Danya Institute Inc.

Epidemics in in Our Youth Culture: Bullying, Violence, HIV/AIDS and Suicide

At the Keeping It Real 2011 Conference, Phillip McCabe, CSW, CAS, spoke to healthcare professionals on behalf of LGBT youth. He explained that LGBT youth are more likely to have lower self-esteem, greater rates of depression and substance abuse, are at higher risk for HIV/AIDs and suicide, and are more likely to be targets of bullying than their heterosexual peers (Kosciw et al., 2012). He urged the audience to help prevent such issues in the context of a heterosexist and transphobic society; one in which heterosexuality is assumed and the LGBT minority is often discriminated against.

McCabe begins with a discussion about cyberbullying which includes violent videos posted online and websites that encourage suicide that have drawn the attention of lawmakers. McCabe uses the example of his home state of New Jersey which has “very comprehensive laws around bullying” to protect cyberbullying victims.

Another form of bullying that McCabe refers to as “institutional bullying” is not forbidden by the law. Institutional bullying is particularly entrenched and is accepted as part of the culture (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 2007). One example of this is on the internet where we see certain organizations who oppose homosexuality providing anti-gay messages that could be harmful to LGBT youth and their families if they happen to “type the keyword ‘gay’ into a Google search” while seeking information, McCabe explains.

McCabe mentions the controversial Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church who preached vehemently against “the sin” of homosexuality only to later settle in court on four accusations of sexual abuse against young boys (A Du, 2010). McCabe is particularly concerned about those, like Long, who promote reparative and conversion therapies that function under the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder and that persons should be helped to change their sexual orientation. Such therapies have been deemed unethical by mental health and medical associations (Just the Facts Coalition, 2008). McCabe warns that professionals should be aware of this so that they are prepared to help LGBT youth and their families navigate truth from fiction on the internet.

This is especially important given that LGBT youths’ feelings of nonconformity are what McCabe cites as a major risk factor for suicide. McCabe explains that we can encourage youths’ resilience to suicide by “engagement with the family, the community, and the school.” He explains that the more the family can accept the individual’s sexuality, the less likely the individual is to commit suicide.

“If they’re not getting it from the family then maybe we can help the family to become better understanding about the emerging sexual identity but, if not, we can still provide support in our community through our programs” McCabe continues.

Two resources that McCabe suggests professionals should access for programs to prevent bullying and increase resiliency among LGBT youth include; Stop Bullying Now (Davis, n.d.) and the Trevor Project (The Trevor Project, 2010).

McCabe also urges healthcare professionals to become comfortable asking questions about sexuality. He warns against making assumptions about patients’ sexual orientation—even in the case where the patient may speak of an opposite-sex partner—which risks missing opportunities to educate and screen patients properly.

McCabe offers HEADSS as an acronym for those assessing LGBT youth in healthcare: Home, Education, Activities, Drugs, Depression, Diet, Suicidality and Sex (Katzenellenbogen, 2005). Of these different factors he goes on to illuminate the importance of education, asserting that “Many kids survive if they keep their educational goals focused.”

McCabe stresses in a final call to arms that “One single agency will not be successful” and that all professionals must work to make sure their treatment is safe and sensitive, help youth develop positive coping mechanisms, and encourage positive LGBT media representation.

The Keeping it Real 2011 Conference: Street Level Intervention Strategies for Addiction, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis was held in Silver Spring, Maryland and was conducted by the Central East Addiction Technology Transfer Center, a program of the Danya Institute.

You can access many of the resources from McCabes presentation below:

Adams, M., Bell, L.A., & Griffin, P. (2007). Examples of institutional heterosexism. In Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd ed.) (Appendix 9H). New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from: http://www.life.arizona.edu/docs/ra-section/heterosexism.pdf

A Du (2010, September). Bishop Eddie Long preaching on gays/homosexuals. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UItGijdsCf8

Davis, S. (n.d.). Building resiliency. Stop Bullying Now. Retrieved from: http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/resiliency.htm

Just the Facts Coalition. (2008). Just the facts about sexual orientation and youth: A primer for principals, educators, and school personnel. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/justthefacts.html

Katzenellenbogen, R. (2005). HEADSS: The “review of systems” for adolescents. Virtual Mentor, 7(3).

Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

The Trevor Project (2010). Programs: The Trevor project programs. Retrieved from: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/Programs

     Catie Greene, MS, is a pre-doctoral student of Counselor Education at the College of William & Mary.