April 7, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBT youth included in Catania mental health bill

Gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) introduced a sweeping bill on Tuesday that seeks to curtail truancy and violent behavior among young people, including LGBT youth, by requiring the public school system to screen all students for mental health problems.

Catania named the legislation the South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act of 2011. He said the name recognizes four young people shot to death and five others struck by bullets in a drive-by shooting on March 30, 2010 while standing on the steps of a South Capitol Street house.

Some of the male youths charged in the incident, which has been dubbed the “South Capitol Street Massacre,” were wards of a city agency charged with overseeing juvenile offenders. The agency has been criticized for failing to properly supervise such offenders.

Police said the shooting was part of a series of violent acts among rival circles of young people that may have started over a stolen bracelet.

“The District’s legacy of failure in these areas created the conditions that made tragedy like the one that occurred a year ago possible,” Catania said in a statement. “The bill will create the most comprehensive and sophisticated youth mental health screening system in the country and will at long last ensure real enforcement of existing truancy laws.”

Catania said chronic truancy is considered a sign of possible “behavioral health” issues that often are not addressed in the city’s public schools.

The multifaceted bill requires the city’s Department of Mental Health to conduct a comprehensive youth “behavioral health epidemiology report” aimed at enabling school and health officials to assess the extent of mental health problems among children and teenagers from pre-kindergarten through high school. It establishes a system for channeling potentially violence-prone youth into mental health services and treatment programs.

Among other things, the bill calls for measuring the “incidence and prevalence of behavioral health conditions among youth” broken down by age, ward of residence, sex, schools attended, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Brendan Williams-Keif, a spokesperson for Catania, said Catania believes changes brought about by the legislation would also curtail incidents of anti-LGBT school bullying and overall anti-gay violence in the city.

D.C. police statistics show that D.C. has one of the nation’s highest rates of anti-LGBT hate crimes and that most hate crimes targeting LGBT people in the city are committed by teenagers or young adults.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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