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Bush Administration backs down on request to edit “LGBT” out of suicide conference workshop title

By |2017-10-31T06:25:32-04:00October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|

The Bush Administration has apparently backed down from a controversial call that a federally funded conference on suicide prevention could not use the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” in a workshop title on its agenda. The conference, scheduled for Feb. 28 in Portland, Ore., is the third in a series of five organized by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Reid Vanderburgh, Ron Bloodworth and Joyce Liljeholm were scheduled to present a workshop at the conference called “Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals.” That is, until government funders at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notified the SPRC that the agency’s administrator, Charles Curie, whom President Bush appointed to run agency in 2001, would not be able to attend the conference until the workshop title was changed.
“We worked with SPRC to create alternative wording so that the workshop could continue to be offered but we expressed deep concern about government intrusion to remove any reference to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the workshop title and descriptor,” said Vanderburgh in a statement he distributed to the press. “After agreeing to the title ‘Suicide Prevention in Vulnerable Populations,’ we were told that the new title would be acceptable to SAMHSA and that we could use the term ‘sexual orientation’ in the workshop descriptor but that the term ‘gender identity’ would ‘not fly with SAMHSA.'”
A spokesman for SAMHSA told The Washington Post, which picked up the story after receiving Vanderburgh’s letter, said they preferred the term “sexual orientation” because it’s more “inclusive.”
Bloodworth told The Post that the term “sexual orientation” is unspecific.
“Everyone has a sexual orientation,” he said. “But this was about gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Unless you use an accurate term, the people you are trying to reach don’t recognize themselves and don’t attend.”
When The Post pressed to determine how strong SAMHSA’s request for the name change was, Weber said, “Well, they do need to consider their funding source.”
The suggested name change – as well as the suggestion that the conference may lose its funding if organizers didn’t agree to it – caused a firestorm among LGBT activists and other concerned individuals and suddenly Weber and his colleagues had a good deal to consider themselves – a good deal of mail.
“It is incredible, the venom from these people,” Weber said to The Post regarding the letters SAMHSA had received. “My boss is being called a Nazi.”
Whatever he was called, it was apparently enough to cause Curie to reconsider his agency’s position. Or maybe it was the call from openly-gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that did it.
Curie confirmed to Frank in an email that “there is no policy on the use of the words lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” He went on to say that, “I am still planning to participate in the … conference and I will highlight in my remarks our commitment at SAMHSA to ensure that we reach out to all populations in our efforts to provide substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment and mental health services.”
Upon receipt of the email, Frank issued a statement to the press.
“Given the fact that the frequency of youth suicide in particular is so much higher in the LGBT community, it would have sent terribly mixed signals to convene a panel discussion on suicide within that community and then refuse to even acknowledge the target audience,” he said.
While most in the LGBT community agree with Frank’s statement, some have felt the need to offer a harsher response.
“Of course the Bush administration has routinely rejected science in favor of right-wing ideology,” said Jon Marble, spokesman for the Stonewall Democrats, in a statement to Gay.com “As usual, they got spanked in the press and they were embarrassed because they got caught.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.