Feb 172005

Well, we have another weekly winner here for “the most stupid attack on gay people.” Your Federal Government seems to be going for the record of most consecutive wins.

This week’s award goes to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, whom President Bush appointed in 2001 to run the $3.2 billion agency.

Not to be outdone by Education Department Secretary Margaret Spellings, Mr. Curie had to get into the act by demanding that the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" be removed from the program of a federally funded conference on suicide prevention.  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."

The Washington Post reports:

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."

I managed to get in touch with Andrew Knapp, Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of Secretary of DHHS. Apparently Mr. Knapp is covering for SAMHSA Administrator Curie who is out for surgery.

Mr. Knapp was doing what my grandfather would call, “some serious fast talking.” First Mr. Knapp tried to explain that this was all much ado about nothing. After all, according to Mr. Knapp, the title of the program just wasn’t all that important, only the content. He explained the agency was interested in being totally inclusive of everyone. When I explained this seemed to be a program targeted to a particular population segment which was scientifically identified as being at high risk, he kept going to the, “being all inclusive” theme. Which says to me, “we’re gonna talk about everyone so we can sort of not talk about the queers.”

Then he wanted to explain why the requested change was only to the title to, “remain consistent with what the agency always used’ (emphasis added). Amazingly though, he couldn’t point me to any standard list of “what the agency always uses,” and didn’t even know what they wanted to require the sponsor to call this particular program.

After letting him stumble down that path awhile, I circled back to his pervious assertion that, “the title just really isn’t that important; it’s the content we care about.” I put to him the great question….”Mr. Knapp, if the title doesn’t matter, then why make them change it in the first place?” That’s when he started accusing me of trying to paint him into a corner (I personally thought he’d done a nice job of that himself.), and was making a circular argument. I explained that I was merely expounding on his argument, that the title didn’t matter. His only response was to go back to the original argument, that they were just being consistent with what they always titled these things.

Mr. Knapp receives this week award for being an excellent bureaucrat. He covered his boss’ ass, never really answered my question, tried to make feel guilty for even asking (I assume that’s what he was doing when he went and on about how sick Mr. Curie is), and justified government sponsored hatred, homophobia and bigotry on the grounds of, “that’s how we always do it.”

If you think its time the government quit using taxpayer dollars to sponsor homophobia and bigotry, why don’t you contact Mr. Knapp. He prefers you write a letter, as "that’s the way most people do things in Washington," but I felt better after putting him on the spot a little, and letting him know that he really hadn’t been able to explain it away. His phone number is 202-690-5400.

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