I write this letter with a heavy heart after hearing of seven young people who, in the last month, took their own lives because of the bullying and taunting they endured. While these young people did not live in Boulder County, their experiences reflect what many of our own young people must deal with every day in our community. That is inexcusable, and it is our responsibility as a community to ensure that all persons, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, or gender, are treated with respect and dignity.
Results from the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) showed that, as it has in previous years, disparities are especially pronounced along the line of sexual orientation. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning (LGBQ) students have higher prevalence rates than heterosexual students of feeling sad or hopeless, and of considering and attempting suicide. Sadly, data tells us that fewer LGBQ students than heterosexual students have someone they can talk to when they are feeling sad or hopeless or get help when they feel that way.
Much of the cause for this disproportionate impact stems from these youth not feeling accepted and/or being singled out or harassed, and that behavior leads to poor health outcomes in our community.
Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) and our community stakeholders have been working for many years to foster safe environments for self-expression, gathering, and dialogue. In fact, our OASOS (Open & Affirming Sexual Orientation & gender identity Support) program was developed specifically to address the health impacts and risky behavior that disproportionately affects our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community
OASOS aims to increase healthy behaviors and decrease risky behaviors among LGBT youth through support, advocacy, and education. From a public health and social justice perspective, the treatment of all members of our community with respect and dignity is a must.
I urge you to discuss the issues of bullying (including cyber-bullying) and harassment with your children, grandchildren, students, and friends so we can prevent tragic deaths like this. OASOS staff, together with other community organizations, is available to present to your class or group to help dispel misconceptions and build tolerance within our community. OASOS can be reached at 303-678-6259.
Let’s all do our part to ensure that our youth – regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, or gender – are supported within and by our community.
Jeffrey J. Zayach, MS
Public Health Director
Boulder County Public Health