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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Media panel part of LGBT anti-suicide event
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

This article shared 3399 times since Tue May 14, 2013
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"Media" was among a number of panels featured at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) LGBT suicide-prevention symposium at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Feinberg School of Medicine April 20.

Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of the Advocate Magazine; Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor at Windy City Media Group; and Adrienne Williams, a writer and from the AFSP Media Watchers Group spoke to a crowd of about 100 people about the role that media plays in covering issues surrounding suicide and suicide prevention.

Breen spoke about the importance that The Advocate places on accurately and sensitively reporting suicide or suicide attempt stories. Then Breen shared details about a number of teen suicide's that his magazine has covered in the past few years including Jamey Rodemeyer, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas and others. Breen noted that they have also covered suicides of transgender individuals, allies of the community and porn stars. Breen explained that suicide is just as big of a factor for someone who is perceived to be LGBT as someone who has acknowledged their LGBT status. Breen remarked that when The Advocate reports on a suicide or suicide attempt they don't glamorize the story by putting it on the front page of the magazine nor do they use provocative headlines during their reporting.

As a media watcher for the AFSP, Williams explained that she researches suicide and suicide attempt stories so the organization has information to do its work. Williams noted that she founded the Bi Social Network because she wanted to bring visibility to the bisexual community. Talking about mental health issues as they related to suicide and/or the LGBT community is important, Williams remarked (she has family members with mental health issues). "Depression is a damaging disorder," said Williams.

Baim shared that she attempted suicide during her college years for a variety of reasons including the thought that she couldn't be openly gay and a journalist. "Being a journalist was more in my blood than anything else. Both of my parents were journalists and all I ever wanted to since I was nine years old was a journalist and I was told that I couldn't be an openly gay journalist ... I consider it [her suicide attempt] a before-and-after moment in my life that I wouldn't take back," said Baim. Since then, Baim explained, she hasn't let anything get in her way.

While researching archived stories about suicide from the 1960s onward, Baim found that in the early days suicide was linked to hate crimes, internalized homophobia and hopelessness (especially those individuals with AIDS). Baim explained that a lot of the early coverage was about adults. "What changed in the last decade I think is not in the numbers of people who are doing this. What is different is the numbers of people we know who are doing this who are LGBT and their families willingness to allow their stories to be told," said Baim. Baim explained that the reasons for suicide may be apparent but they aren't always clear. She also shared that according to a report on suicide in the LGBT community the findings suggest that in some cases covering suicide stories leads to more suicides.

During the Q&A the panel was asked if suicide is a crime and the panel said no it isn't a crime. Then the panel was asked how covering suicide makes them feel and affect how they write these stories. Breen said it numbs him to the notion of suicide. He also noted that writers should be respectful and accurate when covering suicide stories. Williams remarked that because of her presence on multiple media platforms people feel they can contact her when they are considering suicide. She noted that she has saved a number of people from attempting to take their lives. Baim explained that she is motivated to document the lives of these individuals with care and consideration and that covering suicides today is like the peak of covering the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. The biggest honor for Baim is to write someone's obituary and covering these stories has never made her feel sad it has only motivated her to continue to document people's lives. One way that Baim does this is through a website that she founded called Chicago Gay History.

Other questions focused on ways to encourage people to tell their stories, what methods can be used to tell journalists that most LGBT youth are doing just fine, ways to inform the public about mental health, stories about mental health professionals who've been successful, how to prevent the pendulum from swinging the other way regarding reporting on suicide stories (i.e. sensationalizing them), have there been any TV shows that have featured suicide stories, and is it healthy to label someone as LGBT when reporting on a suicide.

As far as reporting that most LGBT youth are doing just fine Breen said that accurate numbers are the key while Baim said that the only defense is a good offense. The Windy City Times does a 30 under 30 series of profiles for example, said Baim. Williams noted that making the story about the relevant facts only helps show that most LGBT youth are doing just fine.

Regarding mental-health issues, it is important to educate the media, according to Williams. Baim suggested that her paper should do a special series on mental health training initiatives and professionals in the field. Breen noted that suicide stories on TV shows can be great educational tools when they are handled well.

See for more information. A video about the symposium will air on CAN-TV Sunday, May 19, at 1 p.m.

Earlier coverage here: .

This article shared 3399 times since Tue May 14, 2013
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