State commission on LGBTQ youth issues guidelines; Attleboro area support groups say still a ways to go

Massachusetts State House. March 20, 2018. Photo by Gaelen Morse / BU News Service

By An Peng
BU News Service

BOSTON — Although just over 15 percent of Massachusetts high school students identify themselves as LGBTQ, they are 1.7 times more likely to be bullied at school, over two times more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon, and over three times as likely to hurt themselves on purpose or consider suicide.

Those statistics pertain to the past year and were compiled by the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, which has come up with a series of recommendations for improving the situation.

The recommendations were sent to the state’s executive and legislative branches for consideration.

The commission’s policy priorities for LGBTQ youth are inclusion, homelessness, the justice system and health, with a particular focus on sexual health. Along with comprehensive sexual health education, it sought an end to the controversial practice of conversion therapy, which Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed off on.

The bill prohibits health care providers from advertising in or engaging in “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts with a patient who is less than 18 years of age,” according to Massachusetts Statehouse News Service.

“Whereas we’ve made a lot of progress socially and culturally and politically,” said Sen. Julian Cry, D-Truro, “when you actually look at lived experiences of LGBTQ youth, particularly vulnerable youth, there’s still a lot of work to do.”

F. Vernon Wright, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Attleboro, UCC, said that there is a fair amount of depression among LGBTQ youth in the Attleboro area.

Children who are in an anxious environment will have more difficulty focusing on school activities.

Also, families have difficulty talking about sexual identity and sexual orientation to their children when they begin questioning, even though there needs to be openness to address concerns or issues.

The Second Congregational Church of Attleboro, UCC, is an “open and affirming” church of the United Church of Christ, Wright said. The congregation has made a formal vote to openly accept LGBTQ people in full membership.

Wright said no formal barriers exist for LGBTQ youth when it comes to attending schools and receiving education, but there are certain social barriers, such as children facing bullying and having difficulty focusing and succeeding in school. “I think they should take these concerns seriously and study the issues themselves,” Wright said. “I would also encourage them to attend the PFLAG meeting, which really gets to more of the social and familial side of this whole issue.”

PFLAG National is an organization based in Attleboro that promotes the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth and their families and friends. The organization’s aim is to encourage the LGBTQ community to talk about their emotions, fears and concerns. That sentiment was shared by Rep. Kay Khan, House chairwoman of the Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee.

“I know that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” said Khan, D-Newton. “We want to make sure that the entire community really understands the LGBTQ community and to know how important it is to be accepting and understanding.”

The recommendations come during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, often recognized as the start of the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

This article was previously published in the Sun Chronicle.

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