ruiz published a well-researched article in 2003: Reporting on Suicide.  One of the resources she used was a World Health Organization document, from which she drew these points:

  • Suicide is never the result of a single incident.
  • Details of the method or the location a suicide victim uses may lead to copycat suicides.
  • It's vital to use statistics and mental health information very carefully.
  • Suicide coverage is an opportunity to provide the public with information and resources that could save lives.

Of particular interest in the context of youth suicides after bullying, from the WHO doc (emphasis mine):

Overall, there is enough evidence to suggest that some forms of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide are associated with a statistically significant excess of suicide; the impact appears to be strongest among young people.

Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults.

 A couple of quick points here:

  • I detest the term copycat suicide.  To me, it marginalizes the very real pain a suicide victim experienced, implying that they just wanted to be trendy. The more accurate term is suicide contagion.
  • I lost my partner Dale to suicide a decade ago, so the lessons learned which inform the following are borne of real, raw experience.

What does this mean to us as we grieve the loss of too many young lives where bullying has contributed, and press for bullying and suicide prevention?  I have more questions than easy answers, after the jump.

Never the result of a single incident

The WHO expands on the concept:

[Suicide] is usually always caused by a complex interaction of many factors such as mental and physical illness, family disturbances, interpersonal conflicts and life stressors.

This certainly isn't the way we've often acknowledged youth suicide lately where bullying has been a factor, right?

  • GLSEN refers to [name redacted by me]'s suicide due to bullying.
  • Equality Forum's press release yesterday: It is estimated that about 500 gay teens each year or 40 gay teens per month take their lives as a result of homophobia. 
  • Karen Ocamb: Another Teen Commits Suicide Because of Bullying
  • Americablog Gay: …the horrible suicide of gay teenager [name redacted] due to bullying…

I'm not picking on these good folks, as much as noting that bullying-triggers-suicide seems to be an accepted, little-questioned meme.

I'm also not denying that bullying has been a significant contributor to the deaths of youth and young adults by suicide.

But we need to ask ourselves, Is suicide after bullying distinct from other suicide?  Is there evidence to suggest that bullying is a more unitary cause or a more direct trigger than other contributors?

Checking in with experts on the evidence.

Slate.com's Emily Bazelon published an in-depth piece about a young woman lost to suicide that I won't link to out of personal discomfort with investigative reporting on suicide victims.  Public health social worker Elana Premack Sandler has written about the Slate piece, though:

The truth about bullying and suicide
Why suicide is never simple

She had earlier quoted a parent whose son died in 2003:

“I want to be very clear. I don't blame Ryan's suicide on one single person or one single event. In the end, Ryan was suffering from depression. This is a form of mental illness that is brought on by biological and/or environmental factors. In Ryan's case, I feel it was the ‘pile on effect' of the environmental issues mentioned above that stemmed from his middle school life.

“We have no doubt that bullying and cyber bullying were significant environmental factors…”

While she noted:

We can't say, empirically, that bullying causes suicide.

Discussing the Slate piece, Premack Sandler concludes (emphasis mine):

As much as it's been beneficial to have [name redacted]'s story in the media as a way of raising awareness about teen suicide prevention [...] and as much as linking bullying to suicide helps both kids who are bullied and kids who are suicidal, the simplification – that bullying was the cause of [redacted]'s death – has been a problem for suicide prevention. Suicide as an outcome is never simple.

The evidence-based answer

So, we've got a painful, uncomfortable, answer to the question: Suicide after bullying is not something set apart, simpler, or more easily prevented than suicide in general.  In fact, while increasing awareness of bullying and suicide is helping, some of the most vulnerable in our families and communities may be harmed by the use of an oversimplified bullying-causes-suicide meme.

My perspective as a layperson

I wrote yesterday from a more personal, less evidence-based POV at my blog.

One of my observations as a SOLOS (Survivor Of a Loved One's Suicide) is that distorted thinking seems to be an essential contributor to suicide.  And, one of the common distorted thoughts of suicide victims is that dying by suicide will serve a greater good than living would have.  It strikes me as essential, when we're talking about suicide and bullying, to call this out as false. As Deutschman-Ruiz wrote in 2003:

Suicide is not a rational act.  It is an act of desperation, carried out after a monumental struggle.

In the middle of the monumental struggles of many more than those we have lost to suicide, it seems to me we need to be thoughtful about how we memorialize victims.  (I consider suicide victims to be primarily the victims of mental illness, complicated by other factors.)  While we do everything possible to honor them and draw strength and motivation to eliminate bullying and promote good mental health, it's crucial that we're not inadvertantly contributing to the already-distorted thinking of other folks of any age who are suffering or living with despair.

One layperson's language preferences

Where do we go from here?   I don't have easy answers.  I'm not a journalist or a suicide expert.  I don't want to see a new wave of politically-correct language police rise up and nitpick writings on suicide.

So, my preferences don't carry any more weight than the thoughts of one guy who has a heart for youth and adults who are struggling.

But, here they are:

  • De-couple bullying and suicide.  At best, describe suicide as following bullying, or where bullying appears to have been a factor. Retire the word bullycide permanently.
  • Minimize/downplay suicide methods.  The death indicates severe desperation was at play; the choice of method neither adds or subtracts, and talking it up may contribute to contagion.
  • Drop “committed.”  People commit to jobs or relationships, or commit crime or heroic acts. Saying that my partner Dale died by suicide states the fact without judgment.
  • Honor the victims' lives: We needed you with us longer. We would change it if we could.  Speak to them as we would those who are still with us but struggling.
  • Empathize with families and loved ones: We cannot imagine your pain.
  • Take responsibility: We, as your community, may have failed you in some fashion, given the collapse of your mental health.
  • De-couple memorializing and advocacy: Use limited photos and details when expressing condolences or memorials; swap in statistics and evidence whenever workable while pressing for change.

LGBTQ communities have a terrific opportunity related to suicide.  Like awareness of HIV and open, nonjudgmental discussion of sexual health issues has exploded because of our communities' legacies, we have an opportunity to promote awareness of comprehensive mental health. Coming out, surviving, and thriving had propelled a lot of us to get evidenced-based mental health care.

It's time to continue dismantling stigma and stereotypes by promoting the fact that comprehensive mental health care saves lives.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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Obama Gave AIDS Prevention Efforts $4 Billion And all He Got Was This Lousy Heckling

Following the Democratic fundraiser heckling last month, President Obama was treated to another round of AIDS activists interrupting his prepared remarks, this time at a speech in Connecticut to drum up support for Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal. "Excuse me, excuse me young people," Obama told the zappers. "You've been appearing at every rally we've been doing. And we're funding global AIDS and the other side is not, so I don't know why you think this is a useful strategy to take." So there!, says the guy sending another four billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It's like Tea Party activists who hate on Obama for his taxation, and have absolutely no idea he actually granted tax breaks to 95 percent of Americans.


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Arkansas Republicans Go After HIV/AIDS Prevention Using Gay Baiting Language

It never ends.  It just gets worse and worse with these clowns.  Arkansas Republicans in the state legislature have decided to go after a program designed to reduce the spread of STDs like HIV among minorities and the LGBT community, specifically by attacking a state program that promotes condom usage and HIV testing among gay black man.  What's more, they're using some pretty foul gay-baiting tactics to do so.

The charge is a simple one.  The group, a non-profit called “Brothah's and Sistah's Inc.” got k from the state to test out new methods for fighting HIV/AIDS in minority communities.  Specifically, the group set up shop in a gay club geared towards African American gay men, and handed out condoms and did HIV tests.  At issue is whether or not the group handled ,000 of the k it recieved appropriately.  Fair enough.

However, Arkansas Republicans couldn't stop there.  According to sources, three members (more on them later) went beyond this.  One wondered aloud whether or not there were enough gay black men to be concerned about the project…another took the position that people engaged in “risky behavior” (being gay) should just deal with the consequences of their actions.  Republicans are already trying to turn this into a political issue, using gay-baiting language to smear Democrats.  Check the title of a recent blog post by a prominent Arkansas Republican blogger:

State Grant for Distributing Condoms at Gay Bar Stirs Controversy in Committee

All ready, Republican trolls are trying to tie this to state senator Joyce Elliott, a candidate for Congress in Arkansas and an LGBT ally because, get this, she's the state senator of the district where the gay club was located…I shit you not.

Republicans are determined to make an issue of this.  Arkansas progressive activists plan to do the same, but not the way the Republicans are hoping…stay tuned.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Welcoming Schools & Bullying Prevention

 

This is the fourth post in our Welcoming Schools “Back to School” blog series. Welcoming Schools, a project of the HRC Foundation, offers administrators, educators and parents/guardians the tools they need to ensure their elementary schools welcome all students and families.

 

This post comes from Dr. Marlene Synder, the Director of Development for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Dr. Synder is also a member of the Welcoming Schools National Advisory Council. She discusses the links between Welcoming Schools and Olweus, the world’s foremost bullying prevention program.

We all want our children to learn, thrive and become productive adults. Many students find it difficult to learn, thrive and dream of their futures because of school-based bullying (both traditional and cyber bullying) . We know that bullying is pervasive in our schools. National prevalence studies consistently show that roughly one in five students have been bullied regularly and a similar number have bullied others. Many others witness bullying going on around them, so in fact, there are millions of students who have to deal with the issue of bullying in our schools each day.

Students who bully generally bully students who they perceive as different and/or weaker than they are. Sometimes the bullying might be focused on a student’s family or something about the student that makes him or her stand out from the norm. Perhaps the student has two moms or two dads or lives with his or her grandparents. A bullied student might speak with a strong accent, or be of a racial or religious minority. A student might be bullied because of his or her size, or because he or she does not like to do the things that are expected for his or her gender. We are all too aware of how devastating the results of this kind of bullying can be, as we have heard all too often of students as young as 11 years old committing suicide after being severely bullied at school.

Dr. Dan Olweus, whose program has been researched for the past 30 years, clearly asserts that bullying is peer abuse and it is a civil rights issue. Our schools need to be a place where every student feels safe in school regardless of their family structure or identity. No student should be hurt, humiliated, or excluded at school. School is not a place that any student should fear. School should be a place where everyone feels welcome and a place where students enjoy learning and can grow as a part of a larger community.

 

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) was brought to United States schools more than a decade ago. The guiding principles for the OBPP are:

1. Warmth, positive interest and involvement with students and their families are needed on the part of all adults in the school. The responsibility for developing and ensuring a safe and welcoming school climate rests with adults.

2. We need to set firm limits to unacceptable bullying behavior. Clear, consistent rules and messages against bullying behaviors should be present throughout the entire school.

3. Consistent use of nonphysical, non-hostile negative consequences when rules are broken. Because OBPP is research-based, program procedures and guidelines should be followed as closely as possible.

4. Adults in the schools should function as authorities and positive role models. Children learn by example from all adults; teachers and their families.

The content of Welcoming Schools is in alignment with these guiding principles. Welcoming Schools helps the adults in the school become comfortable with interrupting bias-based bullying. Welcoming Schools involves families and the larger community. And Welcoming Schools helps adults proactively create a school climate that is welcoming of the diversity that we find in our schools. Welcoming Schools helps remind us that it is possible to create positive school climates that limit negative behavior and promote respect for all students.

The more we can work together to promote consistent messages against bullying behaviors, our children will learn, thrive and realize their dreams for their futures.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

It’s suicide prevention week and LGBT youth are at higher risk

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and today is The Trevor Project Day and World Suicide Prevention Day. Below is a video from the We Give a Damn series that reminds us that, while LGBTQ youth are nearly four times more likely to attempt suicide, it isn’t because they’re gay, bisexual or transgender, but because they feel alone and without a safe, accepting place to turn.

We all have a part to play in making sure no one feels alone because of their sexual orientation or identity, and our leaders need to continue to push for legislation that no longer makes LGBT people feel isolated and inferior.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

‘Real Students With Real Stats’

The Bully Suicide Project, a nonprofit organization launched in 2009, has launched its Fall Campaign with nationally recognized local photographer Tracy Nanthavongsa and make-up by Melissa Whitaker.

The theme of the Fall Campaign is “Real Students With Real Stats.” Each model in the campaign is a high school or middle school student in North Texas that has survived bullying. Photos are graphic and drive home the real life effects of bullying by portraying the physical signs. The Bully Suicide Project (BSP), based in Dallas, is fast becoming one of the top resources for schools and parents for bullying prevention and education.

The BSP has been featured on CNN, Fox and CBS. The Fall Campaign is set to reach new goals by being introduced internationally with organizations in Australia, China, England and Italy.

To view the Fall Campaign, please visit http://bullysuicideproject.com or Facebook at “The Bully Suicide Project.”

The Bully Suicide Project seeks funding from outside sources so that each school can receive this vital training for free. For more information, please contact Beaux Wellborn, assistant director of the Bully Suicide Project at 214-635-1985 or http://bullysuicideproject.com/

—  admin