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Doctors Urge Schools not to Label Kids 'Gay' or 'Transgender'
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The American College of Pediatricians (the College) mailed a letter to all 14,800 U.S. school district superintendents on March 31, urging them to avoid prematurely labeling children experiencing same-sex attraction or exhibiting symptoms of gender confusion as "gay" or "transgender." The letter also announced a new website, www.FactsAboutYouth.com, intended to provide information to educators, parents, and students about sexual development.

"As pediatricians, our primary interest is the health and well-being of children and youth," explained Dr. Den Trumbull, vice president of the College. "We are increasingly concerned that in too many instances, misinformation or incorrect assumptions are guiding well-intentioned educators to adopt policies that are actually harmful to those youth dealing with sexual confusion."

The letter reminded superintendents that adolescence is a time when young people experiment and experience confusion about many things, including sexual issues. It is also a time when kids are "particularly vulnerable to environmental influences," such as misguided encouragement by school personnel to "come out" and "be affirmed."

Furthermore, pointed out College president Thomas Benton, M.D., studies have revealed that most adolescents who experience same-sex attraction no longer do so by age 25. One study reported as many as 26% of 12-year-olds feel uncertainty about their sexual orientation, though only 2-3% of adults ultimately identify themselves as homosexual, wrote Benton.

In light of this research, and because of the increased health risks for adolescents who claim a "gay" identity, the College wants to prevent premature labeling that may lead some kids into harmful homosexual behaviors they would otherwise not pursue. Increased health risks include higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, alcohol and substance abuse, anxiety, depression and suicide. The letter also referenced a 1991 study, which found that the risk of suicide decreases 20% for each year an adolescent delays self-identifying as "gay."

The College letter is not the first school superintendents have received advising them on how to best help students experiencing sexual confusion. In January 2008, school officials received a brochure titled Just the Facts about Sexual Development of Youth from a coalition of 13 pro-homosexual organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics (the Academy), the American Psychological Association, and the two largest teachers' unions.

The College developed the Facts About Youth campaign to counter what the organization characterizes as the "incomplete" and "inaccurate" information in the Academy-sponsored Just the Facts pamphlet. That publication maintained that all forms of sexual attraction are normal, and asserted that schools must permit student clubs advocating homosexuality in order to avoid legal challenges.

In rebuttal to Facts About Youth, the Academy issued a statement on its website claiming the College's campaign "does not acknowledge the scientific and medical evidence" concerning sexual development, health or education, despite references to more than 100 research conclusions and professional opinions included in Facts About Youth materials.

The claims and counter-claims between the College and the Academy are not new. In fact, the College was organized in 2002 as a rival professional association. "Increasingly," according to the College website, "the Academy promoted social policy based on political correctness and the wants of adults rather than the needs of children."

The College-sponsored Facts About Youth website has posted criticisms from other parties. Some accused the campaign of promoting "religious right propaganda," but the College denies any political or religious affiliation and does not receive support from such organizations.

In a reply to one gay man's objection, the College stated, "The Facts project makes no moral judgment about one's sexual orientation. For those older adolescents and adults who, after much personal reflection and without school encouragement or coercion, identify as homosexual, we offer no objection except to point out the health risks of this lifestyle."

To those concerned that struggling kids receive support, the college countered that support should include access to all available information, including the effectiveness of therapy for many with unwanted same-sex attraction.

At least one superintendent responded positively. The unnamed official described the College's efforts as "refreshing," and admitted that most school personnel "do not want to get involved," lest they be accused of "homophobia, intolerance, and hate."

In one sense, the College agrees that educators should not get involved. Schools should not attempt to diagnose or treat any student's medical condition, stated the letter, and it is "certainly not a school's role to 'affirm' a student's perceived personal sexual orientation."

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