LGBT community rocked by two more suicides


Teens from Wisconsin and California; vigil planned in Philadelphia

By Antoine Craigwell

As if the news wasn’t bad enough, with the five teen suicides from September, one from Ridgewood, New Jersey and an African American from Monticello, NY, that families and the LGBT community mourns the deaths of two additional teenagers who took their lives, but didn’t have the benefit of as much publicity.

According to an Equality Forum press release, 17-year-old Cody Barker of Appleton, WI, and 18-year-old Justin Lacey of Clovis, CA, also took their lives in September. Barker and Lacey, together with 19-year-old Raymond Chase, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, 15-year-old Billy Lucas, and 13-years-old Asher Brown and Seth Walsh; brings to seven teen deaths in one month, and eight with the death of 15-year-old Justin Aaberg in July. Each death occurred following acts of bullying, including cyber-bullying, in educational institutions.

Justin "Chloe Anne" Lacey

An obituary posted online stated that Lacey, who adopted the name “Chloe Anne” took his life on Sept 24, and was described simply as having left for “a new adventure. He was an artist, naturalist, and selfless giver.” A memorial service “Celebration of Life” was held on Monday, Oct 4.

The Wisconsin Gazette reported that Barker, who took his life on Sept 13, attended Shiocton High School and was active in the choir. The paper said that a month before he participated in a seminar and planned to start a gay/straight alliance at his school. But, ironically, for a religious denomination that normally refuses to holding funeral services for suicide victims, Barker’s funeral was held at St. Denis Roman Catholic Church.

“I am an openly gay young male. I am 22 years old. Being from a small town myself, I can relate to the fight that Cody had with the rest of the world. My best friend and I grew up together gay in a small town. We hope to try and make the world a better place and let young homosexuals around the state and nation [know] that there is hope…even when it seems to far away,” said Luke Ashauer, a former student of Clintonville High School, Clintonville, WI, in the newspapers’ online comments section to the story about Barker.

Malcolm Lazin, executive director, Equality Forum, said in the release, “There is an under-reported homophobic epidemic in our nation. It affects vulnerable teens as they try to navigate adolescence and their sexuality. It is not totally accurate to call their loss a suicide; they were battered by homophobia.”

To protest acts of bullying in schools, Equality Forum has organized a Vigil for Sunday, Oct 10 at the William Way Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The vigil is organized by Equality Forum, William Way Community Center, Attic Youth Center, and 20 other community-base organizations.

“We will mourn these lost souls and have a call to action,” said Lazin. “The six-point call to action includes steps for President Obama, colleges, school boards and educators, federal and state legislatures, and citizens to eliminate homophobia as one of the nation’s most toxic social diseases.”

Among the speakers at the Vigil is expected to be Susan Wheeler, mother of James Wheeler, who took his life after being surrounded in his high school locker room and urinated on.

 

 

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Tears from the sky: a vigil in the rain


In memory of six

By Antoine Craigwell

Chalked message on pavement-Washington Sq Park, NYC

Following a bright sunny day, the late evening showers that fell on Sunday, Oct 3 seemed as if the gods could have been shedding tears at the lives lost or it could have been the tears of the five from September and the one from July who were crying. Instead, the weatherman forecasted, the showers heralded more rain for the next day.

As the rain steadily and gently fell, in the spill over light from the People at the vigil under umbrellasspotlights on the Washington Monument struggling to illumine the pitch black in the park and in the shadows, an estimated 3,000 people, gathered in New York City’s Washington Square Park for a vigil to remember the six young men whose lives were cut short. Those who stood in the rain were students from the surrounding New York University and others who came because the six deaths touched them in some special way or they came simply to show their solidarity. Despite the rain, the crowd silent under umbrellas, like a tent city, and those without, hunched their shoulders; stood resolutely, patiently straining to hear Glennda Testone, executive director of the LGBT Community Center, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Governor David Patterson. Even though the six deaths were by their own hands, it was as if each was guided by the tormentors he lived with each day until he could take it no more.

Strangely, the crowd was attentive, everyone straining to hear who was speaking and what was being said. A volunteer said that the organizers couldn’t get a permit for amplification, which forced the speakers to shout their messages and to keep it short. Only those who were close heard what was said. Those who were not close enough, kept silent, hoping to hear, grabbing snatches of words, recognizable phrases, or asking the person beside them in sotto voce, what was said.

Gov. Patterson, briefly mentioned his own experience of having suffered bullies as a legally blind African-American student in school before reciting of the names of the six young men: 15-year-old Justin Aaberg of Anoka, Minnesota; 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana; 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California; and 19-year-old Raymond Chase of Monticello, New York, all who hung themselves; along with  13-year-old Asher Brown of Cypress, Texas, who shot himself, and 18-year-old Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood, New Jersey, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in NYC. He also mentioned that he had just signed anti-bullying legislation into law in New York State, which he said, gave school officials the authority to deal effectively with those in schools or other places of learning who are wont to disrupt and prevent others from obtaining an education. Most importantly, he said, the law protected those who were the victims of harassment, humiliation, or whose lives were made unbearable because they didn’t seem to fit in.

Moment of silence-colored glow sticks held aloft

Then there was a moment of silence, when everyone raised their fluorescent glow sticks and battery-lit faux candles in the air, creating an image of variegated colors held aloft in the darkness, and at the end, although it sounded funeral, one of the vigil’s organizers in a plaintive voice started singing “Somewhere, over the rainbow…” to which everyone joined in. After the song, as if the emotion evoked could not be contained, spontaneous chants erupted, “Civil rights,” and “L-G-B-T, Equality”.

Undeterred, as the rain continued falling, no one moved; it was as if

Leaving a message

the crowd was waiting for something more. Finally, when there was a sense that the vigil was over, the organizers handed out chalk to those who wanted to write or scribble how they felt on any available surface. On the rain slicked paving stones, the wet and glistening stone benches, and even on the side of the white masonry of the Monument, people wrote messages. Many may who scrawled or wrote graffiti styled,  as expressions of how they felt and to any who would read – each a prayer to stop the bullying and the hate, reach out for help, and save lives, perhaps hoped that the six could see the messages.

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Vigil for society’s casualties


NYU LGBT and Delta Lambda Phi host “Glowlight Vigil”

(New York, NY) – For the families of the five young men who committed suicide, September 2010 is a month and a year they would not likely ever forget. These families and others around the nation were rudely awakened to the stark reality of the effects of how vicious and callous homophobia, hatred and bullying was to their sons. By their deaths, these young men have become present day martyrs, expressing through their still, lifeless bodies, what they couldn’t say alive: giving their lives to remove the pain raging in their minds, wanting to let the hurt, rejection, and loneliness stop and drawing attention to the suffering many others endure for who they are. By their deaths, they screamed to the world that young male and gay between the ages of 13 and 20 are the most vulnerable members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Their deaths have roused many to the perils of those who are young and struggling with their sexual identity and acceptance in today’s society.

A New York University LGBT organization and Delta Lambda Phi plan to host a “Glowlight Vigil” in Washington Square Park at 9:00pm on Sunday, Oct 3.

Below is a listing of six young men who felt powerless and so devoid of hope that the only choice they felt existed was to remove themselves from this life. A common theme in all the stories surrounding the reasons why they killed themselves is focused on bullying, name-calling, homophobia and other derogatory comments against young men who were at their most fragile; their sexual identity, like a chrysalis emerging from the protection of the cocoon.

Justin Aaberg, 15, Anoka, Minnesota – Hung himself

Justin Aaberg

Justin was a talented and accomplished cellist, and a composer. On Friday, Jul 9, just weeks after completing freshman year at Anoka High, Justin hanged himself in this bedroom. His mother and two brothers found him. Tammy Aaberg said, “I touched him, because I just couldn’t believe it. I thought I was in a nightmare, and he was so cold and I just screamed and ran out and called 911.” Justin’s mother said she knew for about a year that he was gay, and feared for his safety. But, when he died, she began to hear from other students of how he was harassed and bullied at the school. Justin’s death was part of a series of seven suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in the past year, where some of the students who killed themselves were gay. There are concerns that bullying at the school pushed many over the edge.

Billy Lucas

Billy Lucas, 15, Greensburg, Indiana – Hung himself

According to WXIN Fox 59, on Thursday, Sept 9, Billy’s mother found him hanging in the family’s barn. To many, it seemed as though he didn’t quite fit in. Some of his classmates said he was bullied for being different, but even though he never told anyone he was gay, he was picked on because the other students thought he was. Students told reporters that the bullying against Billy had become worse, and on the same day he died, some students had told him to “kill” himself. One student, Dillen Swango said, “They said stuff like ‘you’re like a piece of crap’ and ‘you don’t deserve to live.’ Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever.” School principal, Phil Chapple doesn’t deny that students are bullied in the high school, but he said he didn’t know Billy was one of the victims. A Facebook page dedicated as a memorial to Billy, with close to 6,000 followers included some who acknowledged that they knew he was bullied, “everyone made fun of him.” Bullying at Greensburg High School is a practice with a long history, and according to the principal, “We’re discussing where we are going. Where we are looking to establish a committee.” One former student, who did not want to be identified, said that he was bullied several times because he is gay, “I was gay. I was called f**, queer. [i] was thrown up against lockers. I would tell the school officials about it and they would dismiss it. I can’t help but take it personally because when all of this was happening to me I was the same age he was. I also attempted to commit suicide.”

Asher Brown, 13, Cypress, Texas – Shot himself

Asher Brown

According to the Houston Chronicle, on Thursday, Sept 21 at about 4:30 pm Asher used his stepfather’s 9mm Bereta and shot himself in the head, leaving a note. The family said that in the morning he told his stepfather that he was gay. But the family said that Asher was constantly harassed by four students at the Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, he was “bullied to death” — picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. His mother and stepfather said that while some of the kids accused him of being gay, others performed mock gay acts on him in his physical education class. The parents said they complained to school officials who did nothing. School officials said that they had not received any complaints, which angered Asher’s parents, who called for justice and suggested a cover up to protect the four students who constantly bullied their son. But comments from other parents and students on a Website for a local television station, KRIV-TV Channel 26, said that Asher had been bullied for several years with school officials doing nothing to stop it. The day before his death, Asher reported to his parents that another student tripped him as he walked down a flight of stairs at the school, and when he hit the stairway landing and went to retrieve his book bag, the other student kicked his books out of reach and then kicked Asher down the remaining flight of stairs.

Seth Walsh

Seth Walsh, 13, Tehachapi, California – Hung himself

Seth loved to sing and dance, swim, and perhaps most of all, laugh, The Bakersfield Californian reported. He also had big plans, together with his best friend, Jamie Elaine Phillips, they were going to travel to France when they were adults. CBS News Crimesider reported that on Sunday, Sept 19, Seth hanged himself from a tree in the back yard of his home. He was discovered unconscious, cut down and rushed to hospital where he remained on life support for eight days, finally succumbing to his injuries in the afternoon of Monday, Sept 27. Friends told NBC affiliate KGET that Seth had been picked on for years because he was gay. Some of the young people who taunted Seth the day he hanged himself said that they did not think their actions constituted a crime. “Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears,” Jeff Kermode, Tehachapi Police Chief, said. “They had never expected an outcome such as this.” While reports state that on the day he hung himself, he had encountered a group of teens in a park; details of what transpired remain unclear. Seth’s grandparents confirmed Thursday that their grandson was gay, and had known he was gay since he was in the third grade. Kermode said an ongoing investigation has determined Seth was bullied for at least the past two years. While bullying itself is not a crime, police are looking at any underlying crimes that may have occurred, such as assault, vandalism or criminal threats. According to TehachapiNews.com, Seth’s mother, Judy Walsh said, “He was different. He knew he was different. He was a very loving boy, very kind. He had a beautiful smile. He liked fashion, his friends, talking on the phone. He was artistic and very bright.” She hopes her son’s death is a wake up call to the community to “develop more tolerance for different people.”

Tyler Clementi, 18, Ridgewood, New Jersey – Jumped off the George Washington Bridge, NYC

Tyler Clementi

Sometime on Wednesday, Sept 22, Tyler jumped from the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River, linking New York with New Jersey. When his body was recovered, according to the New York Daily News, the 18-year-old’s cause of death was suicide by drowning. Tyler’s final act came three days after another 18-year-old, with whom he shared a dorm room at Rutgers University. filmed and broadcasted live on the Internet Tyler having some type of sex with another man in his room. The roommate, Dharum Ravi and another student, 18-year-old Molly Wei, who were involved in the filming and broadcasting, was arrested and charged with invasion of privacy, but following the recovery of Tyler’s body, mention has been made of upgrading the charges to classify the action by Ravi and Wei as a hate crime. On his Facebook page, Tyler posted a note mentioning what he intended to do. Subsequent reports state that it wasn’t the first time this had happened and that Tyler had complained to university officials, and even to posted comments on a gay Website.

Raymond Chase

Raymond Chase, 19, Monticello, New York – Hung himself

Described as an energetic and lively young man, Raymond, an African-American 19-year-old college sophomore was discovered hanging in his dorm room on the campus of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. Raymond who was from Monticello, NY was studying culinary arts. Details about what led him to take his own life are as yet unavailable.

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Gay Couples Vulnerable to HIV When Monogamy Unsure


Medline, a publication of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, on Jul 15 published the results of a recent survey, and finds that for couples, when one partner believes a bond is monogamous, the other does not.

HealthDay news  imageA new study finds that 8 percent of gay male couples surveyed in the San Francisco area have differing views about whether their relationships are monogamous — potentially putting some men at an unknowing risk of being infected with HIV.

The survey of 566 couples found that 45 percent said they were monogamous and slightly more said they were in open relationships. Other studies have come up with similar numbers, noted study lead author Colleen C. Hoff, a sexuality researcher.

However, the finding that a sizeable minority of partnered gay men are confused as to whether their bond is monogamous or not is a new finding, she said. “If one is having sex with someone outside the relationship, and the other doesn’t know it, it could be an opportunity for risk [of HIV infection] for both partners,” said Hoff, director of San Francisco State University’s Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality.

Hoff and colleagues found the participants for the 2005-2007 survey through bars, coffeehouses, restaurants and advertisements in the San Francisco area.

Researchers asked the couples to separately answer questions about their sex lives. The researchers didn’t tell the men about the answers given by their partners.

All but a tiny number of the couples reported having an agreement regarding sex: 45 percent agreed that they were in monogamous relationships, and 47 percent agreed that their relationships were open — they could sleep with other people.

But in 8 percent of the couples, one partner thought the relationship was open and the other thought it was monogamous.

It wasn’t necessarily true that partners were being dishonest, she said. “We just know that they have a different understanding of what the agreement is. It could be they weren’t very clear from the beginning. It could be that their needs and desires have changed but they didn’t talk about it, or they may have drifted away from the agreement and assumed the partner had, too.”

The researchers also found the couples who agreed on the ground rules didn’t necessarily create agreements — and follow them — in order to prevent HIV infection. “The primary motivating force is that these couples want to have a good relationship,” she said.

Garrett Prestage, an HIV researcher in Australia, said the study findings should be interpreted cautiously because researchers may make assumptions based on their understanding of relationships among heterosexual couples.

Even so, Prestage said the research may lead to better understanding of sexual relationships between gay male couples and how they may affect their risk of HIV infection.

The findings show that it’s wrong to assume that gay male couples make decisions about their relationships based on their concerns about HIV, said Prestage, an associate professor at the National Center in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research at the University of New South Wales.

“What matters in any relationship is the trust and interdependence of those involved,” he said. “Rational considerations about infections, and most other things, usually take a backseat to these.”

He added: “Unfortunately, most HIV prevention seems to be predicated on a message that implies they (gay men) should not trust their partners and should always act out of self-interest. That runs contrary to most healthy relationships.”

The study, funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, is published in the July issue of the journal AIDS Care.

SOURCES: Colleen C. Hoff, Ph.D., director, Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality, San Francisco State University; Garrett Prestage, Ph.D., associate professor, National Center in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research;University of New South Wales. July 2010 AIDS Care

Copyright (c) 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, African-Americans Gay Men in Higher Learning, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay college students, Black gay men | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black gay hip-hop artist speaks about depression in Black gay men


In an exclusive interview, Black gay hip-hop artist Lester Greene, who is working on his new music video “Beer Belly” speaks candidly about depression as it affects Black gay men, referring specifically to his experience and struggles with this curable mental illness:

Posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, African-Americans Gay Men in Higher Learning, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay college students, Black gay men, Christianity and depression in Black gay men, Depression and Black gay men in Colleges, Depression as a mental illness, Depression in Black gay men, Religion and depression in Black gay men | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

24-year-old Black Man Fights For His Life


After injecting self with chemical used to euthanize animals

By Antoine Craigwell

(Update: According to sources close to the family, S*(to protect his identity) succumbed and died in the morning on Thursday, Jul 15. His family are in the process of trying to raise funds for a funeral. Corrections: in a previous publication of this article it mentioned “sucidology” when it should be “suicidality”. The study, funded by the National Center for Primary care collaborated with the University of North Carolina, Greensboro,  is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Homosexuality.)

(New York, NY) – As of time of writing, it is unknown whether a 24-year-old Black man,  is still struggling to live in a Brooklyn, New York hospital or has died after injecting himself with a chemical used to put animals down.

According to sources close to the family of the young man, who was seen last Sunday at a 4th July picnic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and who worked as an assistant at a veterinarian clinic, appeared to be in good spirits. Sources said that when he returned to work on Tuesday, after receiving a phone call, he reportedly injected himself with the same chemical used to euthanize animals and was found unconscious by a co-worker in the men’s bathroom.

The young man’s mother is reported to be blaming his girlfriend for pressuring him. But reports also claim that his girlfriend was constantly trying to get him to continue with improving himself. The source said that the young man who is believed to be of Trinidadian descent, migrated to the United States with his family as a child, and it was discovered that he was exceptionally intelligent, earning high marks up through high school. It was revealed that although he did well in school, when he was in his early teens, something happened which caused him to loose focus, his grades slipped and he failed to earn admission to college.

Despite the outward appearances, the greatest unknown: what internal battles were raging in this young man’s head, which left him feeling he had no other option but to end his life?

According to John Eaton of the John Hopkins Center for Global Health, depression is a silent killer which affects people early, from as young as 14 or 15-years old, and becomes chronic. He argues that as a mental illness, it leads to loss of productivity, affecting jobs and social lives, and costs approximately $100 billion a year. Close to two out of three people suffering from depression still experience depression even though they are being treated, which Eaton suggests, that current treatments are not very effective. He says that depression affects everyone regardless of social status, affecting the social fabric, rich and poor alike, but as is often the case, the rich people can afford and receive treatment, while the poor suffer more.

Depression in Black gay men hardly registers, even as a blip, on the national radar of mental health issues. As a mental illness, depression rearing its ugly head, manifests in the high numbers of unreported suicide attempts by Black gay men. Outside of choosing traditional methods, such as slitting wrists, hanging, shooting themselves, overdosing on prescription drugs, or jumping from high places, reports are surfacing of increases in narcotic and alcohol abuse, rampant sexual promiscuity, and more creative ways such as suicide by proxy – placing themselves in positions for either death by cop or dangerous life threatening conditions. Some also choose “bug chasing”, deliberately setting out to contract HIV by having promiscuous unprotected sex, as a way of committing slow suicide. Other aspects such as sexual abuse and the resulting trauma, the numbers of incarcerated Black men, and the older Black gay male community, who are twice silenced, are just a few areas in the community where there are un-and under reported cases of depression.

Yet, Louis Graham, MPH says, that while there are insufficient studies into the mental health state of Black gay men, the most robust study of depression among Black gay men to date shows that Black men experience less depression than White gay men, Black gay men experience more suicidality.

The Jun 2 White House summit of government officials, professionals, academics, researchers, and heads of social service agencies on HIV/AIDS drew attention to the mental health of men who have sex with men (MSM) as one area in need of attention in the fight against HIV and AIDS. While the summit only mentioned this as an area of concern, not much more was said or commitments to action to address the mental health of Black gay men as a sourcing point to effect HIV intervention and prevention was being done. After the Championship game on Jun 18, when NBA Los Angeles Laker’s champion Ron Artest publicly thanked his psychiatrist in a post game interview, he was admitting to the entire world that as a Black man he has mental issues, and that he has had to use the services of a professional. That was a major and groundbreaking feat for the Black community, particularly for Black men, many who are reluctant to see a therapist.

A journalist, Glenn Townes, in a 2007 article “Tale of a Wounded Warrior: One Man’s Battle Against Depression” for the Infinity Institute International, Inc., Website, says of his struggle with depression, “I still find there’s a strong stigma to African Americans and therapy, particularly for brothers. Tell someone you’re seeing a shrink and they just may haul off and hit you with: “Man, you must be crazy.” But I think it’s just the opposite: Sometimes you’d have to be crazy not to seek therapy.”

In the Black community, there are many reasons why the issue of depression is not addressed. Some suggest that as a subject it is taboo to speak one’s business to someone else. Others, it is a sign of weakness not suited to Black men. Artest’s announcement single handedly dispelled both those stereotypes. The specter of the Tuskegee experiment still lurks in the background, carrying some fear and suspicion in the Black community to participating in studies or research to properly qualify and quantify the prevalence and devastating effects of mental illness.

Some Black psychological professionals agree that there aren’t enough of them in proportion to the needs of the Black community, let alone the Black gay community. There is also some agreement that many Black psychological professionals are not motivated enough to undertake in-depth studies into the specific characteristics that cause depression in the Black community. Others claim that there is no difference between races for Black people to be singled out, while some have pointed out that in the Black gay community, along with the racism and expectations of simply being Black and male, the stigma and discrimination that comes with being gay adds another level of psychosocial stress.

Another aspect of the dynamic of depression in the Black gay community is founded in some psychological professionals who have a pie-in-the-sky, happy-faces-type attitude, where it’s all about positive thinking and outcomes. Juan Battle, a sociologist at City University of the New York Graduate Center who has just launched a Social Justice Sexuality project says, “The social justice sexuality project (more broadly) as well as my research/publications (more specifically) do not address issues of depression among black gay men. Instead, I tend to focus on resiliency models. [I]n other words, instead of pathologizing the gay experience, I tend to celebrate it.”

Others, such as Alexandre Sacha Vinton, MD, director of the Brooklyn, NY-based Vaya Institite, believes that the Black gay community is still lacking in core development and that anyone who enters into the discourse of the mental health state of the Black gay community is rendering a disservice and perpetuating a fraud by not having completed the requisite training. The training, which Dr. Vinton advocates, is a system he designed, a core competency process with structures (a reworked Myers-Briggs type analysis) that ultimately leads to a paradigm shift in thinking, away from the traditional methods of psychotherapy and treatment. He insists that for the Black gay community to move beyond the pathology and the pervasive “negativity” endemic in it, that its members have to be trained in a new way of thinking. This, new way of thinking involves subscribing to his process and system, something along the lines of the psychological equivalent of a comprehensive theory of matter, and until such time, he is sticking to his position of a need for a change.

But, cases such as those of Keith and the 24-year-old young man who injected himself, contradicts the assumptions of Battle and Dr. Vinton and indicates that there is a deeper problem crying out for attention, as is each suicide attempt, successful or failed. Keith (name changed to protect his identity), a 50-year-old Black gay man, who after his fourth failed suicide attempt (hanging himself with rope tied to a pipe in the basement of the house he shared with friends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn), checked himself into New York Psychiatric Hospital. After facing his demons, receiving the necessary treatment, including medication and talk therapy, and is still seeing a therapist, he is pursuing his bachelors to become a paralegal. It was the encouragement he received from his closest friends and his eventual success story, which seems to go against the models proscribed by Battle and Dr. Vinton.

Graham, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Public Health, School of Health and Human Performance at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, says, “I argue however, that we are measuring depression incorrectly among Black gay men. We cannot use the same tools to measure depression among Black gay men that we use among White gay men, because depression looks differently in Black gay men and Black gay men express symptomology differently. Depression accompanies suicidality in 90 to 95-percent of the cases, so it is highly unlikely that Black gay men experience depression less than White gay men do if they experience more suicidality.”

He argues that the reason it looks as if Black gay men experience less depression is that the measurement tools developed for, by, and normed on White gay men are not accurate and precise enough to pick up depression among Black gay men. The challenge, he says, of a random sample from broadly generalizable data is problematic because national random sample surveys don’t include sexuality information, don’t over sample Black sexual minority men enough to get significant results, don’t address issues specific to Black sexual minority men, or there are measurement issues. Consequently, he adds, this is one of only a couple of studies to look exclusively at these particular issues among sexual minority men.

Supporting Graham’s arguments, a March 2010 academic article “Depression is Associated with Sexual Risk Among Men Who Have Sex with Men, but is Mediated by Cognitive Escape and Self-Efficacy,” focused directly on the specific issue of the underlying cause responsible for risky sexual behavior among MSM. The authors, Lisa Alvy and David McKirnan of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Gordon Mansergh and Stephen Flores of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta, GA; and others, conducted an investigation of a national sample of 1,540 HIV-positive and HIV-negative MSM, who reported unprotected sex and drug use with sex partners. “We found evidence that depression is related to HIV transmission risk. Qualitative research with MSM in community settings suggests that depression and negative affect are strongly associated with risky sex,” the researchers say.

But, a study funded by the National Center for Primary Care in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Greensboro conducted between February and April 2010, sampled 110 Black sexual minority men from the Triad area in North Carolina, and revealed that 30 percent of the men screened were depressed, and 33 percent said they experienced anxiety. Each group, according to reports of the study,  currently under review for the Journal of Homosexuality indicated rates higher than the general population among white gay men, and Black heterosexual men. There was a 52-percent variance in depression in relation to violence, discrimination, and harassment (VDH), he says, and an additional 13-percent variance in depression related to internalized homonegativity in the men. With respect to variances in anxiety, internalized homonegativity accounted for 46-percent and VDH, 7-percent variance, he says.

A 2004 CDC report, said that Black men MSM now account for 30 percent, the largest proportion, of all Black men diagnosed with HIV. The mental health of Black MSM has to be taken into account while addressing the rising numbers of HIV infections, is a recurring theme in academic articles, and is often heard in panel discussions and presentations. Many Black academicians have published articles in varying psychological and sociological journals, and many have admitted that on the issue of depression in Black gay men there is a dearth in material for the layperson.

Posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, African-Americans Gay Men in Higher Learning, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay men, Depression and Black gay men in Colleges, Depression as a mental illness, Depression in Black gay men | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I am who God made me to be and I don’t have to apologize!”


Religion as a contributing factor to depression in Black gay men

By Antoine Craigwell

In February this year, when D’Andre turned 41, he says, “I was lonely and I was angry about being alone and I decided that if my life didn’t improve by the time my next birthday rolled around, I am going to commit suicide.” It was to end being alone and feelings of loneliness that he would find some way to end his life, most likely, drive his car at a high speed and crash it into a wall, intending not to survive.

For D’Andre (a name used to protect the identity of a real person), an African American high school teacher, born and raised in Houston, TX, the circumstances leading up to his resolve are complex and multi-layered. His story of dealing with his depression, which he describes as an intense feeling of sadness washing over him, an overpowering sense of helplessness, and accompanied by anger, lasting for a long time, is rooted in his childhood experiences. In his recounting, he spoke of coming from an ultra conservative fundamentalist evangelical Christian denomination led by his father, a pastor, in a rural town in the American south. The intertwining of religion, the African American culture – expectations and demands, and of society, influenced and significantly contributed to his depression.

In his socks, D’Andre stands at just about 5-feet, 11-inches, weighing a solid 180 lbs, not fat or flab, but because he runs and works out at a gym, he has an athletic look. His original complexion is light brown, but with the sun in Houston, he has become many shades darker. With closely cropped hair, faded on the sides and back, a nicely trimmed moustache with connecting goatee to a short beard, and as the baby of the family, he had four sisters and one brother; one sister died. They all know he’s gay, but in his family, as with any difficult topic, he says, “we don’t talk about it.”

“I was diagnosed with depression when I moved to Chicago in 2006. At the time I was dating someone and he just stopped calling me. He disappeared. He didn’t return any of my phone calls, he didn’t return any of my e-mails, he just totally disappeared. I was angry about that and I felt really sad. I remembered getting a card from a friend who was seeing a therapist and I remembered that this is the second time that this guy had actually done this. I wondered what was wrong with me to make this guy disappear on me for a second time. I called the therapist and set up an appointment. I first checked to make sure that I was covered with my insurance because I couldn’t afford to see a therapist on my own. Toward the end of the first session, he asked me a few questions about my family history, and he asked me why I had come to see him. At the end he told me that I was clinically depressed. I was a bit shocked because I didn’t think that someone like me would get depression. I was the one person always saying that Black people don’t get depression and if we do get depression we just shake it off. It’s a temporary thing, you don’t need to see a doctor or you don’t need to take anti-depressants for it because it was something that you deal with and coming from a deep religious background it was something you could just pray away. Following that revelation, I started seeing this therapist regularly,” D’Andre says.

As far back as he could remember, when he was a child, his father was a strict Pentecostal preacher and his brand of religion was essentially that a person only went to heaven by what he or she didn’t do – didn’t listen to R&B, didn’t go to the movies, and didn’t celebrate holidays. His religion wasn’t the Seventh Day Adventist type, says D’Andre. His was the apostolic kind of religion, which is more fundamentalist or a stricter conservative form of apostolicism to the extreme.

“I remember as a kid that I did whatever my daddy told me and I did it more out of fear rather than respect. I remember when I was younger, he made everyone in the house address him as “pastor” instead of calling him daddy or dad, or even pops. I can count on my two hands how many times I got a whopping. I made sure to tow the line because I didn’t want their wrath and the wrath of God coming down on me,” he says.

D’Andre says that church dominated his life: he had to be in church for Sunday morning and evening services,  and had to be there for Wednesday and Friday services, too. The only time he had an excuse to be away was if he had a game or if he had a job. And, even though he had a job, he was supposed to ask the manager for time off or an adjusted schedule to have church nights off. It was brutal at times, he says.

“The kind of gospel that my father preached, he was more concerned about talking about who was wrong and who was going to go to hell instead of talking about God’s love and how a person could get to heaven. He was very strict and he was legalistic. I was afraid to do anything. I was afraid to defy my father because there is a text in the Bible where it said that if you don’t respect your parents that you will live half your days. I didn’t want to get cut off. I didn’t want to die early being that I was gay,” he says.

But in dealing with his emerging sexual identity, D’Andre says that when he was about 11 or 12-years old, and recognizing that his hormones had started kicking in, he knew that was attracted to men, but was taught that such feelings were evil, that they were an abomination. To compensate, he channeled the feelings into the women at church where he would pretend to be interested in them and would talk to them on the phone. Every time talk of intimacy would come up, he says he would hide behind the Bible and say, “that’s not right and you could go to hell for that.”

“I would hit them with the scripture and really, what I was doing, I was hiding my true desire, using the Bible as a cover. As I grew older, about a year later, I realized that I was looking at guys differently. I was looking at them out of curiosity and I was always drawn to the good-looking guys, those who were athletic. While I would just look at them, I would never act on the feelings. I would look at them and around that age, I started to masturbate. I would try to get a female image in my head, but if I did have a female image in my head, there would have to be a man in that image. The man would have to be having sex with the woman and I would really be focusing in on the man. As my teenage years progressed, I became exposed to pornography. I don’t remember exactly how. It was Black heterosexual porn and I would watch those tapes and I would focus more on the guy than on the girl. I would be turned on by the woman’s reaction only as it related to the man and I could remember feeling that I wish he was doing that with me. I held those images in my mind until I was a junior in high school,” says D’Andre.

Christianity plays a significant and important role in the lives of the Black community, whether from the U.S, the Caribbean, or Africa. For many, since the days of slavery, the power of the Church, of God, and more specifically, the love of Jesus, have become ingrained into the social consciousness. History is replete with stories and accounts of how the slaves used religion, supplanting their traditional African practices with Christianity, as a way to appease the slave masters, understand what their masters and mistresses were about, and in the later years of slavery, as a means to obtain literacy. Following the abolition and emancipation of slavery, in the U.S. South, for example, the Jim Crow laws were enacted to demarcate and segregate Blacks from Whites. Falling back on their natural resources and innate abilities, the Black community developed strategic coping mechanisms to deal with the powerful racial discrimination that followed, by establishing several Baptist churches.

Fast forwarding to present day, whether or not the Church is a refuge for a Black male or female, is subject to vigorous debate and that depends on with whom it is held. There are some who argue that in the Black community, mostly women flock to churches as it provides a social setting for them to congregate, network and share information. Others suggest that Black men only go to church under pressure from their spouses, girl friends or at the extreme, to satisfy their women so they could have guilt-free sex later. And there are others who suggest that Black men go to church and become very actively involved as a way to mask or hide their depression, most often brought about by irreconcilable struggles with their identity, masculinity and sexuality.

When the current pope, Benedict XVI, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Office of Doctrine and Faith, he signed a letter in 1986: “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” published by the Catholic Truth Society to all the bishops of the church, worldwide. In the letter, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “It is within this context, then, that it can be clearly seen that the phenomenon of homosexuality, complex as it is, and with its many consequences for society and ecclesial life, is a proper focus for the Church’s pastoral care. It thus requires of her ministers attentive study, active concern and honest, theologically well-balanced counsel.”

Referring to the, “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics”, published in 1975, Cardinal Ratzinger said that this document stressed the duty of trying to understand the homosexual condition and he noted that culpability for homosexual acts should only be judged with prudence. In the letter, he said, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith took note of the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions. These he described as “deprived of their essential and indispensable finality, as being “intrinsically disordered”, and able in no case to be approved of (cf. n. 8, § 4).”

“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

“Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”

South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in response to and a direct challenge to the hate, homophobia and violence openly and subtly perpetuated by Christian religious leaders in African countries, said in his  opinion article, “In Africa, a step backward in human rights” published in the Washington Post in March that, “Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity — or because of their sexual orientation.”

The archbishop continued, “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God’s family. And of course they are part of the African family… An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God.

Show me where Christ said, “Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones.” Gay people, too, are made in my God’s image. I would never worship a homophobic God. “But they are sinners,” I can hear the preachers and politicians say. “They are choosing a life of sin for which they must be punished.” My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?”

In the article, “Sex & Sexuality: One Man’s Story About Religious Life And What Seminaries Really Teach About Sex” written by a former Jesuit priest, Charles O’Byrne, and published in the September 2002 issue of Playboy, addresses the issue of sex and sexuality within the Catholic Church. As one of the “soldiers” or “defenders of the faith”, O’Byrne in his article presents what he recognized to be the sexual hypocrisy in the church and in his mind, replaced it with “ambiguity” to help him deal with realizing his vocation to religious life and the priesthood. In his article he asks: “What did Jesus have to say about sex? From the evidence we have, one thing is certain: He said little about hu­man sexuality and nothing about mas­turbation, contraception, premarital sex or homosexual love. What was Jesus’ sexuality? Was he gay or straight? Was he sexually active? As a matter of scriptural record, we just don’t know. There are hints about what his life was like. He traveled with young men and women, often sleeping under the stars. He wasn’t averse to physical affection. In John 12:1-8, for example, one of his disciples, Mary (not his mother), anointed his body with perfumed oil, shortly before Christ’s [his] crucifixion. John, believed to be the youngest of the apostles and Jesus’ favorite, rested his head on Jesus’ breast (John 13:23).”

O’Bryne continues, saying, “Judging by the historical record, Je­sus liked women and they liked him. Women were present at the Last Sup­per; and, 40-odd days later, they were present again when the church was born at the feast of Pentecost. He en­joyed their company, regarding them as disciples. When Jesus died there were three people loyal to him at the foot of the cross—two women and one man (John 19:25-26). The absence of any condemnation of sex says a great deal when contrasted with Jesus’ actions and with his opin­ions on any number of issues. In other words, his gospel of love had priorities other than disparaging sexuality.”

But, O’Bryne, who resigned as the chief of staff to New York Governor David Patterson, says, over time the church has created an essentially fanciful, fabri­cated interpretation of Jesus and his beliefs, “The church spun the archetyp­al figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph into chaste, asexual creatures. Church teaching is that Jesus was a heterosexu­al male who never had a sexual experi­ence. The church extended Mary’s vir­ginity to her entire life. How did the church end up straying so far from its origins and become almost pathologically anti-sexual? One can blame a man who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries who came to be called Saint Augustine of Hippo. Augustine indulged his senses as a youth, much to the dismay of his mother, Monica. He frequented the sexual free for-alls in the baths of Carthage and Rome, and felt good about it. He had a favorite mistress and fathered a son. All the while, Monica prayed that her son would change his ways. And he did. At age 32, suddenly consumed by guilt, Augustine abandoned sex and devoted himself to the church, becom­ing a bishop and an influential teacher. Monica became a saint.

“The trouble for successive generations of Catholics was that Augustine set about spreading his guilt around. He shunned what he had experienced in the early part of his life, and his writings introduced a sense of dualism, a tension between body and spirit that dominated Western thought for cen­turies. Augustine’s most benevolent take on sex is that it’s a distraction from God. At its worst, Augustinian notions of sex involve corruption and moral decay. He still influences the church’s perspective on human sexuality. Woven into Augustine’s repressive themes is the church’s adoption of natural law as a fundamental principle. Natural law is a human invention, based on the Aristotelian notion that each of us has in our hearts an understanding of what is right and what is wrong, what is natural and what is un­natural. When it comes to sex, the ar­gument goes, man and woman were created to be together in a monoga­mous relationship for the purpose of procreation. With that as its paradigm, the church has, over the centuries, de­fined and condemned as unnatural every other form of sexual expression and relationship.”

The subject of depression in Black gay men is one that hardly ever registers, even as a blip, on the national radar of mental health issues. As Louis Graham, MPH, says that along with there being insufficient studies into the mental health state of Black gay men, that although the most robust study of depression among Black gay men shows that Black men experience less depression than White gay men, Black gay men experience more suicidology.

Graham, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Public Health, School of Health and Human Performance at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, says, “I argue however, that we are measuring depression incorrectly among Black gay men. We cannot use the same tools to measure depression among Black gay men that we use among White gay men, because depression looks differently in Black gay men and Black gay men express symptomology differently. Depression accompanies suicidology in 90 to 95-percent of the cases, so it is highly unlikely that Black gay men experience depression less than White gay men do if they experience more suicidology.”

Graham argues that the reason why it looks as if Black gay men experience less depression is because the measurement tools developed for, by, and normed on White gay men are not accurate and precise enough to pick up depression among Black gay men. The challenge, he says, of a random sample from broadly generalizable data is problematic because national random sample surveys don’t include sexuality information, don’t oversample Black sexual minority men enough to get significant results, don’t address issues specific to Black sexual minority men, or there are measurement issues. Consequently, he adds, this is one of only a couple studies to look exclusively among Black sexual minority men at these particular issues.

He recently concluded data collection for his dissertation and a quantitative study funded by the National Center for Primary Care. The study, conducted between February and April 2010, sampled 110 Black sexual minority men from the Triad area in North Carolina, and revealed that 33 men or 30 percent of the men screened were depressed, and 36 men or 33 percent said they experienced anxiety. Each group, Graham says, indicated rates higher than in the general population among white gay men, and Black heterosexual men. There was a 52-percent variance in depression in relation to violence, discrimination, and harassment (VDH), he says, and an additional 13-percent variance in depression related to internalized homonegativity in the men. With respect to variances in anxiety, internalized homonegativity accounted for 46-percent and VDH, 7-percent variance.

The level or degree of functional/active coping skills, Graham says, does not appear to play a significant role in blunting or addressing the effects of VDH and internalized homonegativity on depression and anxiety. This is to say, VDH and internalized homonegativity are so strong that even good or healthy coping skills do not help outcomes.

D’Andre grew up, attended college, and even earned his masters in sociology, where through research into the various scripture passages and other texts he was able to find answers to reconciling his religion, his sexual identity and had begun the process of self acceptance.

“I decided to look up for myself those Bible passages that supposedly condemn homosexuality. I began pouring over texts and many books that have been written, reading the history of that time, and talking with some religious scholars to understand what different things meant. I was able to reconcile it because I am who God made me to be and I don’t have to apologize for that. My sexuality has nothing to do with whether or not I go to heaven or hell,” he says.

He adds, that Jesus never mentioned sexuality, it was only an apostle who mentioned, and it was in a certain context. There are passages, he says, from Leviticus with many out dated quotes that people disregard, except when they get to one of those where sexuality is touched on and then all of a sudden that part is relevant but nothing else in the passage is. He says he read St. Paul’s Letters to the Romans and understood the context of the statements.

“If I reconcile being a child of God and I know that what I do is not going to send me to hell because if it does, then what I don’t do, will also send me to hell. So, sexuality is not a determinant of whether I go to heaven or hell,” he says.

One Monday night, he says, when he was in college, after he had attended one of the local churches where they had talked about God not liking homosexuals and God was going to condemn homosexuals to hell fire, “I remember that Monday night, when I arrived home, I anointed myself with oil and I got down on the floor and I prayed to God. I said, “God you do this, you tell me what I need to do, I need to hear an answer from you.” I prayed for a good hour and a half. All the nights were out, no television, there was no noise. I just prayed and after I prayed, I got up and I went to bed and I had a dream, I don’t know what the dream was and I couldn’t remember what it was. All I remember was that I was awakened and I could hear someone saying, that its okay. I felt a wetness on the sheet, looked under it and discovered that I had had a massive orgasm. I had to change the sheets and took a shower. From then, I never questioned my sexuality, the Bible, and my religious beliefs,” he says.

Posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, African-Americans Gay Men in Higher Learning, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay college students, Black gay men, Christianity and depression in Black gay men, Depression and Black gay men in Colleges, Depression as a mental illness, Depression in Black gay men, Religion and depression in Black gay men | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lifting the Veil on Depression in Black Gay Men – Part II


Navigating as Black and gay in College

By Antoine Craigwell

Twelve years ago, a young man, now 32-years old, left his home in the Bronx, NY to attend college in a sub-urban community. There he said because he could not find acceptance, he kept himself shut away and only ventured out to attend choir practice, as it was the one activity that interested him. While in college, he contracted HIV and he eventually dropped out and today, is struggling to make life on his own.

For while it is likely that this young man may have known that he was depressed, what was he to do, where was he to go for help? And, if indeed anyone were to know or suspect that he was depressed, without proper training to recognize the signs and characteristics, how could that person help?

Many people feel powerless to render assistance when faced with someone who is experiencing some type of mental crisis, especially if that person is about to or indicates that he or she would commit suicide. While most people think that a suicide attempt is a cry for help, as indeed it is, without proper training and knowledge most people don’t know what to do. Most often, too, when someone attempts suicide, if they fail at that attempt and are coherent enough after, he or she would say that they just wanted to end it all; for everything to stop; that pain, that is deep and bothersome..

The issue of depression and it’s ultimate conclusion has been brought into the public consciousness with the death of performers such as Phyllis Hyman, of whom it was known, was battling depression for years. Many know, also of the popular books and scholarly articles that have been written about the issue of depression, especially in the Black community. But, very little, outside of academic literature, is known about depression in the Black gay community. As an illness, depression is seen by a majority of the Black community as an embarrassment to the family, a sickness that speaks of weakness and ineffectualness.

“The thing is depression is an organic disease, a disorder just like diabetes. It is about the lack of a neurotransmitter or several different essential connecting neurotransmitters that could have a number of environmental or genetic causes,” said David Goode-Cross, Ph.D. “We don’t tend to look at depression as a medical condition in the same way we would look at diabetes or high blood pressure or anything like that. So one thing that needs to happen is that we as a community need more discussions about positive mental health, about well being, about what depression looks like, about what it really is. As a professor of Counseling Psychology at West Virginia University who also supervises psychologists, and who has published “African-American Men Who Have Sex With Men: Creating Safe Spaces Through Relationships,” and “Managing Multiple-Minority Identities: African-America Men Who Have Sex With Men at Predominantly White Universities” Goode-Cross said that depression is not a function of not having prayed, it is not a function of not having faith. Depression is a function of not having enough serotonin in your life.

In an article  “Depression is Associated with Sexual Risk Among Men Who Have Sex with Men, but is Mediated by Cognitive Escape and Self-Efficacy,” which was published in March 2010, Lisa Alvy and David McKirnan of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Howard Brown Health Center of Chicago; and Gordon Mansergh and Stephen Flores of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, GA; and others focused directly on the specific issue of the underlying cause or factor responsible for risky sexual behavior among men who have sex with men. The authors stated that they examined and conducted an investigation of a national sample of 1,540 HIV-positive and HIV-negative men who have sex with men, and who reported unprotected sex and drug use with sex partners and declared that, “more broadly, university students who report depressive symptoms are more likely to engage in everyday unhealthy behaviors including a lack of physical activity, not eating breakfast, and keeping irregular sleep hours.”

Confirming these findings, Goode-Cross said, “in general, environmentally, if you are talking about people around the ages of 18 to say, 24, one of the major tasks is to develop an identity, something that is separate from one’s parents, something that is determining who a person is and college is a way that a lot of young people do that. For more than half of the young men in this country, this is a developmental challenge in itself and for all students it can cause some wrinkles as they separate from their parents’ ideologies and learn other things about other people and question their own previously held values and  beliefs. Where it gets more complicated is sometimes at this age it is the first time that students are experiencing themselves as sexual beings, although increasingly young people are having sex much earlier than perhaps in generations past even from my generation. So overlaying the idea of developing one’s identity from just being away from home or whatever is identifying another marginalized identity and if you’re talking about students who are at a predominantly white institution, they are already marginalized as being Black in a place that is largely white.

“While it can get a lot more complex, there are a lot of loses that come with “coming out,” not even coming out, but discovering or declaring one’s self to be gay or bisexual or non-heterosexual and feelings of sadness are pretty common, therefore, in the best of scenarios, even with the best adjusted student, with no other factors, those issues in themselves, this period of identity development can be really challenging.

“Many students navigate these challenges by selectively disclosing or not necessarily being “out.” “Out” is a culturally laden term, but they may be less forthright about their sexual orientation; there certainly is a perception among Black people that African Americans tend to be less accepting of homosexuality and bi-sexuality in the community.”

However, said Goode-Cross, “I don’t know that the research bears that to be exactly true. I think that most Americans are heterosexual and homophobic, I think that, but the experience and because of the high degrees of religiosity in Black communities, and the experience of their peers, they see their peers as being pretty discriminatory, so it becomes a really scary time and without lots of support and depending on where that person is, whether they are visibly gay or whether they “clockable” or whether they are masculine or not; things get tricky really quickly. The way that most young men manage that is to be selective about who they disclose their sexual orientation to, which comes with its own set of costs as one could imagine, the cost of being secretive and the pressure of keeping quiet about it, and that often that raises a lot of anxiety. I have seen a lot of students who can’t tell anyone about their sexual orientation and that can cause its own consequences, including a lot of self medication with marijuana or alcohol and lots of sex. There are lots of ways people mask the discomfort that comes with being in between or being in a marginalized group, which of itself complicates issues. This is not talking about people with more severe difficulties, students with trauma history or who don’t come from supportive or stable families. If you’re entering in those dynamics and you keep in mind that human beings have a finite amount of resilience, then what can happen very quickly is that any kind of problem already present or developing is made worse by the stress and the fear associated with being a member of a double mind or any group. Also, because of the specifics, depending on where the campus is located, if it is in a rural or non urban environments, one is generally talking about a pretty small number of people. If one was thinking about age range where developing a sense of self and exploring adult sexual and emotional relationships as part of the developmental path, that gets tricky. If a person is one of, and there are only five other gay Black men that he knows about, he certainly has fewer opportunities to date and to explore and so what does he do with that? This could present a number of issues, such as dating people who are developing pseudo-relationships online or engaging in anonymous hook-ups. A good picture about exactly how this looks in this calculation, for everyone, is that there are lots of different ways that the stressors can interact with student environments and could cause some pressure that often leads to mood disorders including depression and anxiety.”

Of the students involved in study, Goode-Cross’s said, he found that two years later, two of those students or a full fifty percent of the students had left school and they specifically highlighted that they had difficulties with depression; they both reported having suicidal ideations. One of them was so depressed that his grades dropped and he lost his scholarship and so he ended up having to leave school because of financial reasons.

Goode-Cross said that while he too was in college twelve years ago, the story of the young man could easily have been his, “I certainly had my own bout of major depression. I had grown up in a very fundamentalist Baptist household. My mother used to say, “if you grow up to be a sissy I’ll kill you,” and so it was very difficult for me to understand myself as gay and in the midst of that I certainly tried to find comfort.”

“I weep for the man I was back then but I certainly made some terrible sexual choices. Thankfully I was in a position or in a setting, I wasn’t in an urban environment where I could have been taken advantage of or my own ignorance about disease or my own need for psychological acceptance or love put me in harms way but that could have happened very easily and it happens all the time for these young men, when you don’t have enough, when you’re struggling to get a sense of who you are, when you’re not comfortable in your skin and when you’re afraid, you don’t have your full ability to reason, you don’t have all the resources to make smart, self loving decisions; in those kinds of settings a lot of people have unprotected sex, a lot of people are using a lot of substances and having sex,” he said.

Goode-Cross said that people get into horribly dysfunctional relationships, horribly abusive, emotionally abusive relationships all the time or they conceptualize themselves in this kind of stereotypical role of, “so I’m gay, I must be a woman,” and so they behave in ways that they think women should behave in terms of not asserting one’s self, not advocating for his own needs, putting up with substandard treatment, putting up with infidelity. All those types of things can happen very easily when talking about students or not even students but young men who are vulnerable at this age.

“That gentleman’s story is similar to my story,” said Goode-Cross, “ and it is similar to the stories of some of the men I talked to, similar to the many, many, many men who have been to college and not who have looked for acceptance and found something else.”

Nevertheless, he added, there are things that people can do and a lot of it is based on the individual. There is a huge stigma in the community about mental health services. If one thinks about the Black community, the idea is that if a Black person is depressed, the immediate suggestion is that the person is not working hard enough or not praying right or some such explanation, he said.

He added, that it’s quite difficult to say how someone manages that or what are the ways that people even deal with a particular stress or what is known to be the many number of factors that can test someone’s psychological resilience, well being and breaking point. There isn’t a formula and so certainly there are risk factors that students have to face. Taking an example of someone who is an African immigrant, who finds himself in a state university and now has to deal with a whole lot of white people, or an example of someone from the Bronx who is experiencing some culture shock; we do know that both of those are in environments that maybe not be risk factors but there are certainly contextual variables that can add a wrinkle to the underlying psychological processes and make them more or less likely to emerge. So for someone from the Bronx, they may or may not experience problems with adjustment. The fact that they are from an urban environment, they actually may be well suited to manage in the face of pretty adverse situations, because New York City life is not always easy and while there may be an adjustment, they may have fear that may have developed over time to approach orientation, which provides two ways to react in the face of a problem: to face the situation head on and try to figure out what resources to help him manage, and the avoidance situation, which is to retreat. What is known, is that the approach orientation has been more beneficial in this context; students who choose that, regardless of the demographic factors, are more likely to have a positive outcome. But then again, that is not a guarantee because A does not necessarily equal C.

Institutions can do some key things that beyond workshops, such as, Black students are more comfortable in Black spaces, because prior to coming to college, they tended to be more comfortable in Black spaces. Universities do a good job, as other institutions in society, with rare exceptions, about giving this spiel about being tolerant and being diverse, and many institutions have domestic partner laws which are targeted to the student body as a whole. What is left out is the assumption that Blacks, as minorities, and gays, as minorities, are culturally competent; that because a person knows what it’s like to be oppressed that he is much better off at dealing with others who are oppressed and he is not likely to oppress. That’s not the truth and this assertion has not been supported by data. What happens is that in ignoring populations, for instance when talking about anti-racism programs on campus, those that are usually addressed, are to the university as a whole. What would happen if institutions target those to the LGBT resource center on the campus and for example letting people who feel oppressed already recognize that they have their own way of oppressing others and make them look more critically at themselves? How might that provide students with another layer of safety or conversely, the safe zone that a lot of schools have about diversely tolerant and diverse sexual orientations? If discrimination was targeted at the African-American or Latino populations, what would that look like in a culturally sensitive way? Would that raise consciousness, would that make places safer for the LGBT student?

On a systemic level, on a broader level, things can change, said Goode-Cross. A person also needs culturally competent clinicians and therapists who understand the issues. Generally, if someone was doing research on gay people, the ideal psychological state historically is meant to be “out” in every context and every circumstance, which would be the picture of mental health. That‘s not necessarily true. That’s a very culturally biased perspective, “I may be gay, my mother may know I am gay but my employer may not and I can be perfectly fine and healthy.” Clinicians don’t always now that, they don’t always know the nuances of what normal development look like and that these developmental processes are really culturally based. It’s not a prescriptive one size fits all that institutions can do differently, he said.

Posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, African-Americans Gay Men in Higher Learning, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay college students, Black gay men, Depression and Black gay men in Colleges, Depression as a mental illness, Depression in Black gay men | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lifting the Veil on Depression in Black Gay Men – Part I


Addressing a taboo subject in the Black gay community

(Material in this article was presented at the Barbershop Discussion Series of the Black Men’s Initiative of York College, City University of New York, on Monday, May 17, 2010)

By Antoine Craigwell

On Friday, Apr 30, according to a New York daily, New York Daily News, a 20-year-old man posing as a subway track worker caused a terror scare. At about 5:30am, track maintenance workers picking up garbage, noticed someone they did not recognize as being a worker like them in the subway tunnel connecting the Borough Hall in Brooklyn and Bowling Green in Manhattan stations, under the East River, along the Number 4 and 5 lines. The police was summoned and the young man, a Pace University student, was taken into custody on suspicion of attempting to commit a terrorist act, but when his backpack was searched, it was discovered to contain a bottle of sodium cyanide pills – when heated is used for cleaning jewelery, a large bottle of water and some flares. On questioning, Aaron Fetto, declared to the authorities that he was not a terrorist and that all he wanted to do was to find a corner where he could mix the pills with the water and drink it, to commit suicide.

“He did not want to be found,” said Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the New York Police Department spokesman. “He had no ID on him. He was looking for some isolated place in the system.”

Fetto, who is from New Hampshire and ran track and field in high school, and who was in the fall of 2008 on the Dean’s list at the University, admitted to investigators that he was depressed and wanted to end his own life – not that of anyone else. According to the police, even though a source said that he was on medication, it was not immediately clear what was troubling him.

Eon Scott, a 22-year-old man from the rural town of New Amsterdam, Berbice, in the Caribbean country of Guyana, committed suicide on May 7. The cause and nature of the agent Scott used, as discovered through an autopsy report, was that he drank a quantity of Gramatzone, a powerful pesticide. In a published report in a local daily, Kaiteur News, although Scott’s family claimed someone else had given him food and poisoned him, the pathologist determined that there was no food in his stomach, and it was quite likely that the pesticide was self-administered. According to the report, investigators were told that Scott drank the poison because of a broken relationship. Scott was a customer service representative for a local telecommunications company and was described as a cross-dresser.

The U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health designated May as Mental Health Month. As a mental illness, the universality of depression has several different characteristics and manifestations, and when acknowledged, is either treated through medication, talk therapy, or a combination of medication and talk therapy. A new U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention report — Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2007 — summarizes data on 15,882 fatal incidents involving 16,319 deaths in 16 states. The majority of deaths were suicides, 56 percent, followed by homicides and deaths involving legal intervention at 28 percent, deaths of undetermined intent at 14.7 percent, and unintentional firearm deaths at 0.7 percent.

For many Black men, especially those struggling with their identity and more importantly, their sexual identity, the stress of adjusting to demands of family, friends, co-workers, culture and the society as a whole has created a pressure-cooker type of situation, where many men suppress their feelings, and as they do, the bottling up of their emotions finds unlikely but often socially accepted, and sometimes misunderstood outlets. These outlets include alcohol and drug use and abuse, persistent feelings of sadness, prolific sexual promiscuity with unsafe sexual practices, violence – against a spouse or partner, inabilities to maintain stable relationships and jobs, and a desire to withdraw or be alone and away from everyone. From a biological perspective, even though men and women experience depression differently, for someone who is Black and gay, there is a particular difference.

But, for men who are Black and gay or same-gender loving, there are additional stressors on top of those experienced by their counterparts in the heterosexual community, including the influence of stigma and discrimination from within culture, the role religion plays – which tells them that being gay is an abomination, their ethnicity, and gender identity reconciliation from society – that being gay is a weakness to be eradicated; all of which contribute significantly to the level and intensity of depression, and which combines to inhibit their ability to lead productive and wholesome lives.

In the Black community, it is taboo to speak about depression. Because of expectations from family and society, most of which are based in history, the unspoken rule is that if someone is suffering from any of the symptoms of depression and can identify it as such, he is not encouraged to speak about it; rather, he is strongly persuaded to “man up” and “be strong”.

A commentator to a Facebook page said, “It isn’t just the Black gay community. Mental illness still carries a stigma in this country that prevents most people from openly discussing their personal struggles.”

But, Ocean Morrisset, another commentator on Facebook, on the issue of depression in the Black gay community said, “because it’s not a party or about sex, although those may be the very root causes of depression, the topic in and of itself in the Black community is one of those taboo topics that most would rather avoid.”

Generally individuals are reluctant to acknowledge that depression is present, let alone when it involves a specific group,  Rose  October-Edun said in a comment on FaceBook, “You’d be surprised how many people are experiencing depression and sometimes do not even know it. I am not saying this is so across the board, but the bottom line is, if I don’t know I have it, I cannot and will not talk about it. Sometimes individuals categorize depression as something else like, “I feel (or have been feeling) a little down, but I always bounce back”. Remember if one recognizes something as a problem, in this case depression, and look for professional intervention, they often wonder what others would say if they were to find out, thus some stigma might be attached. Now when we throw in someone’s sexual orientation (homo, bi, or transsexual), this creates different scenarios for that particular person involved. Depression is very alive in the real world and the sooner we acknowledge and address it, the better we will be as a person, group, nation, or country.”

Depression and sexual risk

In March 2010, a group of academics and researchers published a paper, “Depression is Associated with Sexual Risk Among Men Who Have Sex with Men, but is Mediated by Cognitive Escape and Self-Efficacy,” and in it the authors focused directly on the specific issue of the underlying cause or factor responsible for risky sexual behavior among men who have sex with men. In the paper, the authors, Lisa Alvy and David McKirnan of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Howard Brown Health Center of Chicago; and Gordon Mansergh and Stephen Flores of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, GA; and others, stated that they examined and conducted an investigation of a national sample of 1,540 HIV-positive and HIV-negative men who have sex with men, and who reported unprotected sex and drug use with sex partners, “we found evidence that depression is related to HIV transmission risk. Qualitative research with MSM in community settings suggests that depression and negative affect are strongly associated with risky sex”.

Addressing coping and escape, the authors said that, “there is consistent finding that those who experience negative affect are more likely to engage in avoidant coping or affect-based regulation, as opposed to instrumental problem-solving. Avoidant coping has also been found to be associated with unprotected sex. In one sample of HIV-positive men, avoidant coping was the best psychosocial predictor of unprotected anal intercourse with an HIV-negative or unknown status partner. From a cognitive escape perspective, individuals may cope with negative mood states by attempting to escape cognitive awareness of behavioral norms, narrowing their attention to more immediate, pleasurable outcomes. The concept of cognitive escape is similar to theories involving alcohol or drug expectancies, but frames substance use as a specific form of avoidant coping. Studying a high-risk MSM sample, McKirnan, and others found that men who combine drugs with sex to cognitively escape awareness of HIV risk were more likely to engage in sexually risky activities. Although researchers have not explored a relationship between depression and cognitive escape, conceptual similarities between escape and avoidant coping suggest that escape tendencies may be higher in depressed MSM.”

In the paper, the Alvy, McKirnan, and others said that while conducting group interventions sessions of MSM sexual behavior interventions, there emerged from the participants reports of feelings of sadness and loneliness as consistent themes related to sexual risk. Similarly, interview data collected by other researchers, Bancroft and others, revealed that some gay men described engaging in unsafe sex when depressed because they were less concerned about the consequences.

The authors, Alvy, McKirnan stated that their sampling of 1,540 MSM contained a near equal representation of HIV-positive and HIV-negative MSM, with strong representations of African-American, Caucasian, and Latino men, and that the depression severity yielded 611 participants or 40 percent with low depression; 594 participants or 39 percent with moderate depression; and 335 participants or 22 percent with high depression. According to the sample, 493 or 32 percent were African-American men, 583 or 38 percent Caucasian, and 294 or 19 percent Latino. While the report details the age groups and other demographic information such as income ranges, location by major cities, and education, it did not specifically identify or focus in to provide clearer details of the 493 African-American men who participated in the study. Needed are specific studies of the issue of depression in Black gay men and the correlation between depression and sexual risk and HIV infection rates, and with a larger and more representative sample size.

Henri’s Story

To protect his identity the name Henri is used: With one younger sibling, Henri had experienced lots of self-hate and low self esteem. Henri who’s originally from Haiti, still lives at home with his parents in a family house that sits on the border between Queens, NY and Long Island. Born in Haiti, he came to the U.S. with his parents when he was 2-years old.

As a 19-year old Black young man, Henri said he knew that even though he was attracted to other boys, he never knew how to express his feelings or what they meant. Now, on the verge of leaving his teens and entering his 20s, he is still in the process of accepting himself as gay. This acceptance, he says, was fraught with internal and external struggles, “I haven’t arrived completely at acceptance.”

He recalled that when he was about 8-years old, he was sexually abused by a relative, one of his older cousins, but it wasn’t until he was abused again when he was 14-years old, by someone he said was a stranger, that together with the realization that he was attracted to someone of the same sex, that he began to feel guilt, shame and sadness.

While he wanted to and struggled to accept himself, he was torn between obligations to his family – the love he knew they had for him, but reasoned that if they knew he liked guys, he was unsure of their reaction –and confusion, and saw himself falling into a category of stigma with bias attached, to experiencing rejection by family and friends, and with thoughts of suicide and contracting diseases, including HIV all swirling in his head.

“I was taught that I if could have sex with 20 girls and if I get a disease, that’s okay, but if it’s with a guy, then that’s not okay,” Henri said.

He said he spoke with a psychologist who asked him why he was depressed and he responded that he was fighting to put his feet in a “straight man’s” shoes, “I don’t know how I lived this long. I stopped going to church,” he said.

Henri and his mother had a close relationship but when he told her that he is gay, she cried and said some hurtful things. She had said, “How did I give birth to this? What did I do wrong? People at my job ask how my son is doing and I don’t talk about him; he stays by himself. They have somehow figured out that my son is gay. I never thought it’d be in my house, but in other people’s houses. What did I do wrong?”

He declared that he would not let his sexuality stop him from achieving happiness in his life, “I want to become an artist and entertainer,” he said.

But, Henri is concerned about rejection from his culture, “It would affect me a lot; in life no one wants to be alone, everyone wants to be accepted, but I know I’m not mentally strong.”

Posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay men, Depression as a mental illness, Depression in Black gay men | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking the silence of depression in the Black gay community


Speaking out about a taboo subject

By Antoine Craigwell

Nationwide, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community on Friday, Apr 15, 2010, commemorated a day of silence – vowing not to speak for one 24-hour period as a unified protest action in solidarity with other LGBT and against the treatment members of the community receive from a majority of people. This day of silence was also an occasion to create a crack in the reluctance to speak about depression and its debilitating effects in the Black gay community.

In the Black community, there is significant resistance to addressing depression. Without regard to ethnic origin, whether African American, Afro Caribbean, or African, the cultural belief is that one does not speak his business, especially his personal business about himself, out of the family. Equally, in many Black families, with the emphasis on masculinity and survival in challenging times, including dealing with racial discrimination, speaking out about one’s inner feelings is often regarded as a weakness or a significant flaw, to be strengthen or eradicated, at all costs and by all means. Therefore, many Black gay men are caught in a vicious cycle: it is taboo to talk about what’s bothering him, and if he should try, he would be branded as weak.

A New Jersey-based journalist, Glenn Townes, when he lived in Kansas City, MO, wrote about his own depression, in “Tale of a Wounded Warrior: One Man’s Battle Against Depression” for the Infinity Institute International, Inc., Website, “I still find there’s a strong stigma to African Americans and therapy, particularly for brothers. Tell someone you’re seeing a shrink and they just may haul off and hit you with: “Man, you must be crazy.” But I think it’s just the opposite: Sometimes you’d have to be crazy not to seek therapy.”

Writing for the New York Amsterdam News in May 2008, Townes reported that the Depression Is Real Coalition, a collection of mental health agencies, was formed to promote and advance discussion of this mental illness as something not to be ashamed of, with a series of public service announcements nationwide, “It is Depression.”

In fact, research has shown that the causes of depression are often a combination of biological as well as external or environmental factors.

Townes reported that David Shern, Ph.D., president of Mental Health America, a member of the coalition said, “What people may not understand is that depression is not just a matter of being in a bad mood or something that’s in a person’s mind. It’s just like any other biologically based disease and is a condition that commonly co-occurs with chronic diseases.”

The issue of depression in the Black gay community has many layers: psychosocial, socioeconomic, cultural, and racial, to name a few. Addressing one complex layer, sexuality and racial identity and their relationship to socioeconomics, Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., professor of sociology with a specialization in HIV/AIDS issues in Black gay men at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, said, “I don’t think that we [Black gay men] have enough control over our economic destiny and how we bring together our resources around issues…about our inability to really embrace the “Blackness” and things get too anchored to the “gayness” and, without bringing all of me to the table. We have to respond to micro-aggressions as well as full-frontal discrimination based on sexual identity or on racial identity, so all of these things converge and create an environment in which we are constantly hyper vigilant in whether or not we take care of ourselves enough and sometimes those internalized experiences get manifested as external aggressions towards each other over the “sexualization” of the experience and the use of substances as a way of coping. So I think there are mental issues that have certain consequences.”

In an article, “HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Among Black Men Who Have Sex with Men: Current and Future Directions,” Gregorio Millett, MPH, senior policy advisor in the Office of National AIDS Policy and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC); David Malebranche, M.D, assistant professor, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; and John L. Peterson, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, quoting from a 2004 CDC report, said that Black men who have sex with men (MSM) now account for 30 percent, the largest proportion, of all Black men diagnosed with HIV.

Addressing the psychological issues surrounding Black MSM, in a section of their article, “HIV-positive Status, HIV Risk, and HIV-Protective Behavior Factors Among Black MSM,” Millett and co-authors quoted studies done in 2002 by Crawford, et al, and in 2003 by Myers, et al, which said that, “although no psychological variables were associated with HIV status, several psychological  variables were associated with sexual risk behavior among Black MSM.

“Few Black MSM studies examined associations between any of the dependent variables and HIV knowledge, mental health status, cultural beliefs, or self-esteem,” said Millett and co-authors.

Posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay men, Depression as a mental illness, Depression in Black gay men | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment