Responding to data that suggest that gay and lesbian teenagers may be at a higher risk of committing suicide than their heterosexual peers, Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts has established a commission to examine issues affecting homosexual teenagers.
The commission-which gay rights activists say is the first panel of its kind in the nation-will examine the availability of both public and private suicide-prevention services for homosexual adolescents as well as other community resources for gay teenagers.
“Governor Weld is the first governor in the United States to officially recognize the special needs of gay youths and to take action to protect their lives,” said David LaFontaine, the lobbying director for the Massachusetts Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.
Virginia Buckingham, a spokesman for the Republican Governor, said Mr. Weld decided to create the commission by executive order after a bill that would have established the panel died in the legislature last year.
She said the primary goal of the 16-member panel is to prevent youth suicides. While broader issues concerning discrimination and civil rights are “secondary,” she said, they will also be addressed.
Over the past several years, several studies have suggested that gay and lesbian adolescents are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. A study published last year found that almost one-third of the young gay men studied had attempted suicide. (See Education Week, June 12, 1991.)
Another study, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1989, concluded that gay teenagers may account for as many as 30 percent of the suicides committed each year by teenagers.
In response to such data, some schools have started to provide special services for homosexual adolescents. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1990.)
The panel, whose members must be appointed by the Governor by mid-April, will include at least one high-school student, one college student, one parent of a gay person, one educator, and one mental-health professional.
The group will issue a report by the end of September that will include recommendations aimed at the secretary of education, the secretary of human services, and the secretary of communities and development.
A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1992 edition of Education Week