April 01, 2005
HRC Expresses Concern About New Government Website
'This is like discussing how seatbelts can kill when used improperly, without also discussing how to properly use seatbelts,' said HRC President Joe Solmonese.
WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign expressed concern today over content on a new website launched by the Department of Health and Human Services promoting discussion between teens and parents. While HRC applauded the department for acknowledging the role of honest conversations between parents and children, HRC cautioned Secretary Michael Leavitt in a letter sent March 29 that some of the website material perpetuates dangerous misconceptions that could be harmful to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and their families.
The letter follows:
March 29, 2005
Secretary Michael O. Leavitt
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Leavitt:
On behalf of the more than 600,000 members of the Human Rights Campaign, we are concerned about the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS's) recently launched website, www.4parents.gov. While we applaud HHS for acknowledging the role of honest and supportive conversations between parents and children on issues of health and sexual development, the material on your website perpetuates some dangerous misperceptions that could prove harmful to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and their families.
The sections that we find particularly problematic include your section on sexual orientation and your section on contraception.
Section on Sexual Orientation (1)
ﾴAbsence of Discussion of the Need for Love and Support. Entirely absent from the sexual orientation section is any discussion of the need for parents to express to children that they are loved and supported. This is in stark contrast to your section entitled "My Adolescent is Sexually Active," which advises "Above all, tell your adolescent she/he is loved and supported." LGBT adolescents, particularly ones who are coming to terms with their sexual orientation, need the love, support, and understanding of their parents. Your website's omission of this discussion is particularly glaring given somber statistics showing that LGBT youth are disproportionately at risk for attempting suicide.
ﾴUse of the Term "Alternative Lifestyles." Describing sexual orientation as an "alternative lifestyle" is highly politicized, outdated, and inaccurate language that can alienate LGBT youth at a time when they are particularly vulnerable. By terming sexual orientation a "lifestyle," HHS is discussing it as a matter of choice, which is contrary to the vast majority of scientific evidence. Sexual orientation is not a lifestyle.
ﾴDiscussion of Family Therapy. In your sexual orientation section, you advise parents, "If you believe your adolescent may be gay, or is experiencing difficulties with gender identity or sexual orientation issues, consider seeing a family therapist who shares your values." This subtly presumes that there might be pathology inherent to LGBT youth and may further alienate adolescents at a vulnerable time in their development. Further, while we encourage any parent whose child is having difficulties to seek appropriate professional help, we believe that the soundness of a family therapist's credentials and their ability to use scientifically approved and accredited techniques (as gauged by organizations such as the American Psychological Association) would be the best things for parents to consider when engaging professional help.
ﾴPlacement of the Sexual Orientation Discussion. Within the topic "Parenting," users of your website can click to the subtopic "Abstinence," which contains a section titled "Sexual Orientation." (See http://www.4parents.gov/topics/abstinence.htm) This placement is awkward and requires parents to go to an abstinence section before they can find any discussion of sexual orientation. Given that abstinence is commonly understood to mean abstinence-until-marriage and given that LGBT individuals (unless they live in Massachusetts) are denied the ability to legally marry, this is a counterintuitive place for this discussion. This obscures the information, making it difficult for parents to find.
Section on Contraception (2)
ﾴCondom Information Focuses on Failure Rates. Within the topic "Sexual Development and Health," users of your website are allowed to select the issue "Contraception," which contains a section on condoms. While the Human Rights Campaign supports the discussion of condoms, we are disappointed that your website's discussion focuses mainly on condom failure rates and their ability to be misused. Your chart on contraception has headings entitled "Contraceptive Type," "Definition," "Type" and "Failure Rate."
Further, while there is plenty of information about condom failure rates due to misuse, there is absolutely no clear information on how to use condoms properly. We believe that parents should have all of the information when instructing their children on critical health issues.
This is like discussing how seatbelts can kill when used improperly, without also discussing how to properly use seatbelts. This manner of framing the discussion is not based on sound public health policy.
The Human Rights Campaign believes that it is important for parents to maintain close and honest communication with their children about a variety of issues, including issues of sexual health and development. Further, we agree with HHS that parents can serve an important role in the health and safety of their adolescents.
HHS's 4parents.gov website contains serious deficiencies that make it of little positive use for parents with LGBT youth, or adolescents who may be questioning their sexual orientation. Further, a biased discussion about condoms could harm this website's ability to help all parents provide useful, scientifically sound advice to their children on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
We ask that HHS address these problems with its new website, so that it can truly serve its purpose to help parents play vital roles in maintaining their children's health. We also offer our assistance in these efforts and would be happy to meet with you to discuss suggested revisions.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
(1) See http://www.4parents.gov/topics/abstinence.htm (checked on 3/28/05).
(2) See http://www.4parents.gov/topics/contraception.htm (checked on 3/28/05).