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).

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Rosie O’Donnell’s Choice Of Birth Control For Her Kids: MTV’s Teen Mom

Teen Mom, the controversial MTV series that advertisers aren't feeling from, still scores its share of criticism from folks who think it glamorizes teen pregnancy. (It doesn't. It makes teen pregnancy look awful. But these girls do get paid to be on camera.) Who's coming to the show's defense? Ms. Rosie O'Donnell, who thinks the series will keep her own teenage daughter from getting knocked up.

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Gay Teen Is NYer of the Week

Manny Leyva x390 ( grab) | Advocate.comFor his work encouraging safe sex and positive self-esteem among his
fellow adolescents, Brooklyn teen Manny Leyva is NY1′s New Yorker of the
Week.
Advocate.com: Daily News

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Teen Gets 40 Years for Murder of Gay DC Principal Brian Betts

In May I posted about the murder of beloved gay D.C. school principal Brian Betts, who met his killers over a phone chat line. Yesterday, a 19-year-old was sentenced to 40 years for the murder:

Betts "Alante Saunders was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in prison in Montgomery County Circuit Court. He pleaded guilty to felony murder earlier this month. Prosecutors said Saunders and Brian Betts, the principal of Shaw Middle School, met through a sex chat line and Betts agreed to leave the door of his home open for Saunders. Betts was found dead in his Silver Spring home April 15 after failing to show up for work. Three other teens have also been charged."

Gloria Allred, who served as attorney for the Betts family, says she'll request that the U.S. Justice Dept. probe Betts' murder as a hate crime.

Said Allred: "Brian’s family retained me to represent them as victims in the criminal case. The family has also retained me to explore whether or not Brian’s murder should also be prosecuted under the new Matthew Shepard federal hate crimes law. Brian was a gay man and we believe an investigation should be opened under that law to determine whether a hate crime has or has not been committed by defendant Saunders and if it has whether it is appropriate to proceed with a federal prosecution under that law."


Towleroad News #gay

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Texas Teen Claims Sexual Advances Caused Him to Beat Fellow Male Student to Death, Burn the Body

Crime_texas

A gruesome story is unfolding in Pearland, Texas, south of Houston, ABC13 reports:

"Authorities now say that Joshua Wilkerson, 18 (above left), was beaten with a large wooden rod and that his body was burned. Hermilio Moralez, 19 (right), is charged with murder in Wilkerson's death. According to court documents, Wilkerson gave Moralez a ride home from school Tuesday and Moralez stated that Wilkerson began to make sexual advances towards him. Moralez said they got out of the truck and began to fight when Wilkerson grabbed a large wooden rod and tried to hit him. Moralez said he took the piece of wood from Wilkerson and began to hit him with it. He said Wilkerson was not moving afterwards."

Moralez also apparently tried to take a police officer's gun from its holster while he was leading authorities to the body. He has been "charged with failure to identify and attempting to take a weapon from a peace officer. His bond on those two charges are ,000 and ,000, respectively. No bond has been set for the murder charge."

Watch a brief news conference, AFTER THE JUMP



Towleroad News #gay

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Constance McMillen On Teen Suicide And Bullying; Is Voted One Of Glamour Magazine’s ‘Women Of The Year’

Constance McMillen speaks to the AP about teen suicide and also reveals that she was never a victim of bullying until after she fought her school district's decision to prohibit her form bringing her girlfriend to the prom.

Cm McMillen, 18, said she became emotional after reading about the suicides of 13-year-old Seth Walsh, of California, who hanged himself outside his home after enduring taunts from classmates, and of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who killed himself after his sexual encounter was secretly streamed online.

"I read it on Facebook. I was so upset about this that I could not sleep," McMillen said. "I knew it had to be terrible for them to choose death as a way to escape what they were living in."

McMillen said she has had her own suicidal thoughts. "But I never really considered it to the point where I almost did it," she said. "Everybody thinks about it when times get hard."

Growing up in the small town of Fulton, Miss., McMillen said she wasn't bullied until school officials canceled the prom rather than allow McMillen and her girlfriend to attend as a couple. "I went through a lot of harassment and bullying after the lawsuit, and I realized how bad it felt being in that position," she said.

McMillen has also been named one of Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year" for 2010. In that article, Melissa Etheridge expressed her own pride for McMillen: “She stood up and said, ‘This is who I am.’ When someone does that, it changes the world. It gives hope.”


Towleroad News #gay

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Does NOM share blame for gay teen suicides?

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please welcome Gabriel Arana, a new contributor to AMERICAblog and AMERICAblog Gay. Gabriel is the assistant web editor at The American Prospect and writes about gay-rights issues, immigration, education, and media culture. His pieces have appeared in The NationSlate, The Advocate, the Daily Beast, and other publications. He is a graduate of Yale University and a native of Nogales, Arizona.
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On the heels of yet another gay suicide, NOM President Maggie Gallagher has an op-ed in the New York Post absolving herself of responsibility.

Evan Wolfson, one of the leading architects of the gay marriage movement, calls me out personally: “National Organization for Marriage Chairman Maggie Gallagher is among those who, with reckless disregard, attacks LGBT youth.”

Former Clinton adviser Richard Socarides told the AP these suicides demonstrate why gays should be allowed to marry: “When you speak out for full equality now, as opposed to partial equality, or incremental equality, you send a message to everybody, including the bullies, that everyone is equal.”

Apparently, either we all agree that gay marriage is good or gay children will die.

Gallagher’s formulation of the argument makes it sound ridiculous. Of course she and her ilk are not directly responsible for the spate of gay suicides, but most gay-rights folk aren’t arguing that — it’s a straw man. The real charge is that anti-gay rhetoric in politics has a trickle-down effect that reinforces the type of anti-gay attitudes that make life tough for gay teens. The connection between the work of the National Organization for Marriage and the culture of homophobia that prevails in schools is much less direct, but it exists.

Opponents of marriage equality — or of gays serving in the military, for that matter — like to pretend that their “principled” opposition to gay rights is not borne of the sort of prejudice that makes bullies beat up on gay kids. To that point, they’ll condemn discrimination against gays and lesbians, and indeed if you’ve ever heard Gallagher speak, she seems like a pretty reasonable person, even nice. But this is what makes anti-gay activists like her so pernicious: They lend prejudice an air of respectability.

First, it is difficult to deny that the people voting for gay-marriage bans, or who oppose gays in the military, aren’t motivated by prejudice. Just look at the comments section of any news piece about a gay-rights issue; armed with anonymity, people are more than willing to say that they don’t want gay marriage because gays are gross, etc. And the leaders of the anti-marriage crowd rely on this sort of bigotry as a platform. As a federal judge in California found this summer, over and over the proponents of Prop. 8 appealed to people’s fear of, and disgust with, gay people, warning that children weren’t safe and that the states would fall into the hands of Satan were Adam and Steve to get married. On TV, gay-rights opponents like Gallagher offer more reasoned arguments against gay marriage — e.g., we don’t know what the consequences will be, so we should proceed with caution – but when it comes to the heat of a campaign, you see what the anti-marriage movement is really about.

But I’d go a step further. Gallagher and her ilk aren’t just using bigotry to their advantage; they are motivated by it as well. This is of course harder to prove, but social psychology shows that people form attitudes before they come up with rationalizations for them; in other words, you dislike gay people before you come up with a reason for opposing gay marriage. Actually, it’s pretty easy to test yourself. Psychologists use a standard, timed word-association test called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure unconscious attitudes toward various minority groups. Harvard has put up a demonstration site where you can test yourself here. I’d bet anything that if they didn’t coach themselves, the IAT would show that all the top people at NOM have strong negative feelings about gay people.

The broader point is that opposition to marriage equality is deeply rooted in prejudice. This prejudice manifests itself in various ways — in bullying, hateful online comments, and yes, in political opposition to gay rights. While Gallagher is not barging into schools bullying gay kids, she is reinforcing the type of prejudice that leads others to do so.

But the most bizarre part of her op-ed is where she seems to deny that there is any connection between bullying and teen suicide at all:

These kinds of negative outcomes are consistent with the idea that anti-gay bullying is mainly responsible for the higher suicide rate among gay teens. But as I kept reading, I kept finding pieces of the puzzle that don’t seem to fit the “it’s homophobia pulling the trigger” narrative.

Gay students are also more than twice as likely to report having had sexual intercourse before age 13 — that is, to be sexually abused as children. They are three times as likely to report being the victims of dating violence, and nearly four times as likely to report forced sexual contact. A majority of LGBT teens in Massachusetts reported using illegal drugs in the last month. (Perhaps most oddly, gay teens are also three times as likely as non-gay teens to report either becoming pregnant or getting someone else pregnant.)

These, Gallagher says, are the real reasons gay kids are committing suicide. But “having sexual intercourse before age 13” does not necessarily indicate that these children are abused — I’m not sure where Gallagher got this finding, but it could very well be the case that it’s kids playing around with each other (it’s hard to know without the source); it’s also disturbingly reminiscent of the argument that people who are molested turn out to be gay — a psychological finding that has long been discredited. I also bet a majority of straight teens in Massachusetts reported using illegal drugs in the last months, too. But these things are not the point. Even if these other factors contribute to gay teens committing suicide, it simply does not follow that anti-gay bullying isn’t part of the problem — in fact, the prejudice, and the bullying it inspires, could be at the root of many of these problems.

At the end of the op-ed, Gallagher says that “each of these kids is a child of God,” and says they need “real help.” But apparently even children of God don’t deserve to be free of bullying in schools.




AMERICAblog Gay

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HRC and Joanne Yepsen at NY Candlelight Vigil for Teen Suicides

The following post comes from Field Intern Sydney Morauer. Sydney is just one of 30 HRC staff that will be on the ground in 16 states by Election Day, working with HRC-endorsed candidates and engaging our membership about the upcoming elections:

On Wednesday night, Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY hosted an incredibly moving vigil for the teens who have recently committed suicide as a result of relentless bullying and hatred. The Skidmore College Pride Alliance and the Christian Fellowship co-hosted the event to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus. After hearing from several student and guest speakers, the group of almost 300 students and community members lit candles and held a moment of silence for the teens who are no longer with us. The tribute was extremely powerful and encouraging to students who face bullying and to the LGBT community at large. It is so comforting to know that there is such strong support for standing up against such cruelty.

Joanne Yepsen, an HRC endorsed pro-marriage equality candidate running for state Senate in New York’s 43rd District, spoke at the vigil to express her support for the LGBT community and to pledge her dedication to represent all New Yorkers.

HRC is working to collaborate with the Skidmore College Pride Alliance and other students in the 43rd District to help elect Joanne Yepsen for New York state Senate. It is extremely encouraging to see a strong community of students invested in social change, and we look forward to working with them to make marriage equality a reality in New York.

To volunteer to help pass marriage equality in the state of New York, please email Jessica.Jensen@hrc.org


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Teen Takes Life After School Attack

Terrell Williams x390 | ADVOCATE.COMThe mother and the boyfriend of 17-year-old Terrel Williams are pleading
for an end to bullying less than two weeks after the high-school
student hung and killed himself in his family’s vacation home.
Advocate.com: Daily News

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