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Rhode Island Medical Society, which has 1,600 members Oppose the BSA Policy of Discrimination and says the Policy is Harmful to Gay Youth

Link: http://www.projo.com/report/stories/05455751.htm

5.11.2001

Doctors: Gay ban a danger! The R.I. Medical Society says denying homosexual youngsters membership in the Boy Scouts puts them at greater risk of depression and suicide.

BY JENNIFER LEVITZ Journal Staff Writer

The Boy Scouts of America are unjust, some say, for their policy of excluding gays. Rhode Island doctors use another word: dangerous.

The Rhode Island Medical Society says homosexual youths are already more likely to slump into depression or to kill themselves than their heterosexual peers. The doctors have adopted a resolution saying the scouts' ban on gays greatly increases the risk of both.

The organization is also lobbying the American Medical Association this week to pass a similar resolution, one directed at all
youth groups. It says suicide rates among teen males are lower in states that have anti-discrimination laws.

A doctor who is a consultant to the conservative Massachusetts Family Institute yesterday compared the Rhode Island doctors unfavorably with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has spoken out against guns.

"They are pursuing a political agenda rather than a real desire to help people stay healthy," said Dr. John R. Diggs Jr., an
internist who specializes in human sexuality and adolescent health, adding that the link between suicides and gay youths is "grossly exaggerated." The Rhode Island Medical Society, which has 1,600 members, took up the topic at the request of a doctor who is the leader of a troop on the East Side of Providence. The policy-making board voted unanimously on the resolution in April but only after reviewing studies, including one by a Brown University psychiatry professor.

"It was an easy sell . . . but our only concern was 'how much science is behind this?' " said Newell Warde, executive director of
the medical society.

The professor, Dr. Thomas Roesler, who is a child psychiatrist at Hasbro Children's Hospital, interviewed 60 young homosexual
men in Seattle in the early 1970s and found that 48 percent of them had sought psychiatric and 31 percent had attempted suicide.

"Although suicide is a significant risk for adolescents today, the number of young men who attempted suicide in that group was many times higher than you would expect," Roesler said yesterday.

Scott Pusillo, a gay senior at Johnson & Wales University, attempted suicide.

He was 15 and struggling with his sexual orientation at the time his parents were going through a divorce. He went to Boy Scouts -- where he took on projects such as restoring gravestones in a Civil War cemetery in his hometown of Freehold, N.J. -- to escape and to feel like a regular kid.

Then the Boy Scouts kicked out New Jersey scout James Dale, whose case sparked the Supreme Court battle that ultimately upheld the scouts' policy toward gays. Pusillo heard how Dale, a model scout on other accounts, was unfit somehow.

"Here was this organization that I'd given my life to, in essence saying that something was wrong with you if you were gay," said Pusillo, who is now 21. "When you're put down and told that you're worthless . . . and that you don't belong in an organization like the Boy Scouts, you start to believe it."

The first time he tried to end his life, he downed pills, but they put him into a deep sleep. On his second suicide attempt, his mother called from work just as he began to swallow the pills. "I was able to vomit them back up," he recalled. "It was weird how it happened. I had just put them in my mouth and she called and said, 'I'm at work, just wanted to say I love you.' It was one of those 'God watching over you' things."

He made it to the rank of Eagle Scout and became a troop leader, and then an activist in Scouting for All, a grassroots group that is pressuring the scouts to be inclusive. Last April, the Boy Scouts sent him a letter. He had been kicked out. He bawled and called his father and screamed and cried some more.

Now, as an adult, he said, he knew that the policy was flawed -- not him.

With Scouting for All, he works with youths who feel the confusion he once did.

"It's heart-wrenching . . . . You want to be able to tell them that it will be all right, but they have this mindset that if the organization says there is something wrong with me, there must be." The Rhode Island Medical Society took up the scouts' anti-gay policy at the request of Allen M. Dennison, a doctor who leads Boy Scout Troop 28. The troop and a Cub Scout pack sponsored by the same East Side church publicly vowed in November to defy the ban on gays. So far, the Narragansett Council of Boy Scouts has made no move to revoke the charters.

The resolution adopted by the medical society applauds the Narragansett Council for "its opposition to the misguided and discriminatory exclusion policy."

The Narragansett Council has not publicly opposed the policy but has said it is working behind the scenes to have it reviewed nationally.

Dennison strongly believes in the link between discrimination, gay suicides and depression, and brought Roesler's study to the board.

The study was one of the first done on the link, and was considered so "far out" that radio host Paul Harvey devoted three shows to it, Roesler said.

"I was struck by the nature of the process of developing an identity and how difficult it is to do that, given the sanctions of society against becoming homosexual," he said.

One young man, he said, "played Russian roulette fairly consistently over the course of a long weekend."

The process of "coming out" can be a dangerous one that lasts for several years, he found.

"Then and still, it remains quite a painful thing to do," he said, "though I think society is doing a better job today in allowing there to be differences in people."

The Narragansett Council of Boy Scouts has not seen the resolution and would not comment on it yesterday, nor would the AMA. The Rhode Island Medical Society is finalizing the resolution and plans to sent it this week.

 

 

 

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