It’s a statistic that’s gotten a lot of play recently, but one that bears repeating: as many as 40 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens have attempted suicide, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. And a recent study from Columbia University found that gay teens were five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. In recent years, the national news has been full of stories of kids who’ve killed themselves after being harassed for being gay, or being perceived to be gay, including the local case of Carl Hoover-Walker, the 11-year-old Springfield boy who in 2009 hanged himself after being bullied by classmates.
But peers aren’t the only people whose responses can have a profound affect on the well-being of a gay or bi teen. “For many teens, the most difficult process is coming out to their family,” Suzanne Seymour, executive director of the LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts, noted in a recent press release. “While they may be ‘out’ at school, it becomes much harder to make that transition at home.”
On May 21, the coalition will host a free workshop for the families of LGBT youth. Called “Loving Your Gay Teen,” the event will offer “a safe and supportive area for parents to voice their concerns, as well as helpful information regarding the health, safety, and physical well-being of LGBT youth,” according to organizers. The evening will include talks by members of the coalition, the Springfield youth group OutNow, and Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, as well as a question-and-answer period.
Citing a survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the LGBT Coalition notes that 50 percent of teens who’ve come out to their parents received a negative reaction, with 26 percent kicked out of the house.
“As this is a personal and sensitive issue, we recognize that initially not all parents may be able to accept their LGBTQ teenager with open and loving arms,” said Emily Scagel, a Coalition board member. “However, our workshop is designed to show parents that their teen is still the same person, and that it is imperative to love and support them.”
“Loving Your Gay Teen” will be held on Monday, May 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the OutNow Center at 32 Hampden St. in Springfield. PFLAG materials will be available in English and Spanish, and a Spanish-language interpreter will be on hand. Pizza and childcare will also be offered. For information, go to http://www.lgbtcoalitionwma.org or call 413-588-1018.