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The historic marker outside Giovanni’s Room bookstore at the corner of 12th and Pine Streets in the heart of the Gayborhood reads, “Founded in 1973, the bookstore served as a refuge and cultural center at the onset of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement. The store provided resources to those working to gain legal rights for LGBT people.”

A new study released June 13 indicates lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are at higher risk for self-harm than their heterosexual peers. The study appeared in JAMA Pediatrics and addressed non-suicidal acts of self-harm — cutting, bruising and burning — in adolescents.

The study found that while “an alarming number of teens self-harm,” the disparity between heterosexual teens and their LGB peers was startling.

While 10-20 percent of heterosexual teens engaged in these dangerous behaviors, 38-53 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual teens did, the study found.

The study follows an analysis that looked at self-injury risk among more than 21,000 high school students in the state of Massachusetts between 2005 and 2017. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and has long been legislatively progressive.

Study author Dr. Richard Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Brown University said, “Rates of non-suicidal self-injury were consistently elevated among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, compared to heterosexual peers.”

Liu found that “rates [of self-harm] have decreased among heterosexual youth from 2005 through 2017, but not among [LGB] youth over the same time period.”

Liu called this data a “striking” development, “given that the very high [lesbian, gay and bisexual] rates meant that there was greater room for potential improvement.”

Dr. Jennifer Goldenberg, a clinical social worker and trauma therapist, said, “It’s very painful to hear those numbers. These kids are so unaccepted in their families and in society — it makes me very sad that these kids are going through this painful experience of self-harm and all it entails.”

Goldenberg said youth who self-harm “are trying to find ways to cope. I’m saddened by these statistics, but not surprised by them. The macro environment is adding to depression. This is of course deeply felt by LGBT adolescents.”

Liu and Goldenberg referenced previous studies that indicate a direct link between self-harm and emotional trauma and depression.

Liu said the reasons for these high rates of self-harm are varied, but he pointed specifically to what Goldenberg had cited: “stigma and discrimination experienced by these youth.” Liu said these “contributing factors” put LGB teens at greater risk for “poor mental health outcomes, including depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

According to Goldenberg, self-harm is a “coping strategy” employed by teens and young adults and it is often mistakenly conflated with suicidal behavior while it most often is a means to address emotional pain.

“It’s not always suicidality and it often gets conflated with that,” she explained, which can send teens into the mental health system “in negative ways.”

She said, “These kids are not cutting themselves to kill themselves, they’re just trying to ground themselves to relieve their pain. It’s a symptom of tremendous internal pain. For teenagers — adolescents and young adults with no other coping strategies on board — it’s a way to make them feel better, to address the way they are being made to feel by circumstances they cannot control.”

Goldenberg said it was imperative that the causes of the self-harm be addressed and that kids who are self-harming not be further stigmatized.

Liu said the ways to reduce risk are varied. “Unfortunately there is unlikely to be a single, simple solution for this issue,” he said, but “greater focus on educating and training parents, teachers and primary care providers regarding signs of risk and available mental health resources may be an important step.”

According to JAMA Pediatrics, data from the study was taken from the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

Liu said that Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to specifically gather information on its residents’ sexual orientation.

The first year in which the state launched surveys that included a focus on non-suicidal self-injury rates was 2005, the year after same-sex marriage was legalized in the state.

There is no similar data process for gender identity, which is why transgender teens were not included in the survey nor its data.

A New Jersey charter school has volunteered to pilot the state’s upcoming LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum after a controversy last month resulting from covering up a student’s Pride mural at the request of its Catholic-church landlord.

Francisco Cortes, the interim executive director of queer Latinx social-justice nonprofit GALAEI, will receive the Emerging Leader Award at the annual Tribute to Change ceremony hosted by Bread and Roses Community Fund.

Pride isn’t just for big cities anymore.

A town in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey are exemplifying the LGBTQ-plus community’s importance by hosting first-time Pride celebrations.

The Department of Public Health, Thomas Jefferson University and pharmaceutical giant Gilead are among some of the biggest contributors to the 19th annual Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, taking place in July.

Councilmember-at-Large Helen Gym introduced two bills aimed at protecting and expanding the rights of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ-plus community. 

One mandates the city’s youth organizations to implement policies protecting young trans and gender-nonconforming people. The other requires Philadelphia City Hall to install at least one gender-neutral bathroom on each of its floors.

“Trans rights are human rights and trans existence is not up for debate,” Gym said in a statement last week. “While we have a federal government hellbent on erasing transpeople, we in Philadelphia have an obligation to raise the bar for inclusive and supporting spaces. That means everyone should have the basic dignity of using a bathroom that feels safe and affirming. It means every young person in our city should be able to trust in and be protected by the institutions serving them.”

The youth-related bill would ensure that organizations serving transgender and gender-nonconforming youth have policies compliant with the School District of Philadelphia’s Policy 252, which outlines “safety, equity and justice for all students regardless of gender identity or gender expression.”

The institutions’ policies would have to meet or exceed the district’s policy standards on gender-segregated activities, culturally sensitive language choices, discrimination and harassment and more. Gym’s bill would apply to facilities including charter schools, after-school programs and residential treatment facilities.

The Trevor Project’s newly released National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 39 percent of LGBTQ youth — including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth — seriously considered suicide in the last year. Two-thirds of the LGBTQ youth surveyed reported that someone tried to convince them to change their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We need to support youth in there now, and this bill is a strong step forward to ensure that youth-serving organizations are truly serving and supporting all young people,” said Hazel Edwards, interim director of the Bryson Institute at The Attic Youth Center. “If we believe that youth are the future, then we need to let them live in their authentic true selves, or unfortunately we could lose them to an oppressive system and never experience the power from our future leaders.”

Under the policy, staff also would undergo regular training on interacting with LGBTQ youth.

Gym said the city needs to “be bolder” about transgender and gender-nonconforming residents.

“I still think we have a long way to go to ensure that they feel like they can participate fully and are fully welcomed,” she added.

The councilmember’s second bill would vastly increase the number of gender-neutral bathrooms in City Hall, which currently offers only one, on the seventh floor. The mandate would build on 2012 legislation introduced by Mayor Jim Kenney, then a councilmember, that required new and renovated public buildings to have gender-neutral bathrooms.

“City Hall is the central gathering place for the public and it’s the most welcoming building in the entire city of Philadelphia,” said Gym. “We have one gender-neutral bathroom, which I guarantee nobody at all can really find.”

She proposed the bill so “everybody can feel welcome,” adding City Hall needs to “practice what we preach.”

Organizations like William Way LGBT Community Center and The Attic Youth Center helped shape the bills.

“In a time of increasing violence directed toward transpeople, it’s important that we continue Philadelphia’s historic leadership in advocating for and centering them,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way.

Julien Terrell, executive director of Philadelphia Student Union, said the proposed legislation goes beyond providing a welcoming space for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.

“It’s also about challenging and shifting culture away from an oppressive and unnecessary binary to one that is truly honoring the realities of all young people,” he said.

City Council will address the bills in the fall, Gym said. 

6/13/19 5:00 p.m.

Updated 6/20/19 1:09 p.m.

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