Federal Agency Requests Removal of Gay References from Suicide Conference

Oregon mental health experts are protesting a federal agency’s efforts to delete references to gay, lesbian, and transgender people from the title of a suicide prevention program. The federally funded Portland, Oregon conference, “Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals,” has been renamed “Suicide Prevention in Vulnerable Populations” in response to a “suggestion” made by project manager at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services funding the conference, reports the Associated Press. The Washington Post asked Mark Weber, a spokesperson for SAMHSA, how strong a suggestion it was to change the name; Weber replied, “Well, they do need to consider their funding source.”

Ron Bloodworth, a former coordinator of youth suicide prevention for Oregon and one of three specialists leading the session, was told that “sexual orientation” would be an acceptable change, according to the Associated Press. “Everyone has a sexual orientation,” he told the Post Tuesday. “But this was about gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.” Bloodworth also pointed out that transgender people have a different sexual identity, not sexual orientation, reports the Washington Post. The Post cites studies showing that suicide risk for these groups is two to three times higher than the average.

The federal agency also suggested that a session on faith-based suicide prevention be added to the February 28 workshop. In an e-mail to colleagues, Bloodworth wrote, “We find this behavior on the part of our government intolerable,” the Post reports.

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Associated Press 2/16/05, Washington Post 2/16/05

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