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Sacramento Program Explores LGBTQ Bullying
Kati Garner | February 3, 2011 at 01:55 pmby
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By Ken Pierce
Photos | Kati Garner
Note: This is the first of three articles about growing up gay in Sacramento. It is hoped that the reader gains a better insight into the problems facing LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Questioning) youth in our local Sacramento, CA schools and community.
In the studios of Access Sacramento the evening of January 4, 2011, Mental Health Matters, a monthly program airing on the Comcast Community Channel was taped.
The show’s producer, Marilyn Hillerman invited members of Equality Action Now’s, “It Gets Better Sacramento” project to talk about the LGBTQ youth bullying problem which has been so much in the news lately.
On-air program host and Executive Director of Mental Health America of Northern California, Susan Gallagher opened the show by introducing Dr. Katie Polsky, PH. D., Clinical Psychologist and LGBT Specialist.
Dr. Polsky, whose wife is a therapist gave several daunting statistics, “Bullying is commonplace and most people don’t realize how much damage it does to young people. Bullying can affect those who are susceptible to depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as so many other mental health issues. But even more dramatic is the number of suicides or attempted suicides of bullied youth.
Four times as many LGBTQ youth attempt suicide relative to their heterosexual counter parts. That’s a huge number.”
Dr. Polsky continued, “In terms of bullying and harassment in schools, 86% of LGBTQ youth report and experience some sort of verbal or sexual harassment in school. 60% of youth report feeling unsafe in their schools. These are remarkable numbers no one should have to experience and these are the issues we are facing as a community and as a nation. It is important that we shed some light on this topic.”
John Wells 18, a Sacramento native and youth advocate and spokesperson for Equality Action Now really put a face to some of the depressing statistics Dr. Polsky stated.
Wells spoke of his bullying in school, home life and how he got through it all.
Wells explained, “My parents were not alright with having a gay son and they first tried to deny it, and then they tried to change me. They put me into a Catholic High School. It was really difficult to fit in with friends once I began coming out to them about my being gay. There was a lot of reticule, bullying and lack of support of the people I came in contact with everyday, which put me in a really unsafe mental place. The bullying got so bad there were times I would self-injure myself and I even seriously considered suicide. In the end my parents kicked me out of the house when I turned 18.”
When asked by the moderator how he managed to get through all that depression and bullying Wells said, “A few things helped such as getting myself kicked out of Catholic School and moving to a public school where I joined a Gay-Straight Alliance club. I became close friends with the two senior leaders and in my junior year, became President of the club.
Also local organizations like Equality Action Now allowed me to participate in their ‘It Gets Better Sacramento’ project; become their youth spokesperson and since I am taking communications in college now, their Public Relations Director is mentoring me in Media and Public Relations.”
Wells is an exception to the rule when it came to standing up to a bully. He told of an instance in school attending a pep-rally for the football team just before an important game. “I became really pumped up at the rally and excited and didn’t think about how my cheering may seem to others. A guy behind me became very irritated at me because he said I was cheering ‘like a girl’ and ended up punching me in the face in front of everyone.”
“I was hurt and humiliated but all I could do is cry and walk away. I decided to go to the Principal’s office and turn the guy in and he got in serious trouble. Walking away was the right thing to do and turning the guy in helped to identify someone who may have a problem with bullying. In my case the school was very supportive but I know that isn’t always true which is why we need strong legislation such AB-9, the bill Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced to help stop school bullies.”
Smiling into the camera Wells concluded, “It still isn’t easy since I don’t have a job and I am going to be moving in with friends soon but at least I am not homeless like so many LGBT youth and I am going to college hopefully to go into counseling or communications. All-in-all though, it does get better.”
In the next few months you will hear about three other gay activists and a little about their lives growing up gay. By the conclusion of this series the reader should have a better understanding the problems facing LGBT youth here in our own community and how they survive.
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