Sunday, February 27, 2005

Taboo Words Allowed in Suicide Conference Session

A few weeks ago we noted that the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) had ordered a session at one of their conferences to change its name, taking the words "gay", "lesbian", "bisexual", and "transgender" out of the title of a session on suicide. There had been dark hints that if the presenters did not comply their funding could be affected.

Well, this morning's Washington Post has a little paragraph on page A-10, stating that the words had been put back in. Not much in the way of explanation.

But the Washington Blade has this story:
A federal official this week denied claims that a division of the Department of Health & Human Services pressured organizers of an upcoming workshop on suicide prevention to omit references to gays from the program.

News reports surfaced last week that officials from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration had asked the Suicide Prevention Resource Center — the organizer of the conference — to change a workshop title for a regional conference beginning Feb. 28 in Portland, Oregon.

SAMHSA officials reportedly asked workshop coordinators to omit the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" from the workshop’s title, "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals," and use "sexual orientation" instead.

"There was no policy," said Mark Weber, director of communications for SAMHSA, a unit of HHS responsible for facilitating recovery among those with substance abuse problems or mental illness. "There wasn’t even an issue. As a result, [SPRC] asked if they could restore the original title and it got a bit of attention. It was merely a suggestion."

So it sounds like they are making a distinction between a "suggestion" and an "order."

This same guy, Weber, was interviewed about this same distinction, suggestion versus order, a couple of weeks ago, reported in the February 16th San Francisco Chronicle. He said:
Asked how strong a suggestion, Weber replied: "Well, they do need to consider their funding source." Federal agency balks at word 'gay'

People, if your research in funded by a government agency, you know ... that is a v-e-r-y strong "suggestion."

And why would the federal government want to take those words -- gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender -- out of the title of a session on suicide by exactly those groups of people? If you dig into this debate, even at the level of a county's sex-education curriculum, you'll see that they don't want you to know that the suicide rates for gay and transgendered people are extraordinarily high.

In our county, the conservative group opposing the curriculum flat-out lies to their readers, telling them that the Surgeon General has "discredited" research to that effect, when in fact the Surgeon General said "there is growing concern about an association between suicide risk and bisexuality or homosexuality for youth, especially males." They don't want you to dwell on it, because you might feel a pang of sympathy for those poor kids who are killing themselves.