University trains students in LGBT psychology; conservative commentators allege waste

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CNS News reported last week that Illinois’ Northwestern University had received a first-of-its-kind grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to establish an internship program geared toward training medical students in LGBT-specific psychological issues.

“The LGBT community experiences numerous health inequities, and there are too few psychologists with the educational background to help address these needs,” reads NU’s LGBT health and development program site. “Interns train in mental healthcare for LGBT clients, working with gay and bisexual men living with HIV/AIDS, and contributing to LGBT public health research and services.”

What’s more interesting, though, is that the site picked up the story in the first place. CNS News is a right-wing news site orchestrated by Brent Bozell III (of the Catholic League, and founder of the conservative Media Research Center) that bills itself as “an alternative news source [covering]stories that are subject to the bias of omission.”

The grant story is one of the site’s “Waste Watch” features—stories that chronicle what the editors consider reckless or misguided public expenditures. “Government spends $495K for false killer whale team to meet,” reads another recent headline (a false killer whale is a type of dolphin—the headline does not indicate that the team itself is not genuine). But CNS readers seem less concerned with the financial cost of the grant as with objections of another nature: “The mere fact that different training is required is further proof of the disconnect that exists within homosexuals regarding their choice to be homosexual,” reads one comment.

So is the grant really a bad investment? The Department of Health and Human Services has a discretionary spending budget of over $80 billion; the NU grant comes to about $180,000 a year, for three years. As HHS spokesperson Martin Kramer told CNS News, “HRSA is authorized to provide grants to support the training of the healthcare workforce.” Training that, presumably, ought to address important health issues in America, if they’re serious enough.

In 2011, a study by the Institute of Medicine (part of the United States National Academies) found a disproportionately higher risk of suicide and substance abuse in the LGBT community and cited “a lack of providers who are knowledgeable about LGBT health needs” as a key contributing factor. In 2008, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center found that LGBT kids are up to seven times more likely to commit suicide, also indicating a need for more trained therapists specializing in working with the LGBT community. And an American Psychological Association review of leading studies in July found disproportionately high rates of both in the LGBT population, particular among gay men and gay youth.

Maryka Biaggio, co-chair of the APA’s Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, cautions that, in her opinion, such research is “mixed,” but despite her guarded skepticism says that medical training in LGBT issues is important. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be a standalone course, but it should be a component. It’s not a question of funding,” Biaggio told 429Magazine.

Amy Reynolds, associate professor of counseling and psychology at the University of Buffalo, points out that such training has been a tool for the medical community for decades. “Back in the 80s I did a program for med students about sexuality, including one entire day about homophobia. And that was thirty years ago.” Reynolds says that money toward LGBT-specific issues is “absolutely” cash well-spent. “All professionals need to be culturally competent across the board: race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, they need it all.”

While the language of CNS News’ piece on the NU program is pretty evenhanded, the Waste Watch tag gives it a clear editorial slant—even though CNS says they’re about mitigating bias. Did the editors (who did not respond to requests for comment) make the call because they’re genuinely not convinced that psychological problems in the LGBT community are serious enough to warrant spending? Or was it to appeal to the readers who routinely leave comments to this effect:

“There is no such thing as ‘sexual orientation.’ That’s a bogus term invented in order to make abnormal sexual preferences sound like merely some kind of ‘natural variation.’”

Decide for yourselves.

429Magazine

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