The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Factor
in the Youth Suicide Problem
Field work, study, and educational work continues, one result being the inclusion of a section on "at risk" gay and lesbian people in the revised 1995 edition of Suicide in Canada by Health Canada. Another milestone was the presentation of The Homosexuality Factor in the Youth Suicide Problem at The Sixth Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention held in Banff, Alberta, in October, 1995. The 33-page paper is the first to be presented on the subject at a Canadian conference or symposium on suicide, and it is available on the Internet at: http://www.qrd.org/qrd/www/youth/tremb lay / or at: . A copy may be obtained from the Net, from SIEC (Suicide Information & Education Centre) at 210, 1616, 10 Ave. S.W. Calgary, AB. T3C OJ7, Ph. (403) 245-3900, and from GALE, B.C. (Gay and Lesbian Educators of British Columbia) at Box 93678, Nelson Park PO, Vancouver, B.C. V6E 4L7. Important information, supplementing that given in this book, is located in the paper.
In December, 1995, a letter was received from Mat Hanrahan, Assistant Deputy Minister, Children Services. As a result of letters sent to Mike Cardinal, Alberta Minister of Family & Social Services, and other education efforts in Family & Social Services, a major problem affecting some gay and lesbian youth was beginning to be addressed. Child care staff in government and contracted group homes and institutions were soon to receive a mandatory sexual orientation and child sexual abuse education in their 2-day training in youth suicide prevention/intervention. The available information about homosexually oriented boys in group homes and detention facilities reveals that they have been at high risk for being harmed, assaulted, raped, and even gang raped. Other boys, suspected of being gay, also experience abuse, even in schools, some becoming school dropouts and/or attempting suicide. One multiple suicide attempter in this category was attending a Calgary school for street youth last fall. Another heterosexual teenager was gang raped in the Edmonton juvenile detention centre, because he was believed to be gay. These results of society's homophobia are generally unrecognized and rarely reported, but information exists on the subject.
"Rape is a prevalent form of violence against gay and lesbian adolescents, especially in institutional settings. For the gay male in particular, identification as homosexual in a group home or shelter makes rape probable rather than possible. In many instances, the young person is blamed for bringing it on himself." (Martin & Hetrick, 1988.) A May 8, 1996, Calgary Herald article reported that "three drug overdoses and several sexual assaults had occurred last week" at the 112-cell Calgary Youth Offender Centre. Similar problems were noted to be occurring in other Alberta centres. The official explanation given for this - "overcrowding" - does not explain why some males will rape other males (if given the opportunity), which has been a documented tradition in North American juvenile and adult male detention facilities. My concerns, related to the Honourable Brian Evans, Alberta Minister of Justice, were responded to by Hank O'Handley, Assistant Deputy Minister, Correctional Services Division, in a June 7, 1995, letter. "It has not been the experience of the department that there is a high probability of homosexual rape against gay... offenders in custody." To avoid the issue (probably deemed to be "political"), these rapes were also placed in the "isolated acts" category. Little understanding exists about the highly homophobic heterosexual self-labelling males most responsible for the abuse and rapes of other males in institutional settings.
I first learned about the positive Alberta Family & Social Services development from Dick Ramsay, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. The ones contracted to supply suicide prevention/ intervention education to youth residence workers already had this book and the Banff paper, plus the papers related to this problem, and they were requesting all additional information Mr. Ramsay had on the subject. He sent them a 14-page handout I had prepared for his students in a Social Work course on drug and alcohol abuse problems. Included was an article reporting on a major AIDS-related problem - the use and abuse of two methamphetamines, ecstasy and crystal - in American gay communities. The problem has been developing in Calgary, even for heterosexual youth, and is commonly associated with raves, thus being peer-related. The handout was a supplement to the 3-hour presentation made on gay and lesbian youth problems directly or indirectly related to society's homophobic nature.
The Central Toronto Youth Services' 1994 study, Opening Doors [pp. 80, 108.], reported the existence of serious homophobia-related problems for gay and lesbian youth who ventured into drug and alcohol treatment programs. These issues are beginning to be addressed at AADAC's adolescent treatment program in Calgary. A gay youth I referred there in September, 1995, benefitted from my work. Different than the situation existing elsewhere, the AADAC (Alberta Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission) staff were very happy to have him because he was gay, even thought some counsellors were deemed homophobic. The conditions for having this youth enter the program, however, were unequivocal. He was not, in any way, to be harmed. He was also to be fully supported when dealing, if needed, with homophobic staff members and clients. He is now a volunteer at the Distress/Drug Centre and at a home for distressed youth. He may soon become a paid peer counsellor in another group home where a peer counsellor reported that about 40% of youth needing their services are homosexually oriented. After recognizing this, he finally acknowledged that Calgary needed a safe house for GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered) youth. As reported in The Sidney Star Observer in 1995, the same need exists in Sidney, Australia because their GLB youth have similar problems. In Western Australia, the official Suicide Prevention Resource Manual: Making a Difference contains a 4-page section titled "Working with gay, lesbian and bisexual young people."
I have been amazed at the degree to which drug/alcohol use/abuse/addiction problems are related to homosexual issues, even after learning to anticipate this. Some gay males I know became alcoholic after they had sought help from mental health professionals who essentially failed to help them, drugs and alcohol being another way to cope with unaddressed and unresolved problems. One social worker with whom I often discussed the role "homosexuality" plays in youth and adult problems, including substance abuse, decided to do a preliminary investigation of the extent to which this factor existed in males coming to a detoxification centre. He reported that about one-third of the males were in this category, most having related coming out problems. This estimate would be conservative given that accessing such information is not always possible, no matter how skilled an investigator may be, the social worker being very good in this respect.
In March, 1995, a coalition of 21 Calgary groups concerned about THE ALBERTA DISADVANTAGE: STATE OF ALBERTA'S CHILDREN had their report tabled in the Alberta Legislature. As a result of the GLB youth education occurring in Calgary, it was noted that "gay and lesbian youth were not legally protected from discrimination," which is related to serious child and youth abuse problems, even in schools. As expected, Alberta's right wing homophobic media focused only on this "sensitive" issue, soliciting the opinions of the most homophobic MLAs. Tory House Leader Stockwell Day labelled the issue "bizarre," and Tory MLA Lorne Taylor emphasized that he was "opposed to promoting this kind of deranged attitude." Tory MLA Victor Doerkson said: "It looks like they're looking for an endorsement of what most consider a deviant behavior." The rhetoric in a related Edmonton Sun article highlighted a fact known to advocates for the welfare of GLB youth. Individuals and groups manifesting concern for these youth will be discredited, even with respect to their other more socially acceptable concerns.
In April, 1995, a 200+ page education package was completed and sent to about 40 Roman Catholic junior and senior high schools. All heads of Guidance & Counselling, heads of Religious Education in high schools, all trustees, most superintendents, and some coordinators received a complete or near-complete package, including the paper presented in Banff and Counselling Lesbian & Gay Youth (1995) produced by GALE, B.C. for all junior and senior high schools in British Columbia. All principals received a copy of the 10-page cover letter addressed to the Chairperson of the Board and the Chief Superintendent. The most important item sent - out of 20 articles, papers, and book segments - was the 16-page article, In Search of Safety: The lives of lesbian and gay youth" published in the December 26, 1995 issue of the Toronto magazine The Moment. This is probably the first time a Canadian Roman Catholic publication addressed GLB youth issues and, in the article, a Catholic teacher reported on his increasing recognition of the role he had played in the social situation which harms GLB youth. One of his former students - described to have been "bright, articulate, and a bit on the shy side, [and] simply a gem in the classroom" - had committed suicide for reasons related to his homosexual orientation. [All items in this education package are not part of the references listed herein.]
At the April, 1996, meeting of Calgary's multidisciplinary group (the GLB Youth Services Group) formed to have GLB youth issues addressed, Dr. Gary Sanders reported on the presentations he had made to both public and Catholic high school students. He noted that Catholic adolescents were less homophobic (bigoted and prejudiced) than adolescents in public schools, which was unexpected. By the spring of 1995, however, the Catholic school system had a GLB youth in-service in place for their staff, while an in-service (developed by Calgary Health Services) only became available in public schools in October, 1995. Positive Roman Catholic attributes are often not recognized by those who have not been an integral part of the group, as I was, even as a Religion teacher. In Calgary, Roman Catholic nuns offered the use of their chapel to Integrity (an Anglican gay and lesbian group) for their religious service during Gay Pride Week, 1995. Bishop O'Byrne has been very helpful in having GLB youth issues addressed in Catholic schools given the facts of the case and his concern about their welfare. The same applies for the director of the Catholic Family Centre who developed the in-service for Catholic schools.
On March 16, 1995, a Youth Suicide Prevention Forum was held at the University of Calgary, the objective being to form an awareness group. I listened to Roger Tierney, a suicide expert at Calgary's Mount Royal College, speak about youth suicide, without mentioning the increasingly confirmed "sexual orientation" and "child sexual abuse" factors in the problem. Two mothers spoke about the suicides of a son and daughter, both described to have been "happy" and not having manifesting any indications of major problems existing within. These youth were exceptional actors, which is a common attribute of GLB youth who must often act for survival reasons in their families, schools, and peer groups. An uncle of a recent suicide victim, an exceptional student and the captain of his high school football team, reported the same attribute for his nephew, not knowing that such boys may be gay. For these youth, the most important questions are never asked. Why the acting? What would they have had to reveal - which they must have greatly feared doing - if ever they had manifested their true "better be dead than alive" state of mind and were asked related questions?
Near the end of the presentation, I was experiencing profound emotions resulting from having become a suicidal youth (with related homosexuality and child sexual abuse problems) who, in desperation, had come to this widely publicized Forum to see if anyone knew about his problems. I spoke to this issue, stating that, if such youths were there, they would be leaving assured that no one knew about their problems, thus feeling that no one could ever help them. On the basis of some studies, the two factors were noted for their relationship to youth suicide problems. A Bagley study revealed that 62.5% of male youth suicide attempters were homosexually oriented, overlapping with the 75% reporting child sexual abuse. Although suicide may be a taboo subject in our society, it was emphasized that both factors were even more taboo, and much more difficult for youth to reveal. When they apply, however, the one(s) most directly responsible for the distress may be in, or closely related to, the victim's family. For these youth, the thought of telling anyone their problems is overwhelming, as the suicide note of one 17-year-old gay youth reveals. "The things I'd like to say to you [his mother] would take a lifetime and it would only make things harder." [The note, a part of the coroner's report, was obtained from Dr. Chris Bagley.] Youth suicide notes are often more like riddles, only to be understood when the victim's secret(s) become known. For this boy, his gay identity was known, as it also became known for Bobby Steele. Both boys, however, did not mention their homosexual orientation in their suicide notes.
The father of Bobby Steele, an Edmonton youth who committed suicide in 1994, was a major activist figure at the Forum. I first met him at the Banff conference on suicide prevention where he attended my presentation. I stated, without naming anyone, that there were some highly homophobic parents [him] who, after being told that their dead son may have been gay, labelled the idea to be "slander." After the presentation, I gave him a copy of my paper and this book, stating that his son's story was highlighted to explain some of the major problems related to having GLB youth suicide issues addressed. Although I do not absolve parents from being responsible for these deaths, I emphasize that all of US, including suicidologists, most professionals working youth, schools, many religious leaders, closeted GLB professionals, and even GLB communities, have been responsible for GLBT youth problems.
The organizers of the Banff conference had been worried about a confrontation occurring between Robert Steele and myself. When I arrived, I was therefore taken aside and advised in this respect; but this was not one of my intentions, effective education being the objective. The way I dealt with the situation seems to have worked because one professional spoke to Robert Steele before the March Forum and was amazed to see how quickly he had begun to accept "the homosexuality factor" in his son's death. This happened because reading this book permits people to better understand what few have written about, in a comprehensive manner, and to also have some basic knowledge needed to help these youth. Most important, however, is naming the major cause for GLB youth problems, as also recognized by Eve Abrams in a precis of her recently completed Master's thesis at The University of British Columbia. The precis ended with: "After all, if society receives proper' therapy, fewer lesbian and gay people will require it." (GALE Newsletter, May, 1996.) There would also be fewer GLB youth attempting or committing suicide.
In the winter of 1995 a copy of this book, and related documentation, was sent to Maclean's, Canada's national newsmagazine, with the hope that a comprehensive story would be written about the youth suicide problem. A major article on the subject was published on January 29, 1996, without mentioning GLB youth, nor child sexual abuse. I first learned about the article on CBC Newsworld's Maclean's Magazine featuring Dr. Diane Sacks, a Canadian pediatrician. Her name was familiar because she had been listed as a member of the Committee on Adolescence for the American Academy of Pediatrics in a 1993 paper produced by The Committee. In the paper, Homosexuality in Adolescence, GLB youth problems were noted, including their suicide-related problems(30). For unknown reasons, however, Dr. Sacks was silent about homosexuality on the television program, and in her quoted comments in the article "Killing The Pain: Canada has an alarming rate of teenage suicide - and nobody, including grieving parents, knows why." This is not true.
This professional and mainstream media silence (which also applies in Calgary's two newspapers) is tragic. Because of this, many suicidal youth reading these articles will continue to believe their suicide-related homosexuality and/or child sexual abuse issues are not recognized by anyone, thus making the needed help an unrecognized possibility. The silence also makes it extremely difficult for these youth to begin talking about their problems, mostly because they will have to initiate very risky highly taboo conversations. One male youth having this problem was described to me by a gay youth at a March, 1996, meeting of Calgary's GLB youth group, I-DENTITY. His teenage friend had committed suicide in March, 1995. All examples of youth suicides in the Maclean's article were also from Calgary, the featured victim being a 17-year-old male who killed himself in October, 1995. At the March Forum, I received important information about this boy.
During a break, I had gone outside and was approached by a female high school student who reported having been a friend of the above noted suicide victim, and then revealed her bisexual orientation to me. She thanked me for having dared to raise the homosexuality issue because this was her dead friend's problem. He also had been attending a high school described to be the most homophobic, which was the reason she had left and was now at the more gay/lesbian-positive Alternative High School. She then explained that the ones knowing about the homosexuality of youth suicide victims will usually remain silent, not wanting to hurt grieving parents even more. Many parents respond negatively when gay sons come out to them, the situation being much worse when the outing occurs after an offspring commits suicide. When "the homosexuality factor" applies in youth suicides, the (often homophobic) parents will then realize their causal role in these deaths, as would school staff, students, and peers; this being the opposite of what bereavement programs do. As a result of this situation, and other problems outlined in this book, the scandalous lack of knowledge and understanding about the GLB youth suicide problem continues, as does the problem.
One possible reason why the Maclean's article was silent about "the homosexuality factor" in youth suicide is explained in the Banff paper. In the fall of 1995, the official publication of the American Association of Suicidology, Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour , produced a special issue devoted to this subject. After reading it, I was appalled with the message rendered. Real scientific proof supposedly does not exists to link sexual orientation with youth suicidality problems, thus permitting all who did not want to address GLB issues in their suicide prevention/intervention program to continue maintaining the status quo. This outcome was expected, however, because the special issue on sexual orientation was not the product of suicidologists having inquiring minds if homosexuality issues apply. Instead, it was at the request of the U. S. Congress that they investigated the problem. The media had been reporting related stories and [homophobic] politicians were being pressured to help GLB youth. Many American (and Canadian) politicians do not want to do this, and most suicidologists have helped them avoid the issue. As a rule, suicidologists and mental health professionals do not speak out against homophobia and resulting problems, not even when politicians engage in public gay-bashing.
Response letters to the youth suicide article were published in the February 19, 1996, issue of Maclean's. Dr. Howard Taynen was very troubled by the article's focus reflecting the new "techno-biological dark ages" of psychiatry. Increasingly, human problems, including youth suicide, are being blamed on "brain disorders or presumed chemical imbalances'." What, however, are these professionals to do when they are seeing many highly distressed [GLB] youth suicide attempters who feel that they cannot tell anyone, including (commonly homophobic) mental health professionals, the real reason for their problem? Most mental health professionals are also abysmally ignorant of GLB youth realities and cannot access such information from youth, which therefore makes them responsible for the situation. Taynen emphasized that the new ideology "is promoting a terrible ignorance of human suffering," which was better understood after reading the second letter. Ellen Bell and Ann Cioppa noted the "crucial element: sexual orientation" missing from the article and added: "Until our society recognizes that gay and lesbian kids exist and that they need support not condemnation, this unbelievable statistic will continue." (Emphasis mine.)
Since 1978, when the Bell and Weinberg study revealed that, to the age of 20, homosexually oriented males had been 13.6 times more likely to be suicide attempters than their heterosexual counterparts (the factor being "13.9 times" to the average age of 22.7 years in the Bagley study), not one suicidologist was concerned enough to do a much more scientifically valid study (such as using random sampling) to investigate this reported phenomenon, nor was this done as community-based studies (now reaching a total of 12) were producing attempted suicide rates ranging from 20 to 50 percent, the average being 31.3 percent. Even the Bagley study was not done with this objective in mind, but the related data did permit, for the first time in North America, to have "the homosexuality factor" in youth suicide problems confirmed, at least in a stratified random sample of young adult males. This situation was nonetheless predictable, given the lethal history of Mental Health with respect to homosexuality.
As reported in this book, few professionals have wanted to know anything about homosexuality and related problems, the unspoken fear being that predictable resulting changes would benefit people still commonly hated in our society. It was only in 1974 that mental health professionals stopped actively harming GLB people, but not because they wanted to end their war against them, and most do not appear ready to do anything significant to help such negatively perceived people. In this respect, I have often emphasized that, if suicidologists and mental health professionals will not act to help GLB youth on the basis of their suicidality problems, these youth will most often not be helped by anyone on the basis of their reported high risks for having lesser problems. As a rule, GLB youth are not being helped throughout most of the world. A Norwegian gay male, visiting Calgary during the summer of 1995, reported that GLB youth in Norway have coming out problems and related suicide problems similar to that described for Calgary, his knowledge of the subject stemming from his involvement with a GLB youth group in Oslo. Reports, mostly obtained from GLB newsmagazines, have described similar problems existing for GLB youth in Ireland, England, India, Australia, South and Central American countries, and South Africa.
In the winter of 1995, I asked 20-year-old Peter Hodgson, a peer counsellor at the Alberta Safe House Society, if he would place the fledgling 6-month-old GLB youth group (I-DENTITY, founded by Dana Benson in 1994) on a good footing, the results being positive. By the winter of 1996, about 180 youths had made contact with the group now having professionals supporting it for the first time in Calgary, some volunteering their time. Unfortunately, I-DENTITY is exceptionally poor for a number of reasons to be addressed, and it has lacked leadership and direction. These youth still do not have a space to call their own, and meet only once every two weeks at AIDS Calgary. Calgary needs a peer support group where GLB youth may go any day of the week, and many adult GLB people and parents should become involved in various capacities. This would include raising the funds required to have such a service, as well as other needed services, including recreational activities. GLB youth have few opportunities, if any, to relate socially with the adult GLB community, while such social interactions are important in the lives of heterosexual youth.
An "800" help line (existing for about the last two years in Ontario) should be made available to all GLBT youth in Alberta (and throughout Canada), rural and small town/city youth needing this service the most. Booklets and pamphlets (with local resource references) must be produced to serve the educational needs of all people working with youth, including parents. Efforts are now being made to edit and Canadianize the major P-FLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) booklets, and pamphlets will be produced to meet a variety of needs. Anti-homophobia education is imperative because homophobia's results are causal in GLB youth problems, other major youth problems, and even in the widely reported breakdown in AIDS-related "safer sex" education. "Safer sex" education has especially failed GB male youth (The Washington Blade, March 8, 1996: Exit, Issue 73/74, 95/96). Each AIDS case in Canada now cost about $100,000.00, which may soon double given the high price of newly developed drug treatments. Dealing with juvenile delinquency - for which GB male youth are at high risk - costs about $100,000.00 per year per youth. Homophobia, like heterosexism, sexism, racism, etc., harms people, thus creating serious expensive problems.
The education which must be done to end homophobia, and therefore help GLB youth by lessening their socially inflicted problems, and additional problems stemming from their encounters with often homophobic professionals lacking GLBT youth knowledge and understanding, is a monumental endeavor requiring the input and collaboration of many groups, agencies, and institutions working with youth. In this respect, the advice of the Honourable Shirley McClellan, Alberta Minister of Health, was followed. Gerry Harrington, Director of SIEC, was approached with the request that SIEC make a proposal to the Alberta Children's Commissioner for the funds needed (about $212,000.00) to develop of GLBT education resource centre. After receiving approval from SIEC's Board of Directors, and from The Canadian Mental Health Association which oversees SIEC, the proposal was made in January, 1996, but the request was declined. Work is now proceeding on a second submission, with some obstacles to be overcome. The partners in this endeavor are AADAC (Calgary Youth Team), the Calgary Board of Education, the Canadian Red Cross (Child Sexual Abuse Program), Calgary Suicide Services (CMHA), the Faculty of Social Work (University of Calgary), Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, Calgary Birth Control Association, Planned Parenthood, Alberta Youth in Care and Custody Network, I-DENTITY, P-FLAG, OF COLOUR: Lesbians & Gay Men of Colour, Gay Lines Calgary, and the multidisciplinary GLB Youth Service Group. Calgary Health Services and Exit Community Outreach (serving street youth) will participate through the latter group.
One major problem to be addressed involves boys who have sexual experiences with men before the age of 17. Some researchers report these encounters to be in the "unwanted" (sexual abuse) or "wanted" sexual act categories, as defined by adult males reporting on their child/youth sexual experiences. The existence of the latter group (forming about 3% of the Bagley sample) has also been a documented fact in gay history. These realities are only touched on in this book but, since its completion, I have studied the phenomenon as it exists, and from a cross-cultural and historical perspective. It has become increasingly evident that a serious "abuse" situation has existed in the "child sexual abuse" mental health field. Reality denial is involved and, often enough, gay-bashing by pathologizing a homosexual orientation when it occurs in a sexually abused youth. This scandals rivals the one being documenting in Suicidology, and even the one existing when homosexuals were deemed to br "mentally disordered."
I began addressing this abuse issue at the April, 1996, meeting of the multidisciplinary subcommittee working in the Calgary Board of Education. All trustees and most superintendents were advised, a few months before, that the overlap of sexual orientation and child sexual abuse was important. It is related to serious youth problems which may be exacerbated (even created) by the intervention of misinformed and knowledge-lacking mental health professionals. One major problem has been that professional beliefs about human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, have been in the "myth" category, thus precluding any understanding of sexualities deemed "deviant." Exposing this scandal will also produce some of the information needed to understand why professionals have also failed to understand males who sexually abuse and rape other males (often weaker heterosexual males or gay males) in institutional settings.
The sub-committee members were given a 22-page information package on the subject. At an early age, GB males may be manifesting love/sex interest in older males and men, and their desires and quests may place them at risk for having interrelated problems ranging from drugs and/or alcohol abuse, sometimes resulting from abuse(s) and rape(s), to attempting (possibly committing) suicide. Published documentation reveals that these youth may be frequenting gay baths by the age of 13, and may be having unsafe sex with numerous men. They may also be in gay bars, at least by the age of 14 in Calgary. First-time sexual experiences - often being in the anonymous and unsafe category - also occur in other places (washrooms, parks, other cruising areas), this being the reported reality of many Fairfax High School gay youth associated with L.A.'s Project 10. Some even have sugar daddies, for a number of reasons, these relationships (and street prostitution) appearing to be the best this society has had to offer these gay and bisexual boys. A similar situation has existed in Calgary, but these youth will not reveal facts about their secret lives to others, mostly because of society's homophobia. Nor will they report the abuse(s) and/or rape(s) they may have experienced. Homophobia is also implicated in explaining why almost all sexually abused boys (all in the Bagley et al., 1994 study) have been muzzled concerning what was being done to them.
I must now respond to the ones who have criticized the "polemic" nature of this book, some even feeling that I am "extreme" in drawing parallels between ourselves and demonized abusers in our history. As a wonderful human being, I have had an aversion to deleting "emotions" from my work because they have been a major motivator in doing what most deemed to be "impossible" - to help me, of course. Their unspoken concerns, however, were often related to maintaining the status quo by not ever encouraging anyone to tackle such problems. I do not apologize for my emotions which are not the "unresolved anger" I was analyzed to have by Dan Holinda, the Executive Director of AIDS Calgary. This was in response to AIDS Calgary being recently advised that it is still on my "Killer of Gay Youth" list because the situation had changed little since the 1991 investigation reported in this book.
My anger is very much resolved, anger being the emotion decent human beings cannot avoid feeling when working with GLB youth, especially when one learns about their lives. Sometimes, even rage is experienced, which is appropriate and anticipated. I am not, however, the only one to have experienced these emotions. Another concerned student of GLB youth, Linea Due, the author of the acclaimed 1995 book, Joining the Tribe: Growing up gay & lesbian in the 90 s, rendered her feelings after having interviewed many of these youth throughout the United States:
"On a personal note, I want to say that during the writing of this book, I vacillated between hope, fury, and admiration. I was struck by the sensitivity, intelligence, and courage of every person who allowed me into their lives. Often the pain they'd endured seemed unsurmountable, and yet they had emerged with a wiser idealism intact, in a testament to the human spirit that never failed to buoy me with optimism. But when I returned home and read through their transcript, I was overwhelmed with a black rage that any of it have happened to them at all." (Emphasis mine.)
I have been associating with a number of people in Calgary who, in a number of ways, have 'worked' to sabotage efforts to get GLB youth issues effectively addressed. This was predictable given their history, and the complete story related to my work remains to be written. There are some professionals, groups, and agencies in Calgary who will not appreciate seeing information - now in private files - eventually made public. As I told a homosexually oriented mental health professional about two years ago (in the presence of a witness), after Calgary's only youth group had folded due to community indifference: "What really troubles me about this situation is that not one GLB professional in this city has ever come forward to help these youth." Explanations for this were given, such as fearing to be "picked off one at the time" if one ventures alone to help these youth, and that there was "too much to lose." My reply: "And I have nothing to lose?''
These explanations reveal how difficult and dangerous it has been for anyone working to have GLB youth issues effectively addressed. It also illustrates how mental health education has been very successful in recruiting GLB professionals into a situation which greatly harms GLB youth. Yet, it was these professionals who best knew and understood the existing highly abusive situation. For ethical GLB mental health professionals, teachers, school guidance counsellors, social workers, etc., great moral pain often resulted. Sadly, these problems have been rarely documented, including the problems resulting from their recruitment into a historical class of GLB people manifesting a milder version of The J. Edgar Hoover Syndrome.
Although most have not actively sought to harm their own kind, as Hoover did, their "silence" and "lack of courage" - reflecting the very self-serving "being socially successful" nature Hoover also manifested - produced similar results. They have therefore worked so that a maximum casualty status would be maintained in the GLBT youth population, but the situation has been changing in Calgary, as elsewhere. A few of these professionals, however, have been angry, mostly because I have left them with little choice, as well as the unavoidable memory of their former role. The ones most troubled by my work would certainly be the homosexually oriented teachers and counsellors who greatly benefitted from society's homophobia. It permitted them to have sex with students without much risk of ever being exposed, as the situation has also existed in many other youth institutions. In 1992, I wrote about this reality (using a Calgary example, and others are available in the GLB youth literature), and about the harm homophobia does to ethical GLB teachers, to The Alberta Teacher's Association. It was only in 1995, however, that the ATA began to officially address some homophobic issues, but it has not done anything significant about the scandalous abuse of gay, lesbian, and bisexual children and youth in Alberta schools. The ATA's silence and indifference in this respect is immoral and unethical, and should be deemed criminal.
I hope you enjoy reading this book, even if the presented realities are somewhat troubling. All criticisms are welcome, honesty being very important because, when challenged, we often learn more and improve our understanding. I have nonetheless been reproached for sometimes "getting people's backs up," which is deemed negative, but this may be an incorrect conclusion reflecting a limited perception of the situation. I have worked on the principle that the ones most at the root cause of GLB youth problems - which is proportional to the degree to which their backs respond - should not be pampered. With them, the major objective has been the retention of unwelcome information, even if the objective was to be realized by causing an associated unforgettable negative response. Although initial results may appear to be negative, the situation eventually changes. The positive results attest to this.
Maybe, someday, some rewarding "personal/professional" and even "financial" outcomes will result from my work, in addition to the non-material rewards. To date, "self-serving" rewards have been either nonexistent or in the negative category, including the loss of a 12-year relationship, and the development of major problems. Unfortunately, a change in the situation is not expected in the near future. In Alberta, people can still be legally fired from their jobs (much less hired for one) because they are gay or lesbian. What, however, is the difference between doing this, assaulting and even murdering gay or lesbian people, avoiding or opposing the implementation of effective anti-homophobic education in society and schools, ignoring GLB suicide problems (and their other problems), and just being verbally homophobic? The difference is not one of kind, but one of degree, the underlying motivation being the same: hatred.
"Gay bashing, generally thought of as a Friday night frolic for inebriated thugs, has its parallel expression in voting booths, city council halls, and legislative chambers across this country." [Rep. Ed Fallon (D). Part of a speech given in the Iowa House on February 20, 1996, and published in The Washington Blade, March 22, 1996. In the speech, Fallon's comes out as a heterosexual individual.]
As an associate researcher, I am now co-authoring a paper tentatively titled Sexual Orientation Demographics, Suicidality, and Mental Health Status in a Stratified Random Sample of 750 18- to 27-Year-Old Males with Dr. Chris Bagley, Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. In this book, it is reported that 37.5% of suicide attempters in the sample are homosexually oriented, defined by being currently homosexually active. As the result of a more complete data analysis, however, the "37.5%" has risen to 62.5%, the "homosexual/bisexual" definition remaining as noted above, but also including males self-labelling as homosexual or bisexual who were celibate when the study was done. About 11% of males are deemed to be gay or bisexual. They are 2.8 times more likely to have engaged in self-harm activities than their heterosexual counterparts, and are 13.9 times more likely to have attempted suicide.
The results of this study will greatly increase our understanding of homosexually oriented young males and their problems, especially with respect to suicidality and depression. Child sexual abuse is related to having such problems, but the most distressed youths, defined by having attempted suicide (the most severe form of self-harm), are mostly homosexually oriented. By 1985, Calgary research was revealing that the most distressed sexually abused male youths were usually manifesting a homosexual orientation. More recent research suggests that it is not sexual abuse which is the significant factor in suicide attempts by gay and bisexual males, but "sexual orientation" issues, including problems linked to having such a gay or bisexual identity in a highly homophobic, heterosexist, and sexist society. Our study's results, combined with other research results, further support a hypothesis made in this book. Male youth who die (or are hospitalized) as a result of their suicide attempts may almost always be gay or bisexual. This conclusion was more conservative in the Banff paper, to avoid unwanted confrontations.
Permission has been granted to GALE, B. C. to reproduce The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Factor in the Youth Suicide Problem and sell it at cost, or at a profit, with the proceeds to be used for educational purposes. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth have predictable problems, mostly stemming from growing up in a lethally homophobic society. WE still produce far too many people and professionals who harm these adolescents. A related education is imperative for all people working with youth, including parents, if this form of child abuse is ever to end. By the winter of 1995, such an education was being given to students in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, and the same must happen for all students being educated to work with youth. Similar education must also become available to all professionals now working with youth because the health and welfare of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth depends on it, as does the lives of some of them.
Much work therefore remains to be done, even in Vancouver where a large politically active GLB community exists, and The University of British Columbia is located. According to Eve Abrams (Ibid.), "[l]esbian and gay issues ["are not"] a part of counsellor education" at UBC. This extremely harmful situation must end in all Canadian universities and colleges where ignorance about GLBT people in general, and GLBT youth in particular, is being maintained. The end to academia's homophobic agenda - the Silence Kills curriculum - is long overdue. Suicidologists could lead the way in this respect, if they began to hear (and especially understand) what gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender suicide attempters - and suicide victims - have been telling them.
Pierre J. Tremblay, May 10, 1996
On the same day, the Calgary Herald had reported one confirmed Bagley study result: "[Y]oung gay teens are almost 14 times more likely to attempt suicide" in the article "Gay teens high suicide risk." In response to this, the school board was to "decide on a course of action at tonight's meeting." The next day, the Herald article's title, "Board resolves to protect gay pupils," emphasized the results. The anti-gay terror regime existing in all Alberta school systems was also noted. Students were afraid of coming out and "board teachers [were] equally afraid ... for fear of retaliation."
To begin addressing these issues, the school board "approved the development of new resource materials for school counsellors to use when dealing with homosexual youth." These materials are not new, consisting of about one-third the education package made available in Calgary's Catholic schools. Now, those wishing to address GLB youth issues in public schools will have the full support of the school board. Such publicly stated official support does not yet exist in Roman Catholic schools.
An associated important event was the release of the 1995 Alberta suicide statistics in the "Gay teen high suicide risk" article. There had been 3 Calgary suicides in the 15- to 19-year-old category - all male. The issue of homosexuality applied in two cases, as reported in the Update, thus leaving one to investigate if time permits. This result, however, was predictable on the basis of the information presented in this book. Unfortunately, this fact is not yet recognized (or addressed) by mainstream suicidologists.
Tragically, it does not appear that the Calgary Herald will participate in the public education needed to end homophobia-related deaths and other GLB youth problems. Herald history has been negative in this respect (pp. 133-138), and the situation may worsen. The Calgary Sun's gay-bashing editor, Peter Stockland (pp. 147), is now a Herald columnist, probably hired by the new publisher, Ken M. King, a former Sun publisher. Therefore, highly positive developments in schools are being countered by very negative media developments in Calgary. A passively lethal newspaper may become actively lethal when dealing with GLB youth issues.
Stockland is also on the Herald's editorial board and his anti-gay ideology was reflected in the June 13 editorial about the public school development. The decision was applauded by stating: "Such abuse is intolerable in society. And society starts in our schools." Yet, Herald authorities had known about the GLB child abuse situation existing in schools and refused to investigate and report on the situation, thus working to harm these youth as a reflection of their ongoing unwritten mandate. In the editorial, a warning was given: "... the public board must exercise great caution in respecting the fine line between tolerance and advocacy," the implicit message being that teaching anything positive about homosexuality should be forbidden. That, at best, GLB youth must only be (and feel) tolerated in schools. More warnings followed.
"...[T]he board must be extremely judicious in, say, accepting estimates from lobby groups about the prevalence of homosexuality in the population, or even the still controversial claim that it is innate. The jury is still out on both matters. Until definitive answers are found, great care must be taken with how the curriculum addresses the questions." This is the insidious rhetoric of gay-bashers who specialize in using red herrings. Homosexuality percentage estimates and the possible cause(s) for homosexuality are irrelevant to the issue being addressed. GLB youth exist, they are being abused, and are being driven to suicide. Some people in society, however, desire such results, and become very unhappy when their self-granted right' to hate and harm others, including children, is being threatened.
The Herald editorial was, without mentioning it, attacking the "4 to 10 percent" estimate cited in the report submitted to the school board by Pat Boyle, the Gender Issues Advisor. The upcoming surprise will be that, from the Bagley study, the estimate for homosexual and bisexual 18- to 27-year old suburban males (living outside Calgary's gay community area where these males are the most concentrated) will be 12.7 percent. This is based on the males being currently homosexually active (9.2%) and/or self-identifying as homosexual and/or bisexual (11.1%).
A demographic paper being written with Dr. Bagley presents the Calgary-based data which indicates that the 1994 "Sex in America" study (pp. 149-152) underestimated the number of homosexually active young adult males living in suburban areas of medium sized North American cities by about 300 percent, and self-identified gay and bisexual males by about 800 percent. The American data on suburban males living in medium sized cities was published in a 1995 paper, thus making the comparison possible.
The demographic paper, the paper being written on suicide attempts, and another synthesis paper to be included in a book to be soon published on suicide problems, should yield positive results. They will probably mark the beginning of the end to the unholy alliance which has generally existed between numerous mainstream researchers and the homohating and homophobic social elements.
An education package is now being prepared for major newspapers and magazines in Canada, the expectation being that other Canadian youth may be helped if this education occurs. The media will be invited to become part of the solution rather than the cause of serious youth problems. The traditional abuse society (WE) have inflicted on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children, youth, and young adults of all colours may soon end.
June 14, 1995
I may be reached at 305 - 2515 - 17 St. S.W., Calgary, Alberta, T2T 4M9 Ph. 245-8827. By email at: firstname.lastname@example.org until at least December, 1996, or maybe later.
I thank Sean Burke (NWU) who did the HTML file for the Banff paper and had it placed at QRD (Queer Resources Directory). I thank Bill and Margaret Rutherford for their support. Money from a fund, related to the 1993 death of their son from AIDS, was used to make this book available to all P-FLAG chapters in Canada, and to a number of professionals. The support of the Calgary Birth Control Association is also greatly appreciated, as is the support and help supplied by other groups and individuals.