Lambda Club Hopes to Start School Counseling Program for Gay Teens

Times Staff Writer

A prominent gay-oriented political group is working on a proposal to create a high school counseling program for homosexual teen-agers.

The Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club plans to ask school administrators to begin a program patterned after the controversial Project 10 at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.

The program's goals are to reduce drug use and the dropout rate among gay and lesbian adolescents and to provide understanding counselors and teachers for the teen-agers, said Lambda President Dave Newell.

"A lot of these kids may be dropping out of school and turning to drugs because they're confused about their sexual orientation," Newell said.

Reaction to the concept from school administrators was cautious.

No Endorsements Yet

Long Beach Unified School District Supt. Tom Giugni called the idea "intriguing." And school board members said they would look at a proposal, but no one endorsed it.

Board of Education President Jenny Oropeza expressed the most support, calling the concept "a neat idea." But, like her colleagues on the board, Oropeza questioned whether the school district could afford such a program.

"It sounds to me like another frill we can ill afford," said Board Member Jerry Shultz. "We already have counselors and psychologists in the schools."

Virginia Uribe, a teacher who founded Project 10 at Fairfax five years ago, said the cost to her school district is half her salary, because she is assigned to the counseling program half time.

A nonprofit support group, Friends of Project 10, provides scholarships and pays for gay-oriented literature, which is available in the classroom set aside for the program at Fairfax. Many students, however, don't want to be seen walking into the classroom, so they call Uribe on the phone, she said.

'It Breaks Your Heart'

"They have a general feeling of not being OK," Uribe said. "It breaks your heart. They have all the problems of being a teen-ager, plus they're uncertain about their sexuality."

Occasionally, students want to talk about AIDS and sex, Uribe said. More commonly, they discuss how they're feeling and, sometimes, they ask how to cope with the taunts of classmates, said Uribe, who is a lesbian.

Studies show that the rate of suicide attempts among gay teen-agers is two to six times higher than that among heterosexual youth, according to Uribe. A study of 62 young gay men at Minneapolis General Hospital found that 28% had dropped out of school, Uribe said.

Gay teen-agers also turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of escape and to cover up their feelings, she said. In her own study of 50 teen-agers, Uribe found that 75% believed they had a drug or alcohol-abuse problem. Uribe pointed out that the students were in a high-risk group, which may have resulted in an inflated figure.

"They want to know if they're the only people in the world like that," Uribe said. "They're very lonely. They want to know how to talk with their parents. They want to know how they can conduct their lives (while) belonging to a hated group."

Support for Counseling

Project 10 at Fairfax began as lunchtime rap sessions for any students who wanted to attend. Uribe then received permission from her school principal--and the support of the L.A. Unified School District board--to spend half her time counseling homosexual teen-agers.

The program was named Project 10 because of estimates that 10% of the population is homosexual.

Project 10 received little media attention until last year, when it was attacked by the Catholic Church, a group of Republican legislators and other conservatives.

Uribe created a stir in February, 1988, when she lectured at San Fernando High School, which has a health clinic that provides contraceptives with parental permission. The Traditional Values Coalition, a statewide church group, protested Uribe's presentation. And the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, who also condemned the San Fernando High health clinic, called the gay counseling program "a camouflaged method to legitimize homosexuality."

Funding Controversy

One month later, Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge) led the GOP caucus in deciding unanimously to oppose new funds for the school district until it stops supporting Project 10.

The controversy later died down as La Follette's move failed to win broader support, but Uribe said the publicity generated inquiries from around the country. Uribe also started to train counselors and teachers in workshops throughout the L.A. school district.

In Long Beach, it may take considerable work before district officials approve such a program. For example, it took more than three years for Lambda leaders and others to persuade the City Council in 1987 to approve an ordinance prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But supporters hope that this five-member school board, which is viewed as having a more liberal composition than previously, will be receptive to the proposal.

"We're hoping it will not be as difficult now," said Alan Lowenthal, president of the Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, an 800-member activist group with liberal leanings.

"We're going to work really hard to support Lambda," Lowenthal said. "We think it's important that gay and lesbian students--even kids who question their sexuality--get counseling so they can feel good about themselves."

Board member Bobbie Smith, one of four members elected last year, said that she and her colleagues have "not backed down from any controversial issues." But Smith would not say whether she supports the concept. "I'm open," she said.

Other Reactions

Board member Karin Polacheck declined comment.

Board member Harriet Williams--like Oropeza, Smith and Shultz--questioned whether the district could afford a counseling program for gay children when it has many other needs.

"I doubt we would take on something like this right now," said Williams, who noted that the district is undergoing significant changes, including the conversion of more schools to year-round schedules and the switch of ninth-graders to high schools.

But, Williams added, "that's not to say it's not a good idea and would not happen in the future."

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