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HHS revises Web site to remove antigay statements

HHS revises Web site to remove antigay statements

The federal government has made changes to its Web site concerning its advice to parents on how to talk to their children about sex, after several groups said it presented biased and inaccurate information. The site received about 5 million hits in its first month of operation. In recent days, the section on sexual orientation was changed to address some of the concerns voiced by gay rights advocates. For example, the term "alternative lifestyle" was replaced with "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lifestyle," which addressed the concern that the Bush administration was labeling sexual orientation as choice. In addition, the portion telling parents of gay children to consider seeing a family therapist who shares their values was changed to say, "Counselors and other health professionals may be helpful to both teens and parents when addressing difficult issues." "While the section could certainly still be strengthened, we are immensely grateful for the fact that some of the changes are marked improvements to the old text," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote in a letter he sent Wednesday to Michael Leavitt, secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Alma Golden, deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS, said the plan all along was to review, update, and expand the Web site as new information became available. "Actually, we've got some very useful comments from multiple areas of the country that I think can be used to improve the overall Web site," she said. Golden said focus groups helped the department develop the Web site, which stresses abstinence, and that some of the concerns surprised her because they did not set off alarm bells in the focus groups. For example, she cited the phrase "alternative lifestyle," saying, "We were not aware that was an area of sensitivity." Golden said children questioning their sexual orientation can become depressed because they feel isolated. She said some parents may feel awkward about addressing the issue, and the department is just trying to help them communicate with their children. "The point is to be sure you maintain a sense of acceptance, love, and communication while these teens are dealing with these questions," she said. Another organization that had criticized the Web site, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, described the changes as minimal. The advocacy group said it has yet to hear back from the department about the issues it raised. "We're thankful for the change, but it's just a Band-Aid," said Bill Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, calling for a broader review of the entire Web site. (AP)

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