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Rape and restraint.

Homophobia among young people can lead to all kinds of physical violence. But while many education programs highlight gay bashing, not enough is being done to draw a connection between homophobic attitudes and rape. That's the position of an innovative new campaign in California that seeks to help teenage males break free of damaging attitudes about masculinity that can lead to sexual violence, including violence among gays and lesbians.

"It's tough for young men [gay or straight] to break up aging stereotypes of what it means to be a man, but that's what this program is all about," says Josh Gottschalk, 23, a member of the MyStrength campaign.

At first glance, MyStrength seems like any other social awareness program targeting high school students: It has a catchy slogan--My strength is not for hurting--and a flashy Web site, and it is backed by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and funded by the California Department of Health Services and other agencies. But unlike most other rape prevention programs, MyStrength specifically focuses on encouraging young men to take responsibility and show restraint.

The program's primary focus is on violence against young women, including violence motivated by homophobia, but the program addresses gay-on-gay violence as well. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a 2000 survey found that 16% of men who reported sexual assault were raped, assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner. An earlier study found that 52% of gay men and lesbians reported one or more instances of sexual coercion by their partner.

Chilling statistics like these drove the creators of the MyStrength campaign to make violence against gay men and women a vital component of their campaign. "The decision to include same-sex imagery was intentional and strategic," said Elizabeth Owen, a spokeswoman for the campaign, "and was intended to create an environment in which discussing homophobia and masculinity is encouraged, with the goal of changing behaviors.

Gottschalk, who is straight, is a member of the Strength Team, a group of young men who will conduct in-depth pilot programs at six high schools across California. Meanwhile, the campaign itself is statewide, and any high school can start a Men of Strength club under CALCASA's auspices. While Gottschalk often discusses homophobia with students, he tries to maintain the focus of his talks on the responsibility all men must take in overcoming masculine stereotypes. "It's not a gay or straight thing," Gottschalk says. "It's a guy thing."
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Title Annotation:THE ADVOCATE GEN Q
Author:Grant, Japhy
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 22, 2005
Words:408
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