“Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals”

Request to Edit Title of Talk On Gays, Suicide Stirs Ire (WaPo)

A federal agency’s efforts to remove the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” from the program of a federally funded conference on suicide prevention have inspired scores of experts in mental health to flood the agency with angry e-mails.

“It is incredible, the venom from these people,” said Mark Weber, a spokesman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that is funding the conference and told presenters they should remove the words from the title of a talk.

“My boss is being called a Nazi,” Weber said, referring to SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, whom President Bush appointed in 2001 to run the $3.2 billion agency.

At issue is a conference on suicide prevention to be held Feb. 28 in Portland, Ore., and organized by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center of Newton, Mass., a SAMHSA contractor. On the program is a talk that, until recently, was titled “Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals.”

Everyone seems to agree the topic is important. Studies have found that the suicide risk among people in these groups is two to three times higher than the average risk.

So it came as a surprise to Ron Bloodworth — a former coordinator of youth suicide prevention for Oregon and one of three specialists leading the session — when word came down from SAMHSA project manager Brenda Bruun that they should omit the four words that described, precisely, what the session was about.

Bloodworth was told it would be acceptable to use the term “sexual orientation.” But that did not make sense to him. “Everyone has a sexual orientation,” he said in an interview yesterday. “But this was about gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.”

Moreover, he noted, transgender people differ from others in terms of sexual identity, not sexual orientation.

“Unless you use an accurate term, the people you are trying to reach don’t recognize themselves and don’t attend,” he said, adding that the agency told him he should not use “gender identity.”

I understand the need for sensitivity and precision. But I doubt that “sexual orientation” — which, for all practical purposes, seems to be a sufficient term — would marginalize the constituents as much as the activists claim. I also doubt that it would significantly undercut the mission of the conference. For instance, I can’t imagine that interested transgender people would forgo attendance simply because “orientation,” not “identity,” is on the program. They, I suspect, would naturally assume that their issues are part of the agenda.

If the agency spokesman is telling the truth, and activists have branded the administrator “a Nazi” based on this proposed change, then they’ve clearly gone too far. Nothing in this episode warrants such accusations. Moreover, it seems rather paranoid to believe that the White House has much interest in the title of a relatively obscure bureaucratic event. I know that, with the Federal Marriage Amendment, George W. Bush hasn’t exactly made himself the champion of the gay community, but I question whether he even knows about the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    Uh, Robert. Have any opinions on the actual bureaucratic decision here? Or just on what you see as the overreaction to it, which is all you favor us with in the item?

  2. Jammer says:

    On the one hand, I’m sure that “sexual orientation” would do fine as a descriptor, but you really do have to wonder why the heck some bureacrat cares about the other four words, and I have to confess I don’t think the reasons are likely to be ones I at least think are good ones.

    Does the article say why the change was made? I don’t have the time to deal with WaPo registration this morning.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Frankly, the original title was a mouthful. That’s the problem with trying to include everyone. “Homosexuals” seems to cover the idea of “gays and lesbians” but then bisexuals feel left out. “Transgender” is a wholy different issue but they seem to want to be included in all such discussions nowadays.

    And, dammit, what about transvestites? Why the hell don’t they get a mention?

  4. Anderson says:

    Time to rehabilitate “deviants” and embrace the label proudly? I mean, what’s so wrong with deviating?

  5. kappiy says:

    The purpose of this conference seems to be to get regional practioners to exchange information on the best ways to address suicide prevention strategies. Why some “activist bureaucrats” in DC are spending time censoring panel titles is utterly incomprehensible.

    I would trust the knowledge and expertise of panel organizers to develop proper ways of describing public health problems much more than activist bureaucrats like Curie.

  6. denise says:

    It’s possible the reason was as simple as the title was too long and cumbersome. Who knows. Can’t tell from the article why it was really done.

    If the lecture is titled “Suicide and Sexual Orientation” (or Orientation/Identity), I think most people will know what that means, and it’s easier to work with logistically.

    Everyone has a race, but if a lecture is titled “Racial Discrimtionation in the Workplace,” most people aren’t going to assume that it’s about discrimination against whites. So I don’t think much of the “everyone has a sexual orientation” argument.

  7. LJD says:

    You want to have a publicly funded conference on suicide prevention in general, fine.

    Why should my tax dollars fund a special conference for “special people”, only to have them get pissed off. Alternative: no conference- avoid killing yourselves by the same means every one else does.

    Tired of squeaky wheel reactionary politics.

  8. Michael says:


    So, I guess you don’t agree that government money should go to grants that allow researchers to study why minority women seem to be at a larger risk of breast cancer.

    Or, to study why African American males die earlier than whites.

    Or, pretty much any population that is more at risk for a disease or condition that’s not as prevalent in the population as a whole.

    Or is it just the gays, LJD? I suspect it is.

  9. Downtown Lad says:

    They just changed it because the name was too long?

    Yeah right – Are you stupid or just a liar?

    The Bush administration has an unofficial policy to never use the word gay or lesbian. Why? Because they don’t believe that gay people exist. They think gays are really just sick heterosexuals waiting to be cured.

    Bush has never used the word gay or lesbian ONCE in a speech since he’s been President. That’s pretty amazing considering the fact that one of his primary goals is to make gays second class citizens in this country.

    Of course this guy is a Nazi. His goal is to have less people attend the conference since they’ll have no idea what it is about, and thus we’ll continue to have higher suicide rates in this country amongst gay people. The reason we have higher suicide rates amongst gays is because people like the commenters on this board are abusive towards gay people (by calling them “deviants” for example).

    And yes words hurt. So does bullying against gay people. The word “fag” is the most common slur in high schools today. And this teasing and bullying results in a suicide rate that is three times higher.

    The commenters on this board, along with the Bush administration not only prefer to keep that suicide rate high, but they participate in abusive actions that actually make the rate higher. They think the less gay people we have the better.

  10. Anderson says:

    Downtown Lad evidently isn’t friends with the same gays I am, because they would get a kick out of “deviants” becoming their mainstream label.

    Of course, they may have readier access to a dictionary than D.L. has. In 2005, what Cosmo-reading American wants his or her sexual behavior to hover about “the norm”? Lighten up, D.L.

  11. Mithras says:

    James Joyner-
    “Transgender” is a wholy different issue but they seem to want to be included in all such discussions nowadays. … And, dammit, what about transvestites? Why the hell don’t they get a mention?

    Yeah, yuck it up. Then buy a dictionary.

    The term “transgender” includes transsexuals and transvestites. Transvestites are people who wear the clothing of the opposite sex. Transsexuals are people who have, or had before surgery or other therapy, a sexual identity wholly or partially at odds with their sexual characteristics.

    Transsexual people are particularly at risk for violence and suicide because they tend to suffer from societal ignorance (consult a mirror on this) or worse, familial rejection/disapproval, and legal invisibility (except in those jurisdictions which grant some small measure of nondiscrimination protection).

  12. Bostongemini says:

    Yes, they should eliminate the subject of the conference from the title. That makes sense, especially when you have the added bonus of telling those deemed unmentionable that they can’t be mentioned. What are they gonna do, kill themselves?

  13. Jon H says:

    LJD writes “Why should my tax dollars fund a special conference for “special people”, only to have them get pissed off.”

    GLBT people pay taxes, too. And probably more than their fair share, considering most of them don’t get to take advantage of tax breaks for having children, etc.

    Why should their taxes pay for a slap in the face from some political hack in government?