Op-Ed

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month in the U.S.

Suicide can affect anybody — any family or any workplace. Less than four months ago, the Sheriff’s Office lost a member of our family when Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin died by suicide in our office.

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State after state, town after town, communities in other states are moving quickly to address one of the most critical public health issues facing our country: youth access to tobacco. Other states are raising the legal sales age of tobacco to age 21 while Pennsylvania lags behind.

Approximately 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 21. In a 2015 report, the National Academy of Medicine predicted that smoking would be reduced by 25 percent for 15-17 year olds and 15 percent for 18-20 year olds if the tobacco sales age increased to 21.

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State after state, town after town, communities in other states are moving quickly to address one of the most critical public health issues facing our country: youth access to tobacco. Other states are raising the legal sales age of tobacco to age 21 while Pennsylvania lags behind.

Approximately 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 21. In a 2015 report, the National Academy of Medicine predicted that smoking would be reduced by 25 percent for 15-17 year olds and 15 percent for 18-20 year olds if the tobacco sales age increased to 21.

The legislative effort to raise the legal sales age of tobacco to 21 will significantly reduce youth tobacco consumption and save thousands of lives. This is important for the health of all youth, but for LGBT youth, it’s even more critical. In Philadelphia, 34.6 percent of LGBT youth 18-24 consume tobacco according to the 2018 Pennsylvania LGBT Health Needs Assessment. In the Lehigh Valley, it’s even worse: 47.4% percent of LGBT youth smoke -— this is compared to 18 percent of the general population.

These numbers foreshadow a scary trajectory for the future health challenges of LGBT youth. All of the science says the same thing: If Pennsylvania raises the legal sales age of tobacco to 21, youth are less likely to start smoking. We know that this will make a significant difference for LGBT youth who are so disparately impacted by tobacco.

I recently heard from a young adult who told me that she couldn’t even count the number of times she tried to quit smoking. Once hooked on nicotine, it is very hard to quit. Some research even suggests that it takes 30 attempts to kick the tobacco habit. Our LGBT community deserves long, thriving, proud lives where we can truly be ourselves. This is what we’ve been fighting for. This is what those who came before us were fighting for. We can’t sit back and allow the next generation of LGBT youth to be addicted to tobacco.

What’s more, this policy proposal enjoys broad public support from a diverse cross-section of Pennsylvanians. More than 68 percent of Pennsylvanians including a majority of Republicans, Democrats, current smokers and former smokers all agree that the legal sales age of tobacco should be increased to age 21. With this widespread support for a fair-minded health solution, policy makers in Harrisburg should be pleased to make such a change.

The truth is that LGBT youth bravely navigate through many stressors in their lives: family rejection, school bullying, harassment and more. They are already living at risk due to many social challenges and nicotine addiction makes it worse. Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death for the LGBT community and the leading cause of the 12 most common types of cancer. When we raise the legal sales age to 21, Pennsylvania will join many other states in taking this public health issue seriously.

To be sure, no single policy solution will block every youth from accessing tobacco, but raising the legal sales age is a solution proven to work in other states. We should recognize the power of this legislative proposal. The evidence is clear: Pennsylvania’s legislators should raise the legal sales age of tobacco to age 21. The LGBT community should fiercely advocate for this. We can prevent the next generation of LGBT youth from getting hooked on tobacco. And we can do this now. n

 

Adrian Shanker,

Executive Director, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center

 

It would be difficult to envision a president with a more virulent and toxically anti-LGBTQ agenda than Donald Trump. Yet on August 16, the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s foremost gay conservative group, endorsed Trump for president in 2020. In 2016 they refused to endorse him.

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The average wedding in the USA costs — wait for it — $33,291.

That’s a down payment on a big house or half of a world tour or money that is necessary for basic needs.

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It’s been another week of mass shootings in America. The killings in El Paso and Dayton have left 32 dead and 57 wounded, many still in the hospital, at least 10 critical. A week before, on July 29, there was a mass shooting in Gilroy, California and another at a graduation party in Southwest Philadelphia. There have been more mass shootings in the country this year than there have been days, with no end, apparently, in sight.

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For numerous parents having a child is a wonderful event in their lives. Questions begin immediately: When is the baby due? Will it be a boy or girl? What name should I choose? The last one is usually up for debate among the prospective parents, family members and sometimes even friends. Whether the name is passed down through generations, chosen to honor a living or deceased loved one, found in a book or heard in a song or TV show, for most, a lot of thought goes into choosing a child’s name. However, not everyone is happy with their given name.

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When Vice President Mike Pence went to visit the CBP detention centers on July 12, I was relieved. Pence calls himself a Christian first and foremost. He talks about his Christian identity often and employs it in myriad ways that he considers in keeping with his version of faith — like his demonizing of LGBTQ people and his virulent anti-abortion stance, none of which appears in the New Testament.

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When Megan Rapinoe kissed girlfriend Sue Bird after winning the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France on July 7, it was a kiss seen — and felt — round the world.

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June 28th marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The riots, which ensued after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, were not the first, nor were they the last. However, the Stonewall riots were a catalyst that marked the beginning of many important milestones in our Nation’s fight for LGBTQ-plus rights.

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