by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) is known for many things since they burst onto the Seattle business chamber scene some 30 years ago. Part referral program, part Gay travel resource, and so much more, the GSBA is widely known throughout the Puget Sound region. Their mission is simple: combine business development, social action, and leadership to expand economic opportunities for the LGBT community and those who support equality for all.
On Oct. 19 at the Hilton Seattle downtown, the GSBA took their mission one step further. Now, they are working with State Rep. Marko Liias (D-21), Youth Suicide Prevention Program's OUTLoud leader Heather Carter, and the Safe Schools Coalition's Beth Reis to save lives. Not just any lives - but the lives of LGBT youth who are at a greater risk than their straight counterparts of dying by suicide.
GSBA Executive Director Louise Chernin reminded attendees at the GSBA Business Luncheon about the positive work her organization already does with youth and young adults. She cited programs such as the Scholarship Fund, which has given out over $1 million in scholarships to LGBT students, and the Young Professionals with Pride mixers that allow profession-bound young adults to network and be mentored by business leaders in the community. 'Still,' said Chernin, eliciting cheers and applause from attendees, 'We've got to find more ways to find out how we can make it better now for the at-risk youth in our community.'
Asking people to reflect on their own experiences with bullying, Chernin asked attendees at each table to introduce themselves to each other and talk about the topic. The stories were different, yet the same: Bullying has affected us all. And yet, LGBT youth are not receiving the help they need. Kids are still taking their own lives. Money is still being stripped from Washington state youth suicide prevention programs, and the time - everyone has agreed - has come for us, the leaders of the community, to do something. Action and money speak louder than words.
YSPP IN NEED OF FUNDING
Last week I alerted the community that the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, the state's only such program (which houses an LGBT component, OUTLoud) is in danger of losing what little money the state provides them with. Over the past few years, funding for YSPP has been cut from $500,000 to just $116,000. Now, our state government is proposing to eliminate all financial support for the program
Seattle Gay News, the GSBA, and other LGBT groups are not at all thrilled by this news. Here is what we know:
o An average of two youth between the ages of 10 and 24 kill themselves each week in Washington State.
o In a recent state survey, more than one in every 10 high school students reported having attempted suicide; nearly one in four (20% to 25%) had seriously considered it.
o Over 30% of LGBTQ youth report at least one suicide attempt within the last year.
o Over 50% of Transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday.
o Youth suicides outnumber youth homicides.
Those statistics paint a chilling reality that LGBTQ youth are in need. Heather Carter and YSPP are here to help. And yet, the state is proposing to tie their hands behind their backs and ask them to somehow, magically, go about saving the lives of LGBTQ youth without any financial support.
In a disappointing show of a lack of leadership, Gov. Chris Gregoire released a statement through her Communications Officer Scott Whiteaker, which reads, 'Governor Gregoire strongly believes in the state's work and partnerships with community groups to prevent youth suicide. The recession has left the Legislature no good options for where to cut state services, and Governor Gregoire will continue to work with legislators and community groups on efforts to prevent youth suicide.'
Vicki Wagner, executive director for YSPP, isn't buying it. It is time for the Governor to show some leadership on this issue, she says. Wagner is asking people to contact Gregoire and state legislators to demand that they help save young lives in our community by not cutting the funds for suicide prevention.
'Let them know that these deaths are preventable. That 80% of youths who die by suicide just want their pain to end,' she said. 'Let them know that because of YSPP, youth, parents, educators, peers, counselors, and others in the community know the warning signs, know what to say and what to do when a young person is at risk of dying by suicide.'
According to Heather Carter, YSPP and OUTLoud have found an ally in State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43).
'I personally fought this year to continue state funding for the Youth Suicide Prevention Program,' Sen. Murray told SGN. 'It has taken on the tragedy of youth suicide by educating youth, parents, and teachers about the issue, and that can save lives. I will champion the program again when legislators meet in November to address a new shortfall in our budget.'
Still, he said, problems remain. 'In the worst financial crisis of a generation, however, we are running out of options. We sought new revenues to support services, but the public voted to repeal them in last year's election. Given the cuts we've already made, more program eliminations will inevitably mean vulnerable people, like our youth, will suffer. Today we must all speak up for the things we value and for budget solutions that will serve the entire state.'
ANTI-BULLYING PREVENTION IS SUICIDE PREVENTION
Rep. Marko Liias, who serves on the board at YSPP, knows a thing or two about how Washingtonians feel about LGBT-bullying: We don't like it. This year, Liias saw legislation he spearheaded to help prevent school bullying and youth suicide signed into law.
The new law creates an ongoing group to look at ways for schools to prevent harassment, as well as including mental health and suicide prevention in classroom activities.
'When I talk with students, parents, and community members, it is clear that we need to take another step to engage more partners in tackling school bullying,' said. 'Bullying is a difficult problem, but it's an area where hard work and creative thinking could save many kids from a really difficult time in their lives.'
Liias' legislation creates a workgroup led by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Office of Education Ombudsman to evaluate bullying issues through 2016. The group will work with community members to develop prevention actions and produce a biennial report for the Legislature.
Linked with harassment and bullying, youth suicide is also addressed in the new law. Mental health and suicide prevention will now be included in expected student knowledge standards around the state through the health and fitness standards. Pilot programs will also be developed to implement suicide prevention efforts.
'If we can create some openings with students who are struggling, then we can begin to prevent these needless tragedies,' Liias said. 'Being a young person today is challenging and overwhelming. As a community we need to find better ways to support our youth and ensure they are able to pursue happiness.'
The law took effect July 22.
But there is more work to be done, says Liias. 'So what can you do? Support YSPP and the Safe Schools Coalition,' he told GSBA Business Luncheon attendees. 'They need funding and they need your support. You can also support the bipartisan federal anti-bullying laws that have been introduced in the Senate.'
To make a donation to YSPP, visit them at www.yspp.org. To donate to the Safe Schools Coalition, an international public-private partnership in support of LGBT youth that is working to help schools become safe places for children regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, go to www.safeschoolscoalition.org.
Seattle Gay News, alongside local drag entertainers Aleksa Manila and Lady Chablis, has partnered with YSPP and OUTLoud on a number of projects aimed at raising $60,000 for the organization. The local LGBT community is nothing if not supportive, and a number of youth suicide prevention fundraisers have been scheduled - inside and outside the Capitol Hill bars - proving that, yes, the immediate community cares.
One such campaign/fundraiser is the 'Let's Talk' campaign, aimed at reaching the at-risk 18-to-24-year-olds in our community. Posters with suicide prevention phone numbers and messages of hope are being posted in bars, restaurants and businesses on the Hill. Soon, OUTLoud's Heather Carter will begin training community leaders, bartenders, local entertainers, and others, on the signs of suicide and what to do when you suspect that someone may be suicidal. The committee believes that we can and will take care of our own. A clear message needs to be sent, not only to our youth, but to young adults as well, that there is no room for discrimination within the Seattle LGBT community and that if you need to talk, someone will be there to talk with you.
At the end of the Business Luncheon, Chernin challenged GSBA members to get involved and vowed to include YSPP and Safe Schools Coalition information on the GSBA website.
If you are suicidal and are in need of immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline), or, for LGBT-specific help, 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (The Trevor Project).
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