Governor Deval Patrick and other elected officials affirmed their commitment to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community at a meeting of the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth.
“We’re proud to be home to the very first commission of this kind, anywhere in America,” Patrick told the commission Wednesday. The commission was first created in 1992 by Republican Governor William Weld as the Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth to curb suicides in the gay community. In 2006, Governor Mitt Romney, also a Republican, considered dissolving the commission after his name was attached to a gay pride event, but then reconsidered after a backlash.
Although society has become more open to a range of sexualities in the past two decades, gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are still more prone to suicide attempts, and are bullied and threatened more than their straight peers, the state’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found.
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual students were also nearly three times as likely to have either become pregnant or impregnated someone else, the survey found.
In 1992, advocates of the new commission said gay and lesbian youth were two or three times as likely to attempt suicide, and based on the survey data there is now an even larger gulf between the percentage of suicidal gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths and their peers. According to the survey data, 34 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students said they had attempted suicide in the past year compared with 4.6 percent of other students.
The anonymous survey was conducted at 54 public high schools and involved 2,729 students, from freshmen to seniors.
“It troubles me that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth are more likely to experience bullying or violence in schools. It troubles me that they have higher rates of substance abuse and attempted suicide,” Patrick said. “And it troubles me that still too many people see these issues as secondary or marginal. All young people, all young people deserve the chance to feel welcome and supported in our schools and our communities. Yes, we have more work to do.”
Massachusetts has made strides on that front. The Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2004.
While Patrick listed his administration’s past efforts for GLBT youth he did not outline any new proposals Wednesday. Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who also testified, said she wanted every school in Boston and throughout the state to teach about sex and health.
Several young GLBT people testified as well, speaking about the difficulty of “coming out.”
Acton-Boxborough High School graduate Brandon Sides, 18, said that when he came out to his football team they were supportive, but sometimes opposing players would call him names. Sides suggested that schools should add the gay rights movement to the history curriculum.