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According to the producers of a new training video for school counselors, when it comes to gay and lesbian teenagers trying to cope with their emerging sexual identities, counselors can play a vital role in helping them and in some cases, may even prevent suicide.

"The need for this work is striking, because this is the least publicly acceptable area of diversity, compared to ethnicity, gender and religion," said Garrett McAuliffe, professor of educational leadership and counseling at Old Dominion University.

McAuliffe and a colleague, Dr. Angela Jones of the ODU Counseling Center, worked together with ODU students to create "Counseling Gay and Lesbian Youth: A Multiethnic Demonstration Video," a DVD produced at the university. It was written by McAuliffe, who also appears with Jones in the video to demonstrate effective counseling sessions.

McAuliffe said he believes that controversy over gay and lesbian issues in general makes the subject matter taboo among many school counselors. "The cost is very high to the young people who are struggling with these issues. It is important to do this work in the last area of acceptable public discrimination. The DVD takes the position that homosexuality is "a natural state of being" and not to be treated as a mental illness. It also makes clear that attempts by counselors to re-orient? a client's sexual preference from gay to straight would be "unethical."

"I suspect we won't see local school districts picking it up, and that's a shame because these youth are so vulnerable," McAuliffe said. "This is a life-saving operation. Particularly among the African American population, where there is some strong anti-gay feeling, it is very important that counselors be trained in dealing with these issues."

The one hour and 23-minute-long DVD, which includes a leader guide, is being marketed to licensed professional counselors and school counselors at middle schools and high schools.

The video features students from Old Dominion University who portray themselves at younger ages during a role-playing situation. McAuliffe and Jones act the parts of counselors to demonstrate how conversations can be steered and how to pick up on emotional cues given by their young clients.

According to McAuliffe, the consequences of silence and discrimination, whether from relatives, friends or counselors, are significant in that lesbian and gay youth "suffer depression and commit suicide at significantly higher rates than the rest of the population."

Said Jones, "Actually, not a lot of videos have been made on this subject. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues have not been addressed, and have been taboo, particularly in the South."

While McAuliffe expects to encounter resistance to the video from school boards, he points out that "5 to 7% of students are lesbian or gay and school counselors are just not equipped to help them through it."

Explaining his personal interest in making the DVD, McAuliffe said, "I am not gay and I would say so if I were, but I am an ally, and that is a role any heterosexual person can play. By using the techniques in our training video, counselors are not promoting any particular sexual behavior, but rather acknowledging what seems to be a largely biological fact and being responsive and proactive with their lesbian and gay students. As a result, they may even play a role in saving lives."

The video, which retails for $149, is available through Microtraining and Multicultural Development Associates in Framingham, Mass., and is available online at www.emicrotraining.com.

McAuliffe is currently at work on a book for Sage Publications, titled "Culturally Alert Counseling: A Comprehensive Introduction."

This article was posted on: October 19, 2005

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