Obama Administration Youth Summit: Gov’t ‘Has Finally Come Out of the Closet'

June 6, 2011 - 5:57 PM

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke at the first 'Federal LGBT Youth Summit' on June 6, 2011, saying the Obama administration is committed to making sure all LGBT youth 'reach their full potential.' (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke at the first “Federal LGBT Youth Summit” on Monday after being introduced by a homosexual on her staff, who said the secretary “gets us” and is “tireless” in her support of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender youth.

“Your federal government has finally come out of the closet in support of LGBT youth,” said Pam Hyde, HHS administrator for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

“It’s great to see so many young faces out there, all gay and proud,” Hyde said.

Sebelius congratulated the teens and 20-somethings for attending the summit and said the goal of the summit was to “really tackle the issues facing the LGBT youth in our country.”

The LGBT Youth Summit was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and is being held at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C. on June 6 and 7.

“Since President Obama took office in January 2009 he has led a commitment, shared by all those in his administration, to make sure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans have a chance to reach their full potential,” Sebelius said.

Sebelius said LGBT people have a “strong voice” and that the Obama administration hears it.

“I want to tell you, you have a friend in this administration, who will stand beside you each and every step along the way,” Sebelius said.

Sebelius also said LGBT youth are more likely to experience depression, thoughts of suicide, have other emotional problems or abuse drugs or alcohol.

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Pam Hyde, a lesbian who directs HHS's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, introduced Sebelius saying, she 'gets us.' (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“We know these behaviors are not the result of who these young people are,” Sebelius said. “They are the result of what’s happening to them.”

Sebelius went on to say a federal interagency taskforce is partnering the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Defense, Interior and Justice to come up with strategies and programs to fight bullying.

Sebelius also said the health care law signed into law by the Obama administration will encourage health care providers to address the “unique needs” of LGBT patients and will make health care workers “culturally competent” to deal with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients.

She also said the HHS is working with the federal child welfare system to “place LGBT children in loving homes.”

She concluded her remarks by saying she wanted to speak directly to the young people in attendance, many of whom sat at tables with adults, including moderator Kevin Jennings, a gay activist and Obama official in the Department of Education who is leaving his post at the end of the week to take a job with a non-profit group.

“Keep up your amazing work and know you have strong partners here in D.C.,” Sebelius said.

The two-day summit includes a wide range of “break-out” sessions that were not open to the media, despite the summit being sponsored by the Department of Education. A program for the summit listed the sessions, which included other federal officials and staff from the HHS, the Department of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Photographer Rachelle Lee Smith's photo of Michael, a self-described gay black man, was part of the exhibit Smith had on display at the June 6, 2011 event. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

Topics for the breakout sessions ranged from bullying to  “programs creating safe environments and reducing risk behaviors.”

A large number of gay advocate groups are also involved in the summit, including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network – which was founded by Jennings.

Other participants include the National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Health, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, the National Education Association, Advocates for Youth, American Federation of Teachers and the Human Rights Campaign.

The summit packet distributed at the event included photos by Rachelle Lee Smith, a gay activist who also displayed her poster/photos at the invitation of Jennings, Smith told CNSNews.com.

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Photographer Rachelle Lee Smith's work was used on literature for the summit and she was invited by Kevin Jennings, the safe school czar in the Obama administration, to exhibit some of her work at the June 6, 2011 event, including one of Max, who is transgender. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

The posters feature homosexual young people with messages about their sexual behavior.

In one of Smith’s photographs, a person named “Michael” says: “So what do you think? Ever been black before? Ever been gay? Ever been both? Try it!”

A photograph of “Max” says: “In high school I dated boys. I was a straight girl. After starting college, I indentified as a card-carrying dyke. Soon I realized that what I was feeling wasn’t about sexual orientation, it was about gender. I came out as a guy the summer of ’99. Now I live my life as a gay man – a punk rock queer boy who happens to also be in love with a girl. Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll grow a tail.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to speak at the event, organized by his agency, on Tuesday.