Gay teen suicides: GLBT Center tackles issue without attacking Focus on the Family

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In an early September interview with Westword, Focus's Candi Cushman insisted that the Colorado Springs-based organization denounced bullying of anyone, gay or straight. But she also insisted that school anti-bullying programs assembled by the likes of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) often cast conservatives as villains in literature and lessons.

"Grilled Cheesus," last night's episode of Glee, offered an interesting twist on such claims. In it, gay teen character Kurt's father suffers a heart attack and winds up in a coma. Some of his classmates try to reassure him via references to Christianity, but he rejects them, saying at one point that such churches have been notably unfriendly to gays -- and women -- and science. However, Kurt subsequently apologizes for getting angry at his friends for praying at his dad's bedside and even attends a church service with another Glee favorite, Mercedes.

Wisneski strikes a similarly conciliatory tone when she's asked about Focus's gripes, and whether they're particularly ill-timed given the magnitude of the gay-teen-suicide problem. "This is a time when these young people need to be protected," she emphasizes. "Our academic communities, nonprofit communities, religious communities -- all these communities -- need to pull together so that students can feel safe in their schools."

Regarding the publicity that's arisen of late, she says, "I think what we're seeing is attention being given to a very serious and very concerning problem that's been going on for a long time. The recent media attention is bringing to light the fact that our society is not a safe place for people who identify within the GLBT community."

As Wisneski points out, "There is a perception that things have gotten better" in terms of acceptance of gay teens in academic settings, "and they have. But our schools still aren't safe enough for young people. Of the youth who use our youth drop-in center, Rainbow Alley, 70 percent of them say they've felt unsafe in their school, and over 70 percent report that they've been called names in school."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts