Government News
Did Politics Prompt Request For Title Change?
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 6 page 10-53

After a government project officer initiated a request for presenters of a regional suicide prevention workshop to remove the words "gay,"" lesbian," "bisexual," and "transgender" from the workshop title in late January, the government agency employing that officer said the words were "not an issue" and it had no problem with the presenters using them.

"This whole thing was overblown," Mark Weber, a spokesperson for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), told Psychiatric News. "Because it was not an issue, we have no problem with the group changing the name of its presentation back to what it was."

The presenters of the workshop, titled "Suicide Prevention Among Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgender Individuals," were Reid Vanderburgh, M.A., Ron Blood-worth, M.A., and Joyce Liljeholm, M.Ed., all therapists in Portland, Ore.

In mid-February, a few weeks before the workshop was to be held, Vanderburgh alerted a number of people via e-mail that he and his fellow presenters had been asked to remove the words "gay,"" lesbian," "bisexual," and "transgender" from the workshop name.

The SAMHSA project officer made the request through Lloyd Potter, Ph.D., who then conveyed the request to the workshop presenters. Potter is director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the agency that received government funding to host the conference.

According to Vanderburgh, Potter told the workshop presenters that the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," and" transgender" were not consistent with the lexicon SAMHSA had been using.

Weber confirmed the project officer's request in an interview with Psychiatric News. He further stated that SAMHSA's position was that using the words "sexual orientation" in the workshop title in place of "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," and" transgender" would have been "more inclusive."

Under protest, the presenters changed the workshop name to "Suicide Prevention in Vulnerable Populations."

Vanderburgh's e-mail prompted a flood of criticism directed at SAMHSA and SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie, M.A., according to Weber.

Weber responded to those who had protested via e-mail that the agency has no prohibition against the use of the terms "gay,"" lesbian," "bisexual," or "transgender." Subsequently, the presenters reverted to the workshop's original title.

According to a statement by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who contacted Curie shortly after learning about the controversy, Curie emphasized that the agency has no "policy" on the use of the terms "gay,"" lesbian," "bisexual," or "transgender," nor does it prohibit the use of those terms.

Frank made public an e-mail to him from Curie in which Curie stated," I am still planning to participate in the Oregon Suicide Prevention Conference, and I will highlight in my remarks our commitment at SAMHSA to ensure that we reach out to all populations in our efforts to provide substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment, and mental health services." ▪

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