return to media coverage
This letter was published in Xtra West on June 12, '97.
May 21, 1997
I am writing to express my support for your decision to oppose the Surrey school board's discriminatory policies against gay and lesbian literature in the public school system. It is my sincere belief that policies such as these undermine the self-esteem, well-being and health of sexual minority youth.
Our research team at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is conducting a prospective study of young men having sex with men in Vancouver, called the Vanguard Project. The most recent results from this study indicate that over half of our sample (55%) had seriously considered suicide at some point in the past, of whom one-third had made a suicide attempt. Over one fifth (22%) reported having been diagnosed with a mood disorder or mental illness, most commonly depression.
It is particularly troubling that young gay and bisexual men are often victims of violence. Preliminary findings from our study and similar studies also indicate that physical and sexual violence may subsequently predispose to sexual risk-taking. Men who have sex with men who have been victims of violence may be less able to negotiate safer sex, and may compromise their health in order to finally experience love and acceptance. Among our sample, 25% have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives, and 11% have been gay-bashed.
These findings suggest to us and the members of our project's Community Advisory Board that our society needs to create supportive environments for sexual minority youth. Resource materials produced by the Gay & Lesbian Educators (GALE-BC) are examples of vital tools which can help teachers and counsellors support sexual minority youth. It is my fear that in banning literature which validates gays, lesbians and bisexuals, the Surrey School Board will be reinforcing low self esteem and depression among sexual minority youth -- factors which may negatively impact upon mental and sexual health.
I urge you to continue your work opposing discriminatory policies in the public school system. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you wish to discuss any of our findings in more detail.
Epidemiologist, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Assistant Professor, Department of Health Care & Epidemiology, UBC
Vanguard Project Community Advisory Committee
AIDS Vancouver Island