Remember the controversy earlier this year over the refusal by Sojourners magazine to run an ad advocating for the acceptance of gays in the church? The one where Jim Wallis was essentially cast into the outer darkness by progressive Christians because he wasn’t orthodox on The Only Issue That Really Matters™? Well, Sojourners has changed its mind, at least to some extent. It still won’t accept the ad it rejected. Instead, it is going to run a full page ad from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) that is so patently manipulative, not to mention erroneous and badly written, that Sojourners ought to have sent it back just for violating quality standards. Via Religion Dispatches, here’s the ad:

Let’s start with the photography: this ad is focused on youth. You know, teenagers. People over 13. Adolescents. How old would you say the child in the photo who is left sitting on a railroad track by his heartless father is? Five? Six? If he’s as much as eight I’ll print this out and eat it. The photo is pure emotional manipulation.

Now let’s look at the five superimposed statements:

Up to 40% of the homeless youth in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. 

Yes, well. Two problems with this:

1) The 40% figure comes from a report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (and advocacy group rather than neutral researchers). That report states, “Our analysis of the available research suggests that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).” That’s a range that indicates that the data is inadequate. In addition, those figures are supposedly based on a report on homelessness from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is footnoted in the NGLTF report. The HHS report states:

The rate of gay or bisexual orientation among homeless youth varies across studies. In several studies with shelter and street samples, 3 to 10 percent of youth have reported their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian or bisexual (Greenblatt & Robertson, 1993; Johnson, Aschkenasy, Herbers, & Gillenwater, 1993; Rotheram-Borus et al., 1992b; Toro et al., 1998; Wolfe et al., 1994). Such rates suggest that homeless youth are no more likely than non-homeless youth to report gay or bisexual orientation when compared to the national rate of about 10 percent (Dempsey, 1994). However, higher rates of gay or bisexual identity (16 to 38%) are reported in another set of studies.(5) The higher rates in these studies (16 to 38%) can be accounted for by samples that came from street or clinical sites; tended to be older; included more men (who generally have higher rates than women for gay or bisexual orientation); or came from areas with significant concentrations of gay or bisexual persons in the larger community.

So the 40% figure is essentially worthless. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem with homeless gay youth, but that the GLAAD ad almost certainly grossly exaggerates it.

2) The definition of “homeless” is, shall we say, less than helpful. The NGLTF report states, “the number of homeless and runaway youth ranges from 575,000 to 1.6 million per year.” They got that from the HHS report. Here’s how HHS defines “homeless:

Notwithstanding the debates, evidence suggests that the size of the homeless youth population is substantial and widespread.(4) A recent large-scale survey of U.S. adolescents provides the most comprehensive data to date on the extent of homelessness among youth (Ringwalt, Greene, Robertson, and McPheeters, 1998). In 1992 and 1993, researchers interviewed a nationally representative household survey of 6,496 youth, ages 12 to 17, as part of the National Health Interview Study (NHIS) sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To assess literal homelessness in the previous 12 months, youth were asked whether they had spent one or more nights in specific types of places. These included: a youth or adult shelter; any of several locations not intended to be dwelling places (i.e., in a public place such as a train or bus station or restaurant; in an abandoned building; outside in a park, on the street, under a bridge, or on a rooftop; in a subway or other public place underground); or where their safety would be compromised (i.e., with someone they did not know because they needed a place to stay). Based on these estimates, researchers estimated the annual prevalence of literal homelessness among this age group to be 7.6 percent (or 1.6 million youth in a given year). Even after revising their estimate down, removing youth whose only experience with homelessness was in a “shelter” (a potentially ambiguous term used in the interview), they still estimated that 5 percent had experienced literal homelessness in the previous year (or more than 1 million youth in a given year). The prevalence of homelessness did not vary significantly by family poverty status (determined by parent’s reported income), geographic area, or sociodemographic factors other than by gender (i.e., with significantly higher rates of homelessness for males than females). [Emphasis added.]

Now, it’s true that the GLAAD ad doesn’t mention any of this. It simply uses the word “homeless.” But in an article on the ad, Ross Murray, GLAAD’s Director of Religion, Faith, and Values, makes reference to and links the NGLTF reportm which in turn gets its information from HHS, so I think it’s fair to hold GLAAD responsible for using the data honestly, which I don’t think they do.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are rejected by their families are at higher risk for depression.

Higher risk than who? Straight youth? Straight youth who are rejected by their families? LGBT youth who are not rejected by their families? LGBT youth who stay in the closet? Without a contrast, this statement is meaningless. It’s the kind of misleading, content-free ad copy that PR flacks have been writing to sell deodorant and detergent since time immemorial. It’s bad enough in that setting, but in an ad on a subject as serious as youth homelessness its positively embarrassing.

One in four teens rejected by their families becomes homeless.

Combine the variety of meanings that could be meant by “rejected” and the flabbiness of the definition of “homeless” above and you have another statement that is essentially meaningless. It also raises another statistical question: what’s the percentage of LGBT youth in this “one in four”? Are they half? Five percent? Since the focus of the ad is obviously LGBT youth, it would seem to make a difference.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender homeless youth are more likely to be attacked than other homeless teens.

This is true, though how much more seems to be in dispute.

Teens accepted by their families are much safer than those who are rejected.

Duh. This also says nothing especially germane to the issue raised by the ad.

So there you have it. This will be appearing in the print version of Sojourners, and will no doubt elicit the desired head-nodding and tongue-wagging among its readers. It is, however, typical of the lack of honesty among all too many gay activist organizations.