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Featured Scholar: Brett Weingold

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Featured Scholar: Brett Weingold
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Gainesville, Fla.
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11


The pressures of being a teenager can be tough on anyone, but for gay youth, coming of
age in American society is particularly stressful. Beaten down by negative interactions
with peers, teachers, school administrators and parents, many gay teens spiral into
depression. Recent studies show that a startling 30 percent of teens who commit suicide
are gay, and almost half of all gay youth have attempted to kill themselves at least once
during their middle and high school years. USP Scholar Brett Weingold believes it is time
for American schools to begin offering education and support to the gay student
population.

"It would seem that schools, as places of education, would be an ideal place to offer
support and counseling services to gay youth," he says. "Unfortunately, Christian
fundamentalists have been taking over school boards and fighting out political ideologies
in schools. This is not what is best for these kids-a supportive atmosphere for gay
students would be the best way to prevent them from committing suicide at such an
incredibly higher rate than heterosexual kids."

For his USP project, Brett surveyed a random sample of 400 school districts across the
United States to inquire whether they were providing education about sexual orientation
and support services for gay students. Efforts were taken to identify an individual in each
district qualified to answer the survey and, once identified, participants were sent a link
through e-mail to a private online survey.

"The hardest part of the whole study was just collecting e-mail addresses," Brett says. "I
had to stress that it was an anonymous study, and that I was indeed a researcher, and I
didn't have a hidden agenda. People were really, really sensitive about the subject. They
didn't want to talk about it. The second I told them what I was calling about they would
tense up and not want to be helpful. I even had some people say 'we don't have any gay
students, so it is not an issue,' but we didn't want to know how many gay students they
had enrolled in their schools, but rather what kind of programs they were providing to
train students and teachers to be sensitive to these issues."

Of the school districts surveyed, 49 percent indicated that sexual orientation was "not at
all" included in their curriculum, while 36 percent offered "a little" and 4 percent "quite a
lot." When asked whether their district offered in-service education to teachers on how to
deal with sexual orientation issues, only 27 percent responded that they offered "a little"
education and 2 percent offered "a lot." The number of districts that said they did not
offer counseling, support groups or both ranged from 60-70 percent. However, almost 60
percent of districts responded that they did have anti-discrimination policies in place
protecting gay teachers from being dismissed solely due to their sexual orientation.

"The most interesting thing the results say to me is that there has not been much done
to improve resources for these students," Brett says. "Around 60-70 percent have no
resources or education about gay issues and the shocking thing is that only 6 percent
said they planned to adopt any. That is just staggering."

As part of his research, Brett traveled to New York City and visited the Harvey Milk
School for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered youth. The school opened its doors
in 2003 to offer a safe and supportive learning environment for gay high school students.
According to the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States, 69
percent of gay youth report experiencing some form of violence or harassment in school
and 86 percent reported hearing homophobic remarks. And gay students are three times
more like to attempt suicide than their heterosexual classmates.

Brett says school boards can create a safer, more tolerant environment for gay teens by
forming a gay-straight alliance or other support group, passing a non-discrimination
policy protecting gay faculty, training teachers how to be sensitive to these issues, and
including sexual orientation discussions in sex education courses.

"I just hope that somehow the research that I have done will make people realize there
are no resources for these kids," Brett says. "And when you combine this with how much
stress they are under, something has to be done about it."

Brett graduated in May 2004 with a BA degree in philosophy and political science. He





grew up in Sarasota, Florida and graduated from Pineview High School in 2000 and came
to UF as a Bright Futures Scholar and National Merit Finalist in the following fall. As an
undergraduate he was vice president of Gator Greens and a volunteer for Planned
Parenthood. Brett is currently volunteering full-time for the Three Rivers Legal Service in
Gainesville, which offers free legal counsel to the poor, while waiting for his fiancee to
graduate from UF so the two can marry and join the Peace Corps.

"We have already signed the papers and are waiting to hear what our assignment will
be," Brett says. "We are to start sometime in late 2005 and will serve two years. When I
get back, I plan to go to law school and become a lawyer, focusing on human rights and
international law."

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