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D.C. schools get incomplete score on LGBT youth survey

Low response rate means data not fully representative



Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS, said flawed data in the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey will hinder his group’s work with local youth. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A survey of risky behavior by D.C. youth, including LGBT youth, was so flawed that its data cannot be weighted, hindering local groups as they work to help gay students and fight HIV.

Leaders of two groups that provide services to LGBT youth told a D.C. City Council hearing March 5 that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, known as OSSE, failed to ensure a required 60 percent response rate for the survey among city middle and high school students.

That failure, the group leaders said, led federal officials to declare D.C. data for the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey nothing more than a snapshot of student behavior rather than an indicator of trends.

Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, and Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS, said the loss would adversely impact their groups’ ability to assess the needs of LGBT youth.

“This gap in data presents a tremendous loss to SMYAL and the LGBTQ youth of D.C.,” Barnett told Council Chair Vincent Gray (D-At Large), who presided over the hearing. “We rely on the [survey results] to understand the scope of problems facing youth living in D.C.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which created and funds the survey, said the CDC conducts a national version of the survey by sampling about 15,000 high school students in schools throughout the country.

Karen Hunter, the spokesperson, said the CDC also arranges for states, counties and cities to conduct their own version of the survey using a set of “core” questions established by the CDC as well as additional questions deemed important by local jurisdictions.

At the recommendation of a coalition of local community groups, including LGBT organizations, D.C. school officials agreed to add a question to the 2007 survey that gave student respondents an opportunity to disclose whether they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

In response to a recommendation of the same coalition, OSSE agreed to add another question for the 2009 survey enabling respondents to disclose whether they are transgender. The LGBT questions are expected to be part of all future surveys.

“This was incredibly important,” said David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. LGBT Community Center.

Mariner said that identifying LGBT participants in the survey enables the community to assess the problems LGBT youth face and develop ways to address those problems.

Among the core topics included in the survey questionnaire that seek to identify “health-risk behaviors among youth” are: unintentional injuries and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behavior, unhealthy dietary behavior and mental health issues.

Mariner and Tenner said the lack of sufficient data from D.C. students in the 2009 survey creates a four-year gap in assessing the needs of local LGBT youth because the results of the next survey, set for 2011, won’t be processed and released until 2012.

Chad Colby, an OSSE spokesperson, said that although the office is in charge of coordinating the youth survey, it is administered by the city’s public school system. Colby did not know why school officials didn’t arrange for more students to take the survey. A school spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Colby noted that the survey was “in the field” before OSSE’s new director, Kerri Briggs, was appointed to her post as the city’s State Superintendent of Education last year.

A fact sheet he released about OSSE’s views on the survey also says that the survey is not legally mandated. “Therefore, school districts are not legally required to complete the survey,” says the fact sheet.

Colby said the lack of a 60 percent return of the survey questionnaires means the data cannot be “weighted,” precluding it from being compared against data from other cities and states. He noted that the data can still be used for some purposes.

“We’re still going to be reporting it as un-weighted data,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t be able to use the data to make the case for grant funding. It just means you won’t be able to compare it to other states and districts.”

But Hunter said that un-weighted data only “provides a snapshot of what’s going on among the students that were surveyed.”

She said the data cannot be used to extrapolate the behavior of the entire student population. Only “weighted data,” which is obtained from a response rate of 60 percent or greater, can be used to assess the behavior of the larger population group, she said.

Tenner said CDC officials told him the D.C. survey response rate was 36 percent for high school students and 54 percent for middle school students.

“Many of us use the Youth Risk Behavior Survey for our programs and our grants,” Tenner said in an e-mail to local activists. “From a city-wide perspective, many of us were excited to use YRBS data to objectively measure the city’s effort to improve the health of its youth and to highlight the challenges that remain.”

He called on OSSE to present a written plan on how the agency will ensure that the 2011 survey is properly implemented “with adequate student and school participation.”



Prince George’s County library system launches banned book club

First discussion to take place in Hyattsville on June 14



(Bigstock photo)

The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System has launched its Rock Banned Book Club.

The club will feature monthly discussions of the 13 top banned books from 2022, most of which focus on LGBTQ-specific themes. 

The club’s first discussion, which will take place at the Hyattsville Branch Library on June 14, will be on “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. 

Kobabe’s memoir won the 2020 American Library Association Alex Award and recounts Kobabe’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality through adolescence and adulthood. According to the American Library Association, the book faced the most censorship challenges of any novel at 151.

“We’re seeing nationally the highest rate of challenges to books in libraries since the data has been collected by the American Library Association,” Nicholas Brown, acting co-chief executive officer of the library, said. “I think what happens with all of the discourse around book banning is that, oftentimes, not everyone participating in that discourse is actually taking the time to read the full works and discuss them and understand where the author might be coming from and whose stories are being reflected in these books.”

Along with the book club, the library system is hosting a Pride celebration at the Hyattsville branch on Saturday from 12 – 4 p.m. It will feature a panel discussion, vogue and runway workshops, free HIV testing and more. 

The library system will host its second annual Rainbow Festival on June 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bowie Branch Library with family-friendly events like craft stations, story time and a live DJ. In April, the library system won a Top Innovator Award from the Urban Libraries Council for its banned books campaign.

“I think a lot of folks don’t always realize that your local public library is kind of the front line of democracy and we always have been,” Brown said. “Public libraries across the country are very united on this and if the right to read continues to be under threat like it’s been, it is not a good time for the state of our democracy.”

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District of Columbia

Bowser: No credible threats to D.C. Pride events

Mayor spoke with the Blade after flag-raising ceremony at the Wilson Building



D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at the flag-raising of the Progress Pride flag at the Wilson Building in D.C. on June 1, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday said authorities have not received any credible threats to upcoming Pride events.

“We don’t have any to report,” she told the Washington Blade.

“MPD is constantly working with all of our agencies to make sure we have safe special events and we’re going to keep going with our planning, like we do every year,” added Bowser. “There’s always a scan for any threats to the District.”

Bowser spoke with the Blade after she joined D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Council members Anita Bonds, Charles Allen, Kenyon McDuffie and Zachary Parker, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, D.C. Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles and other officials and activists in raising the Progress Pride flag in front of the Wilson Building.

The Blade last month reported D.C. police are investigating a bomb threat a Twitter user made against the annual District Pride concert that will take place at the Lincoln Theater on June 29. Bowles in a May 19 statement said his office reported the tweet, but further stressed that “no credible threat at this time has been made.”

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Moore issues Pride month proclamation

Governor on May 3 signed Trans Health Equity Act



Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Thursday proclaimed June as Pride month in recognition of  “the contributions, resilience, courage and joy of LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” according to a press release.

“In Maryland, we lead with love and inclusion. I want everyone in our LGBTQIA+ community to know that they deserve to be seen for who they are, and our administration will stand with them in the fight for equality and equity,” Moore said. “We need to elevate the stories, embrace the courage, and celebrate the humanity of our LGBTQIA+ community — and as long as I am governor, we will take the steps forward to protect and celebrate all Marylanders.”

Moore on March 31 became the first governor in Maryland history to recognize the Transgender Day of Visibility and last month he signed into law the Trans Health Equity Act into law, which requires Maryland Medicaid to provide coverage for gender-affirming care beginning next year.

“This month is a celebration of the beauty and uniqueness of the queer community, but it’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to uplifting LGBTQIA+ Marylanders and continuing to fight against hatred, discrimination, and bigotry,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said in the same press release that Moore’s office released. “LGBTQIA+ Marylanders deserve to be who they are, to live their pride — without fear or having to hide. This administration will always stand alongside and protect the rights of all Marylanders.”

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