Dan Savage: Every time a gay youth commits suicide, our enemies celebrate

Dan Savage speaks at the University of North Texas on Tuesday. (Patrick Hoffman)

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer

DENTON — “Every time LGBT bullying kills a kid, Tony Perkins gets up from his desk and dances a jig,” sex-advice-columnist-turned-LGBT youth advocate Dan Savage said of the anti-gay Family Research Council president during Savage’s keynote speech at the 12th Annual University of North Texas Equity and Diversity Conference on Tuesday.

“Every LGBT youth suicide for them is a victory, a rhetorical and moral victory,” Savage added.

When some LGBT teenagers come out to their parents, Savage said, the parents do “what the Christian right tells them to do”— cut them off financially and emotionally, disown them, turn them out into the streets or send them to camps meant to “turn them straight,” often repeating the lies spread by so-called Christian groups like the Family Research Council — which say that LGBT people are child-molesting sexual predators whose mere existence threatens families and the very survival of the planet (a line uttered by the Pope just this last month).

Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, hoped to counteract the lethal effect of such anti-LGBT attitudes when they started the It Gets Better (IGB) video campaign in September 2010. They thought that user-created videos encouraging LGBT youth to keep living might stem the epidemic of bullying-related LGBT suicides that killed 10 teenage boys that month alone.

As the number of user-uploaded videos for IGB quickly rose from 200 in the first week to the current count of more than 30,000 videos (viewed more than 40 million times internationally), Savage came to realize that IGB had effectively placed an LGBT youth support group in the pocket of every teenager with a cell phone — no matter their geographic location or their family’s prejudices.

But while applauding the program’s success in potentially saving lives and giving children hope that their parents might one day accept them as other parents in IGB videos have, Savage admitted to the crowd made up mostly of students that the It Gets Better project can’t end bullying.

“[However, that] does not excuse or preclude us from doing more …” Savage continued, “from confronting bullies, from holding schools and teachers and preachers and parents responsible for what they do or don’t do or fail to do for LGBT kids in pain.”

That’s why Savage’s project has supported Sen. Al Franken’s Student Non-Discrimination Act as well as the efforts of groups like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the Trevor Project and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“[The Trevor Project] is there to talk kids off the ledge,” Savage said, “GLSEN is there to make sure there are fewer kids in our schools climbing out onto that ledge and the ACLU is there sue the crap out of schools that push kids onto that ledge.”

Citing studies from the University of Illinois and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Savage said rates of teenage suicide (LGBT and straight) and sexual violence against girls is much higher in schools where anti-LGBT bullying is tolerated — in short, that anti-LGBT bullying makes schools unsafe for everyone. And yet the religious right continues to oppose campaigns against anti-LGBT bullying as “indoctrination.”

Quoting Johann Hari, a writer with UK-based The Independent, Savage said:

Being subjected to bullying and violence as children and teenagers makes gay people unusually vulnerable to depression and despair. The homophobes then use that depression and despair to claim that homosexuality is inherently a miserable state – and we shouldn’t do anything that might “encourage” it.

However, Savage asserts that he isn’t hostile to religion, citing his good relationship with his Catholic father and the fact that his last act of love for his mother as she lay dying in an Arizona hospital bed was to find a priest to initiate her last rites.

But instead of letting kids act out the violence of their adult role-models who bash gays at the pulpit and the ballot box, Savage called on school members to actively oppose anti-LGBT bullying and on liberal and more progressive Christians to stop “the complicit silence … aiding them and abetting [the religious right] in their crimes.”

—  John Wright

TX schools chalked with anti-bullying messages

Anti-bullying graffiti found at Lampasas High School a week ago

GetEQUAL Texas has posted photos of Lampasas middle and high schools chalked with anti-bullying messages on Jan. 14. The New Civil Rights Movement has more on the incident.

Lampasas is about 25 miles west of Fort Hood.

Jay Morris reports that the schools were chosen because of reports of high rates of bullying. Morris is with the Direct Action Network of San Antonio and GetEQUAL Texas. He says his information comes from an anonymous source.

Messages chalked at the school included “Bully-free zone,” “Not one more youth suicide. Speak Up. Save a Life” and the phone number to the Trevor Project. The photos are from the GetEQUAL Texas Facebook page.

More photos after the jump.

—  David Taffet

Queer Music News: R.E.M. announces breakup; Brandon Hilton releases new video

The big music news of the day is R.E.M.’s announcement that they are “calling it a day.” On their website, the band posted this note followed by comments from band members:

“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.”

Queer frontman Michael Stipe had this to add:

“A wise man once said–’the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it.

“I hope our fans realize this wasn’t an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.

“We have to thank all the people who helped us be R.E.M. for these 31 years; our deepest gratitude to those who allowed us to do this. It’s been amazing.”

Interestingly enough, the band had released their last album, Collapse Into Now, just this past March. The album was a smart collection of tracks that both showed outstanding maturity for the band as well as a renewed raucous energy that reminded of their early days.

Now, after 30 years, the band is no longer.

—  Rich Lopez

Coleman’s suicide prevention bill headed to governor’s desk

Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, announced Thursday night, shortly before 7 p.m., that the Texas House has accepted Senate amendments HB 1386, giving the bill final approval and sending it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for signing.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

The legislation, authored by Coleman and fellow Democrats Reps. Jessica Farrar of Houston and Marissa Marquez of El Paso, is intended to help prevent youth suicide by allowing school districts to implement suicide prevention programs that help school officials recognize the early warning signs of suicide and to notify parents to intervene if necessary, according to a press release from Coleman’s office.

Coleman said, “I’m extremely proud of this bill. This is one of my most important legislative priorities. We’ve heard too many tragic stories of children and teenagers who have taken their own lives due to emotional distress. This loss of life can be prevented. It’s important that we let parents know of any early warning signs in their child’s behavior so that they can prevent a bad outcome. It is the parents who can best care for their children.”

Sen. Rodney Ellis, another Houston Democrat, has sponsored the bill in the Senate. He called the measure “a small step in the right direction to aid school districts in identifying and aiding those students who are at risk of suicide.”

—  admin

President’s 2012 budget ‘could have been worse’

President Barack Obama

Although Obama’s proposal isn’t everything LGBT and HIV leaders want, they say it is better than what is likely to come out of the House

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

There was relatively little for the LGBT and HIV communities to complain about in the proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget released by President Barack Obama on Monday, Feb. 14. And given the president’s proposed five-year freeze in non-essential domestic spending, there were some sighs of relief.

Not that everything is hunky dory. There is no increase for the federal government’s program to fight bullying and LGBT youth suicide. Some HIV funding doesn’t keep up with the numbers of people needing help. And there was a significant slash to Community Development Block Grants, upon which many LGBT community health centers rely.

And the budget statements released with the proposed dollar figures had a healthy dose of bureaucratic double-speak. A three-page fact sheet specific to HIV programs says the budget “authorizes HHS to transfer 1 percent of HHS domestic HIV program funding (approximately $60 million) to support cross-cutting collaborations in areas such as increasing linkages to care and developing effective combinations of prevention interventions.”

But overall, community leaders seem pleased with the proposal.

David Stacy, deputy director of the Human Rights Campaign, said he’s generally pleased with President Obama’s proposal.

“In a budget where the president is proposing a five-year spending freeze, it’s great to see the administration is able to recognize HIV/AIDS as a priority for funding and to provide at least modest increases,” said Stacy. He also said HRC is also pleased to see modest increases in the budget for the Department of Justices for implementation of the new federal hate crimes law.

Lorri L. Jean, co-chair of Centerlink, a national organization of centers around the country which provide health services and other programs to the LGBT and HIV communities, said even the five-year freeze is not as scary as it sounds.

“The freeze in discretionary spending is at a level that is already much higher than under the previous administration,” said Jean. And with the tough economic climate in recent years, she said, LGBT centers “have taken our share of hits.”

But Jean said she thinks the federal government, under the Obama administration, has become more sophisticated in how it distributes program money.

“Instead of spreading money around a wide array of funders, some of which can’t produce results,” said Jean, “the federal government has gotten better at choosing organizations that can deliver.

“As worried as I am about all of it,” she continued, “it’s different now with our community than under the Bush administration. We’ve got an executive branch that is open to and significantly supportive of LGBT concerns being included in the funding streams. The difference is like night and day.”

Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute and one of about 40 HIV and LGBT leaders briefed about the budget at the White House on Monday, said he was pleased with the budget.

“We realize the resources of the federal government are severely constrained, therefore, under today’s fiscal environment, we are pleased the president has maintained his commitment to HIV/AIDS programs and even proposed some minimal increases,” Schmid said. “While the proposed funding levels are far from what is needed to provide the necessary care and treatment for people with HIV/AIDS or to significantly reduce the number of new infections, The AIDS Institutes appreciates the budget requests and now urges the Congress to show a similar level of support.”

Log Cabin Republicans are a stark exception to the LGBT and HIV communities’ relative comfort level with the president’s proposal. R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin’s national executive director, criticized the proposal for failing to cut more.

“Our nation is at a breaking point and the president’s budget proposal simply isn’t a serious response to the challenges facing our country today,” Cooper said.  “The American people are facing a federal debt of over $14 trillion dollars, and the president needs to join with Congress to make significant cuts.”

Interpreting the budget proposal

Obviously, interpreting budget proposals is as much art as it is math. And understanding a budget proposal requires seeing not only the number of dollars the proposal puts forth but also how that number compares with the current fiscal year.

The complication this year is that Congress has yet to finalize its budget for Fiscal Year 2011, so budget figures put forth for FY 2012 are being compared against budget figures approved for FY 2010.

Here are some of those numbers for the LGBT and HIV communities:

• Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students — this is a consolidation of several programs, including the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program headed up by openly gay Assistant Secretary Kevin Jennings in the Department of Education. Programs under this office are addressing such issues as anti-gay bullying and suicide among LGBT youth. The budget proposal for FY 2012 is $365 million, which represents no increase from FY 2010.

• Suicide prevention — Funding for suicide prevention work under the National Institutes for Health call for a significant increase, from only $2 million in FY 2010 to a proposed $18 million in FY 2012. Not all this research is specific to LGBT-related suicide.

• AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) — this program, to help low income people with HIV to obtain life-saving medications, is being increased by $105 million over FY 2010. With more than 6,000 people on waiting lists to receive such assistance, notes Schmid, the increase is “far from what is adequate.”

“If we have long wait lists now, just imagine what the situation will be like next year with no increases in funding,” added Schmid.

• Community Development Block Grants — Jean, who is co-chair of Centerlink, an organization of more than 200 LGBT community health centers around the country, says “a lot” of centers depend on this funding and the president’s proposal to slash 7.5 percent of that funding (from FY 2010 levels) “will have an impact,” she says.

• AIDS Prevention — the proposal calls for increasing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget by $58 million to support the National HIV/AIDS Strategy goal of reducing HIV infections.

• Breast cancer research — the president’s budget estimates spending about $778 million on breast cancer research in FY 2012. This is a slight increase over FY 2010’s $763 million.

• AIDS research — the president’s proposal calls for $3.2 billion to be spent on HIV/AIDS research in Fiscal 2012. This compares to $3.1 billion expected to be spent in FY 2011.

• Hate crimes law enforcement — the Fiscal Year 2012 budget calls for a $2 million increase over FY 2010 in the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service which is mandated with enforcement of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

What’s to come

“Things certainly could have been much worse,” said HRC’s David Stacy, “and they probably will be much worse once Congress begins its deliberations.”

The House and Senate budget committees will now begin to hold hearings to examine various aspects of President Obama’s proposal and will begin drafting a “budget proposal” for Congress to approve.

House Republicans have indicated they believe even deeper cuts are necessary in domestic spending, and LGBT and HIV leaders are clearly concerned about what will happen to the president’s proposal once the Republican-dominated House begins its deliberations.

“I am more worried about what Republicans in the House might do,” said Jean.

Schmid said the Republican proposals for deeper cuts will “seriously exacerbate the crisis” in ensuring that people with HIV infection and low incomes can receive lifesaving medications. He noted that Republicans call for no increase in ADAP funding and are still trying to eliminate an increase of $25 million appropriated for FY 2011.

Michael Ruppal, executive director of The AIDS Institute, issued a statement Tuesday, Feb. 15, saying The AIDS Institute “urges the Congress to reject those reckless cuts and consider the long term human and societal impacts of their decisions.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Elliott’s story: How 1 teen survived bullying, suicide attempt

When classmates beat him up for being gay, this Ennis teen and his mom reported it. But the principal told Elliott he brought it on himself

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

IN MEMORY OF ASHER  |  Brian Carter, left, and Sharon Ferranti stand on the corner with signs as the buses let out of school during a human rights demonstration outside of Hamilton Middle School in Cypress on Tuesday, Oct. 5, to protest the treatment of Asher Brown, a gay eighth-grader at the school who killed himself at home Sept. 23. Brown’s parents blamed his suicide on two years of anti-gay bullying they say he had suffered at the school. (Karen Warren/Associated Press-Houston Chronicle)
IN MEMORY OF ASHER | Brian Carter, left, and Sharon Ferranti stand on the corner with signs as the buses let out of school during a human rights demonstration outside of Hamilton Middle School in Cypress on Tuesday, Oct. 5, to protest the treatment of Asher Brown, a gay eighth-grader at the school who killed himself at home Sept. 23. Brown’s parents blamed his suicide on two years of anti-gay bullying they say he had suffered at the school. (Karen Warren/Associated Press-Houston Chronicle)

The suicides of as many as six LGBT youth over the past month have focused a spotlight on the issue of anti-LGBT bullying in schools and online, and the correlation between bullying and teen suicide.

According to a 2003 study by the National Crime Prevention Council, six out of 10 teens witness some form of bullying at least once a day. And much of that bullying is directed at teens who are — or who are perceived to be — LGBT.

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network has reported that students hear anti-LGBT epithets an average of 25 times a day, and that in 97 percent of the cases, teachers fail to respond to the comments.

Various studies have shown that LGBT teens are two to four times as likely as their non-LGBT counterparts to attempt suicide, and according to a report to the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, 30 percent of all completed youth suicides are related to sexual identity.

And GLSEN’s 2003 National School Climate Survey reported that more than 64 percent of LGBT students say they feel unsafe at their schools because of their sexual orientation.

The statistics are overwhelming. But for one North Texas gay teen, anti-gay bullying and suicide attempts are far more than just statistics.

Elliott, who lives in Ennis, is 17 now. But he almost did not live that long after enduring bullying that started, he said, when he was in first grade. After years of enduring the abuse, Elliott said, he tried to commit suicide at age 15.

“I live in a small town,” he said. “I’m a ballet dancer. I stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Elliott said he was on the only one in his school being bullied, a fact that left him feeling totally alone.

And the bullying didn’t stop at words. When he was a freshman, Elliott said, a classmate followed him into the restroom at school and beat him up.

Elliott told his mother what happened. She went to the school and spoke to the principal, who told her he would do something about it.

What the principal did was tell Elliott that he had brought it upon himself.

The bullying wasn’t just at school: “I was dealing with a lot of problems,” Elliott said.

His older brother was having drug problems and tormented him at home. He had an abusive stepfather who let his own two children get away with things that he grounded Elliott for.

“He’d ridicule me for being gay,” Elliott said of his stepfather, “and it turned out he was bi.”

So Elliott started cutting himself on his ankles and his wrists. He was never hospitalized, but a nurse noticed the cuts. He told her he injured himself when he fell out of a tree.

Elliott took what he called a “safe overdose,” of a prescription drug, but recovered. He said that was the last time he tried or even considered suicide. But he said he understands how the young suicide victims that have been in the news felt. And it scares him that he came close to meeting the same fate.

Elliott said things began to get better at home for him by the end of his freshman year. His mother finished her degree, started teaching and divorced his stepfather.

His older brother very recently became sober.

For his sophomore year, Elliott transferred to arts magnet Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas. That’s where he first learned about Youth First Texas.

“I took a DART bus over [to Youth First] and I loved it,” he said, adding that for the first time in his life, he was with other people like him.

“It made me feel amazing,” he said. “Whenever I’m not in Ennis, I’m at Youth First Texas.”

Elliott joined a survivors group at Youth First in which LGBT youth discuss how they feel during times of distress. He worked with the fundraising committee and became a member of the Youth Board. He entertained with a YFT group at the Creating Change conference in February and the Gayla Prom in June.

Elliott also modeled in the annual YFT fashion show at the Rose Room and was a runway model for DIFFA.
Elliott began his activist career in April when he participated in Day of Silence in school and Breaking the Silence at Rosa Parks Square in Downtown Dallas. This summer he attended Activist Youth Camp at University of North Texas. An ACLU representative told him that had he reported the principal’s comment about bringing the beating on himself, they would have investigated.

“Just knowing I can do that is important,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do anything about it.”

His mother has become an active volunteer with YFT as well. He called her his biggest supporter.

“A lot of the others are neglected by their parents,” he said. “She acts as a mom to everyone. She gives everyone hugs. She talks to everyone and is there for everyone.”

He said he’d like to see more LGBT community involvement from other organizations.

For his senior year, Elliott is back at Ennis High School. He said the environment is different now, although it’s still difficult to walk down the halls and see other students who tormented him for years.

For protection in school, he said, “I’m starting to repopulate my girl-posse.”

Activist camp left Elliott feeling empowered and safer in school. He said he is not afraid to face the principal who told him he brought on his own beating.

Elliott said he has no personal life in Ennis, although he does teach ballet at a dance studio in town. His students are 6-to 8-year old girls.

“It intrigues them that there’s a male teacher,” he said.

A former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader owns the studio. He said she’s proud to have a male teacher on staff. Now when he goes to into a store and sees one of his students, he said, they call out, “Hi Mr. Elliott!”

After graduation, Elliott plans to attend Navarro County Community College to take his basic courses. Then he’d like to transfer to a school in Dallas to study dance and continue to be involved at YFT.

He said the recent suicides have affected him terribly. “I printed out the headlines,” he said. “It really bugs me.”

Elliott has advice for other teens who have considered suicide: “Whatever you’re going through, it just makes you a stronger person,” he said. “Whatever you go through makes you capable of doing things others can’t.”

And he wants school staff to know how much bullying hurts.

“Everything you say affects someone,” Elliott said. “I want teachers and staff to know it really hurts. Everything you say affects someone. Teachers and principals are ignorant to that. If you ignore it, it will fester.”

……………………………………………

Where to get help

• Youth First Texas
3918 Harry Hines Blvd.
Dallas, Texas
214-879-0400
YouthFirstTexas.org

• The Trevor Project
866-488-7386
TheTrevorProject.org

• The Promise House
224 W. Page Ave.
Dallas, Texas
214-941-8578
or 214-941-8670
PromiseHouse.org

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK
SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

• Suicide Prevention Help
SuicidePreventionHelp.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Trevor Project calls for moment of silence for suicide victims at 7 p.m. Dallas time today

We aren’t aware of any specific events planned for Dallas in response to the suicides of six teens in the U.S. who were gay or perceived as gay in September, but it looks like a National Safe Schools Day of Action will take place next Tuesday, Oct. 5. Also, there will be a Stand Up to Youth Suicide Rally and March in San Francisco on Friday, Oct. 8, and rallies are reportedly being planned next weekend through the “It Gets Better” project, in advance of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. Does anyone know of anything that’s planned for Dallas? As we reported earlier, many plan to gather around Big Tex at the State Fair at noon Saturday, Oct. 9 during the unofficial Gay Day, so perhaps this would be a good time to do it. Just a thought.

Anyhow, The Trevor Project is calling for a moment of silence and reflection at 7 tonight Dallas time in remembrance of the victims. Here’s the full press release:

The Trevor Project Asks All Americans for a Moment of Silence at 8pm ET, 5pm PT Tonight

(West Hollywood, CA, October 1, 2010) – Statement from Charles Robbins, Executive Director of The Trevor Project:

Late last night, The Trevor Project learned of yet another young LGBTQ person who died by suicide. Raymond Chase was a sophomore at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island when he took his own life on Wednesday. Words do not adequately describe the tragic loss felt across the country for the five promising young individuals who were so isolated and felt so alone and cut off from their peers and society that suicide became an option.

We encourage all people who feel connected to these tragic events, whether friends, family, peers, community members, and sympathetic human beings to pause today at 8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 PM Pacific for a moment of silence and reflection in remembrance of Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown and Billy Lucas. Events are being planned across the country in the coming weeks to mourn the loss of these young people, and to take action to stop bullying crimes that lead to suicide, and a website http://makeitbetterproject.com/.

To help stop the cycle that leads young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people to feel they are alone, connect them to The Trevor Project. There is a place that’s free of bullying and judgment online, where young LGBTQ people, their friends and allies ages 13-24 can connect safely and be themselves. More than 13,000 young people already belong to TrevorSpace.org, and more youth join every day. If you or someone you care about shows warning signs for suicide, please do not hesitate to call The Trevor Lifeline at: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). The call is free and confidential.

We mourn the loss of these 5 young people, and today we will stand in silent solidarity for an end to the unnecessary loss of young lives.

—  John Wright