Friday, April 22, 2011

LGBT Youth Action Alert

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will be holding a hearing on May 13 addressing inter-student violence targeted against LGBT youth. According to Commissioner Roberta Achtenberg, the event is historic as it will be the first time the Civil Rights Commission will host a hearing on an LGBT-related issue.

We’ve received a specific request to encourage our members touched by inter-student violence targeted against LGBT youth (and those perceived to be so) to share their stories in writing with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for inclusion in the public record. The Commission defines “inter-student violence,” as any verbal and physical assaults, teasing, bullying and any other form of harassment.

The goal of the story collection is to build a record from the contributions of people all across the country. If possible, please forward this information to your networks, or otherwise share it with anyone whom you think might want to contribute a story. These letters will be an invaluable means for helping the Commission understand the nature, pervasiveness, geographic spread, and negative outcomes of such violence. Stories shared in this way will help to set the stage for testimony and filings by a number of social science, mental health, and legal experts who are contributing to these efforts from their professional perspectives.

The letters need not be formal or in any particular format. Each author is encouraged to write in their own voice and to tell their story in the terms in which it was experienced. The Commission should learn of the personalities of the students and families involved, the way things happened (or are still happening), what types of people were involved (other students, school staff, and/or others), and what outcomes are being experienced for the student and for the rest of the family. Thoughts about what types of intervention might be helpful to address the causes are important as well.

In order to humanize this issue as strongly as possible, families and individuals who are comfortable doing so are encouraged to attach a picture to the front of the letter. For those contributors who are not comfortable sharing their identity openly, they should use at least one initial to identify themselves and any people relevant to their stories since the letters will be submitted to the public record. It would be extremely helpful if writers who are maintaining anonymity could at least identify a region of the state in which they live ("Northern Georgia", for example).

Letters should be sent, if possible, by May 1, 2011 for introduction into the Commission's record in advance of the May 13 hearing in D.C. The letter itself should be addressed to:

Kim Tolhurst, Esq., Acting General Counsel
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
624 Ninth St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001

Please note that the envelope should be addressed and mailed to Commissioner Achtenberg’s special assistant, Alec Duell at:

c/o Alec Deull
3102 Krueger Road
North Tonawanda, NY 14120

If you would like more background about the hearing, or if you have any questions regarding the story solicitation request, please contact Alec Deull at

Thank you!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

LGBT students blamed for their own deaths

Liberty University employee blame gay kids for suicides

Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber who works for both Liberty University and Liberty Counsel, claims that "kids who are engaging in homosexual behavior often look inward and know that what they are doing is unnatural, is wrong, is immoral, and so they become depressed and the instances of suicide can rise there as well."
Barber: Gay Kids Commit Suicide Because They Know It's Unnatural and Immoral

This is not a new point of view for religious school leadership. When HeartStrong first began its work in 1996, information about HeartStrong and the role anti-GLBT messages from religious school leadership was distributed to 5,000 religious schools throughout North America.

The overwhelming response from leadership in 1996 was that GLBT students bring suicide on themselves for giving in to sin and succumbing to the guilt that comes "naturally from God."

Nearly 15 years later the message is still the same. With less than a handful of exceptions, religious educational institutions are still unable to provide safe learning environments for students. With the popularity of religious education rising and parents rushing to place their children in religious schools, the work of HeartStrong remains more relevant with each passing day.
Since founder Jerry Falwell's death, his "ministry" and schools are growing tremendously. His two sons have taken over and wiped out all debt and put the schools on track for their original growth goals.

Liberty University is now the nation's eighth-largest four-year university and the largest four-year private, nonprofit university, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. It is also the world's largest Christian university. Liberty was ranked 25th among four-year universities in 2009. In 2000, the overall enrollment was only 8,606.

Liberty currently has 64,610 students, making it the largest four-year college in Virginia. George Mason University, the second-largest college in Virginia, has 39,977 students.

Liberty University remains a anti-GLBT school as does Liberty Christian Academy. The incredible growth and popularity of these schools (like so many others) is one reason why parents place their children there. Students struggling with orientation and identity issues are thrust into an enivronment that is difficult to survive.

"[Homosexuals are] brute beasts...part of a vile and satanic system [that] will be utterly annihilated, and there will be a celebration in heaven." - Jerry Falwell

(Excerpted from the Heartstrong newsletter. For more info on tracking anti-gay religious schools
and finding help from their intolerance and exclusion, contact Heartstrong at )

The Bluer the Oregon County, the lower the Gay-Teen Suicide Rate

from "Top of the Ticket"
Andrew Malcolm's political commentary in the L.A. Times
April 18th, 2011

In a newly released study primarily focused on gay-teen suicide rates in Oregon, some interesting details were discovered. The numbers of suicide attempts by gay teens went down by 20% in counties whose schools had anti-bullying, anti-discrimination policies and/or a Gay-Straight Alliance. The suicide rate was also lower when the proportion of Democrats was higher in the county.

A community that was supportive of gay teens not only curbed suicide among gays, the study found, but also lowered the rate of suicide attempts by heterosexual students by 9%.

Researchers led by Mark Hatzenbuehler looked at five aspects of the social environment surrounding gay, lesbian and bisexual youth on a countywide level: the proportion of schools with anti-bullying policies specifically protecting these students; the proportion of schools with a Gay-Straight Alliance; the proportion of schools with anti-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation; the proportion of same-sex couples; and the proportion of Democrats in the county. Then they rated each of Oregon's 34 counties based on the results of those findings.

The study found that a more supportive social environment was associated with 20% fewer suicide attempts than an unsupportive environment. A supportive environment was also associated with a 9% lower rate of attempted suicide among heterosexual students.
"That suggest that when you create environments supportive for lesbian, gay and bisexual youths, it creates a healthier environment for all youths," Hatzenbuehler told Oregon Live.

Of the 1,400 of teens surveyed, 4% to 5% identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Of those students, nearly 22 out of every 100 said they had attempted suicide in the last year. Only 4% of kids who identified themselves as heterosexual said they had attempted suicide.
"Regardless of your views, our data suggest that the inclusion of Gay-Straight Alliances and anti-discrimination programs can have really important mental-health outcomes for our youths," Hatzenbuehler told CBS News. "This is a road map to how we can begin to reduce teen suicide."

Hatzenbuehler studied children in Oregon -- through responses from nearly 32,000 11th-graders in 2006, 2007 and 2008 -- because it is the only state that tracks sexual orientation and suicide attempts in enough detail to compare social factors.

Suicide Risk May be Lower for Gays, Lesbians in 'Supportive' Areas

Suicide risk may be lower for gays, lesbians in 'supportive' areas,0,6131754.story

Suicide risk may be lower for gays, lesbians in 'supportive' areas

Los Angeles Times - Marissa Cevallos

By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey
April 18, 2011, 4:15 p.m.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are much more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers, research has shown, but a new study suggests that a supportive school and community might be able to reduce that risk, if only slightly, for both groups.

Researchers from Columbia University analyzed a survey of 31,852 Oregon 11th-graders in which the students were asked, among other things, about their sexual orientation, drinking habits, and whether they had attempted suicide. The researchers also scored 34 of Oregon’s 36 counties on how supportive of gays and lesbians the environment was based on the proportion of same-sex couples in the community; the proportion of registered Democrats in the community; whether schools had gay-straight alliances; and whether schools had anti-bullying and antidiscrimination policies specifically protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual students.

In a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers confirmed that homosexual and bisexual students were far more likely to attempt suicide than their classmates—nearly 22% compared with 4%, a tragic gap researchers already knew existed. But they also found that among gay, lesbian and bisexual students the risk of suicide was about 20% greater in negative environments than in supportive ones—25.5% of non-heterosexual students had tried to commit suicide at least once in negative environments compared with 20.4% in positive environments.

RELATED: Medical records and health studies should track sexual orientation and gender identity, report says

Negative environments were associated with suicide attempts in non-heterosexual students even after adjusting for known suicide risks such as depression, alcohol use, and past physical abuse by an adult.

The researchers wrote in their conclusion: “The social environment appears to confer risk for suicide attempts over and above individual-level risk factors. These results have important implications for the development of policies and interventions to reduce sexual orientation–related disparities in suicide attempts. “

The study doesn’t conclude that a community’s so-called supportive characteristics, such as anti-bullying policies in schools, decrease suicide attempts, says Brett Thombs, a researcher in psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal who was not involved in the research but who has studied suicide risk in non-heterosexual youth.

“I think there are many reasons schools should provide better environments for any kid, not just LGBT kids,” says Thombs. “Whether or not they would change suicide risk is a different question. The schools may be reflecting the community around them.”

Positive environments seem to offer a slight protective benefit to heterosexual students as well, as it turns out. They were 9% more likely to attempt suicide in so-called negative environments than they were in more positive environments.

The study doesn’t answer whether adopting anti-bulling policies could be as effective in schools where the community is unsupportive of gays and lesbians. A large randomized trial, where some schools adopt accepting policies and others don’t, could better answer that question.

But that could take a while to do. And teenage years are short.

RELATED: 9 million U.S. adults say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, study finds

RELATED: The bluer the Oregon county, the lower the gay-teen suicide rate

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

What I Have To Say

(taken from the Heartstrong newsletter)

The video above is from a student who was bullied by a teacher and others in his high school in Palm Coast, FL We are grateful for his courage to stand up for himself and for those in his school who are not able to stand for themselves.

Youth Empowerment Project picks up speed.
Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is a multi-year project of HeartStrong which will provide digital educator's guides to every school counselor in the US at public, private and religious educational institutions. YEP also provides free resources and outreach materials to GSA's and other groups. It is a mammoth project several years in the making.

We are continually asked how YEP is funded. While we have attempted to gain some grant money for this project the bulk of the funding will come from individuals making donations.
Since the majority of YEP is done electronically using email, etc., it is a very cost effective program. However the overall cost of YEP including the resource materials for GSA's and others is at about $50,000 for the entire project. This is above and beyond the funding needed for the other work for HeartStrong.

We are using every means possible to to as much as we can with what we are given.

Individuals and groups wishing to donate to help YEP reach school counselors and youth can donate by clicking here. Donations are tax deductible.

Donate here to help HeartStrong do this work.

Keep up to date with YEP by joining us on Facebook and on twitter @HeartStrongYEP

New York Times erases support group, blocks comments

(from the Heartstrong newsletter)
Executive Director's Message

Two weeks ago I was contacted by a national correspondent writer at the NY Times. He was writing a piece about gay students at religious colleges and in particular about two incidents at Baylor University and Abilene Christian University. He had learned that HeartStrong would be holding HS Forums in those towns in May and wanted more information.

I spent about 30 minutes interviewing with him on the phone about the work of HeartStrong and discussing the bravery of the students at the schools he was writing about. I also spent about 45 minutes giving him solid resources and statistical information to use for the article.

We have been waiting for two weeks and the article came out today. For some mysterious reason there is no mention of HeartStrong to be found. Its a GREAT piece about these student's courage but no mention of the only organization in the world with the sole purpose of provide help and support to GLBT students in religious schools.
As we do when an interview is not included in a media piece, we also go and place comments on the webpage for the article. HeartStrong's comment was the very first posted at 1:20am. Sometime between then and now our comment was removed from the NYT page.

We have inquired as to why it was removed but have not received word back. Additionally, they have closed comments for this article which is also odd since there are only 82 comments and the article is in today's paper.

SO, to help the NYT's readers understand that HeartStrong is the resource for GLBT students in religious schools, we are asking all of our HeartStrong Friends to write a letter to the editor.

It needs to be 150 words or less and include your name, phone number and address to get published. Send the letter to the editor at
Below is the letter that I sent to them. We want to inundate them with support for the students in the article and for the work of HeartStrong. When you send your letter, please send a copy of it to us here at

Also, please post a link to this on your tweets as well!

Thank you!

Gay Students at Religious Schools

Tuesday's article about gay students in religious schools is an incredible show of support for those who are working to make a difference. These brave students have done what few others are able to do. Their voices represent the voices of many others who are unable to speak up for themselves.

This is the reason why HeartStrong has existed for nearly 15 years. Providing hope and help to GLBT students in religious schools where students are bullied and persecuted by students and teachers alike. No GLBT student in any school should feel like ending their life is the answer. This is why HeartStrong is there to help and will continue to be there to help GLBT students in religious schools around the world find hope, courage, confidence and peace.
Marc Adams
Founder/Executive Director
HeartStrong Inc

PFLAG Tallahassee - Public Service Announcement

Another great spot by Marisa (I'm pretty sure!)

What is PFLAG?

Marisa Ratoff did a great job on this video...even if she did use my "Hitler moustache/Alfalfa hair" pic!

Everyone did a fine job! Wish I could have made the interview meetings. Thanks much to all involved.