Students learn about LGBTQ issues

Monday, December 8, 2014

By Matt Pellegrini

Special to The Communitarian

More than 30 students and staff attended a lecture on suicide among youths who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ), run by Brent Satterly, a program director and associate professor at Widener University.  The event occurred Nov. 6 in the Academic Building.

Satterly presented information and statistics about LGBTQ youths and their tendencies towards suicidal behavior as a result of being mistreated.

Satterly believes this topic is “critical to discuss in this day and age,” adding that LGBTQ youths are far more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youths. In fact, LGBTQ’s are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than hetero people, Satterly explained.

Satterly said homophobia, heterosexism, biphobia and transphobia are major sources of oppression.

“[LGBTQ suicide] is something that means a lot to me,” said Stephanie George, a social work major.  “I have people in my life who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. These problems are directly related to their [sexual] orientations.”

Before talking about suicide, Satterly discussed gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in general.

According to Satterly, sexuality and diversity is a sensitive issue that is both personal and complex.

Satterly explained that LGBTQ’s should be treated with respect and openness.  He also explained that people need to suspend their assumptions about LGBTQ’s because homophobia is pervasive and still a serious issue.

He then began to talk about sexual orientation, which directly relates to behavior and personal identity, he added.

Next, Satterly had attendees perform an exercise.  He had everyone close their eyes and imagine their first crush.  Then he had everyone imagine the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that occurred as a result. He defined the results as sexual orientation.

Satterly discussed the difference between gender and orientation. He said gender refers to the personal identity of a person and his or her behaviors, and sexual orientation refers to the sex to which a person is naturally attracted.

Satterly explained that too many people assume that men with feminine behaviors are gay, or that women with masculine behaviors are lesbians.  He said there are exceptions, and that stereotypes have to come from somewhere.

Satterly defined transgender as an identity that reflects non-traditional gender identity, status or experience. Transgenders are commonly abandoned and poorly treated, Satterly added, saying gender transgression is often met with violence.

Satterly went on to identify intersex people, those born with blended or ambiguous genitalia.  He believes it is not appropriate to perform surgery on these individuals and to let them figure out who they are on their own.

Satterly mentioned the story of university student Tyler Clementi, who was secretly filmed kissing another male, after which Clementi hurled himself off the George Washington Bridge.

Satterly continued to show statistics among LGBTQ youths who were surveyed: 25 percent of these people were threatened with violence; 10 percent of them had been physically attacked;  30 percent of them fear verbal abuse; 21 percent of them fear attack; and more than 33 percent of them made a suicide attempt.

The good news, Satterly said, is that LGBTQ youths who are emotionally resilient are more academically and personally successful.

To help kids, Satterly suggested that people need to increase social support and reduce isolation among LGBTQ’s.  He also believes that people should instill hope and future optimism among these youths.  Finally, he said people should enhance resiliency among LGBTQ youths.

Satterly advised parents to be aware of sudden isolating behaviors, angry outbursts, expressions of hopelessness, self-deprecating statements, and bullying.  Furthermore, organizations should provide administrative support and stem hateful comments toward LGBTQ’s.

Finally, Satterly believes peers are the most important influence on LGBTQ youths.  According to him, they should speak up and reach out to bullied peers.

At the end of the lecture, Kim Bach, a social work major, said she wanted to slap a rainbow sticker, which symbolizes LGBTQ on the back of her car and serve at a soup kitchen.

Another student said she also benefitted from the presentation.  “I got a lot out of the class,” said Mercedes Powers, a DCCC sociology major.  “I want to know how to implement advocacy within elementary and middle schools to prevent suicides.”

Gail Myrick, an educational adviser in the Career and Counseling Center, told students, “Always be true to yourself.”

By Matt Pellegrini

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