Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 27
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
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HiTOPS Prepared to Respond to CDC Findings About Badly Underserved LGBTQ Population

Ellen Gilbert

The news was described as “devastating,” but HiTOPS Executive Director Elizabeth Casparian was upbeat.

Responding to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicating that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer (LGBTQ) young people are “shockingly under-served and face health risks on every front,” Ms. Casparian said she saw “hopeful signs of change.”

The report indicates that LGBTQ teens are five times more likely to have been injured in a physical fight; three times more likely to have experienced dating violence; three times more likely to have been raped; four times more likely to have missed school because they feared for their safety; four times more likely to have attempted suicide; and five to seven times more likely to have used heavy drugs than their straight peers.

“We were not surprised,” Ms. Casparian said in a recent interview. “This data is not news to us, but the fact that policies are changing and that systems are being put into place to address it is important. Because HiTOPS staff interact with kids all the time, we hear their stories about the bullying they see or experience at school, and we know that LGBTQ kids are fearful to seek help when they are not sure about the resources. Many have had difficult experiences being judged or discriminated against when they have sought services.”

HiTOPS is a Princeton-based 501(c)3 organization, whose mission is “to promote adolescent health and well-being.” HiTOPS provides expert and peer-led educational programs in schools, communities of faith, juvenile justice facilities, and community forums throughout the state for youth, parents, educators, and health professionals; wellness and prevention healthcare services for youths aged 13 through 26 in the only health center in New Jersey focused exclusively on adolescents; emotional and psychological support services for fragile adolescent populations, including survivors of sexual assault and gay and lesbian youth; and training, consultation and educational products to local, regional, state and national organizations “serving the holistic health needs of adolescents.”

“HITOPS is a safe place for kids, so they tell us what is going on,” said Corrine O’Hara, HiTOPS’s LGBTQ Coordinator. “They have told us all along exactly what this new research now confirms. But it is important to remember that not all gay kids are suicidal or depressed or in trouble; but for those without support and resources, adolescence can be very difficult.”

“Our Health Center has always been a safe, inclusive place for all kids to come for health care and to ask questions, but now we can take our experience and track record forward and provide the support and care that we know will make all kids safer and healthier,” added Ms. Casparian.

In addition to alerting readers to the CDC’s findings, a recent HiTOPS newsletter encouraged people to contact their Congressional representatives, telling them to pass two relevant pieces of legislation: The Safe Schools Improvement Act, and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Both would help GLBTQ students in public schools.

Representative Rush Holt (D-12) is an original cosponsor and strong supporter of both bills.

“Too often, students who are harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity feel excluded and alone — but the truth is, they’re far from alone,” said Mr. Holt. “Millions of students nationwide deal with bullying and harassment, and they all deserve our full support so that they can feel safe in school and can focus on their studies. Congress can’t legislate tolerance or end harassment overnight, but we can work to make schools a safer and more positive place.”

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