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Born in California in 1976, Duff began her journalistic career as the founder of an underground school newspaper, The Tiger Club, while an 8th grader at South Pasadena Junior High School in 1989. After five published issues, she was suspended from school by the principal for refusing to stop disseminating the newspaper.
After seeking help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the South Pasadena Unified School District agreed to allow her to return to school. She completed her 8th grade year and was then accepted as an early entrance student to California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), which she attended for a year and a half.
While at CSULA Duff was on staff of an alternative newspaper published by Los Angeles art-critic Mat Gleason who, at the time, was a graduate student in the school of journalism and president of an alternative Greek organization, Omega Omega Omega, and later went on to publish Coagula Art Journal.
Involuntary conversion therapy
Concerned about her daughter's sexual orientation, Duff's mother had her transported against her will to Rivendell Psychiatric Center (now called Copper Hills Youth Center) in West Jordan, Utah. Duff was admitted to Rivendell Psychiatric Center on December 19, 1991, at age fifteen.
During the drive from California to Utah, Duff covertly called journalist Bruce Mirken, a friend who then wrote for both the Los Angeles Weekly and The Advocate. The two had had plans to meet for dinner prior to her forced detention and upon hearing of her situation, Mirken phoned Public Council, a public interest legal aid society which secured pro bono services of corporate attorney Gina M. Calabrese of the Los Angeles firm Adams, Duque & Hazeltine.
Although Rivendell was not officially affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Duff later said that she was visited by Mormon missionaries during her six months at the Utah psychiatric facility and that the treatment she received was heavily influenced by religion. Duff says that Rivendell therapists told her that a gay and lesbian orientation was caused by negative experiences with people of the opposite gender and that having a lesbian sexual identity would lead to sexually abusing other people or engaging in bestiality. Duff was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and clinical depression. Duff was subjected to a regimen of conversion therapy. This involved aversion therapy, which consisted of being forced to watch same-sex pornography while smelling ammonia. She was also subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, solitary confinement, and therapeutic messages linking lesbian sex with "the pits of hell." Behavior modification techniques were also used including: requiring girls to wear dresses, unreasonable forms of punishment for small infractions similar to hazing like having to cut the lawn with small scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush and "positive peer pressure" group sessions in which patients demeaned and belittled each other for both real and perceived inadequacies.
Emancipation and adoption
In late 1992, with the help of Legal Services for Children and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and with legal assistance provided by the National Center for Youth Law, Duff petitioned the courts to have her mother's parental rights terminated. She was one of a handful of children who divorced their parents that year. In October 1992, a lesbian couple in San Francisco adopted Duff. She lived with them until the age of eighteen, when she began living independently and returned to college.
Youth rights activism
From 1992 through 1998, Duff was an outspoken critic of the mental health system, appearing on CNN, ABC's 20/20, and numerous print, radio and television media outlets. She also spoke at a number of human rights, civil rights, mental health and youth services conferences about her experiences and the rights of young people to live free of discrimination and oppression on the basis of their sexual orientation. During these years she also served on the board of several national organizations including the National Center for Youth Law (board member from 1994–2001) and the National Child Rights Alliance (board member from 1992–1993, board chairperson from 1994–1999). In 1996, Duff was honored as a keynote speaker and given a human rights award at the international conference of the Metropolitan Community Church.
During these same years, Duff was emerging as a journalist in her own right, writing for Youth Outlook, a column in the San Francisco Examiner, and the Pacific News Service. She joined the staff of Flashpoints, a daily hour-long drive-time show broadcast on Pacifica Radio's KPFA in 1994. Her writings have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, Salon online, the Utne Reader, Sassy Magazine, the Washington Post, Seventeen, the Miami Herald and the National Catholic Reporter.
In 1995, Duff traveled to Haiti where she established Radyo Timoun ("Children's Radio"), that country's first radio station run entirely by children under the age of seventeen. She reportedly worked closely with Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
By the late 1990s, Duff was a well-established international journalist with postings in Haiti, Israel, Croatia, several African countries, and Vietnam. After the United States invaded Afghanistan, she traveled to the front lines as one of the few non-embedded Western journalists.
In early 2000 she began to cover religious affairs from her posting in Jerusalem, writing widely on the problems and conflicts between Christians, Jews and Muslims. In 2002, Duff earned an MA in Theology.
In February 2004, Duff, who was then living six months out of every year in Jerusalem, was home in the United States on a brief visit when a group of ex-soldiers overthrew the democratically elected government of Haiti. She quickly traveled to Haiti, arriving in Port-au-Prince when the coup was only days old and reporting on the situation extensively for several national media outlets.
From 2004-2006, Duff regularly covered the situation in Haiti for the San Francisco Bay View, Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints, and Pacific News Service. Her reporting is a blend of in-depth investigative reports and "as told to" first person commentaries by Haitian nationals. Subjects have included politically motivated mass rape, the United Nations mission in Haiti, killings by American Marines in Port-au-Prince, civilians taking over the neighborhood of Bel Air and murders of street children by police and ex-soldiers.
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- We Won't Be Peaceful and Let Them Kill Us Any Longer ZMag, November 04, 2005, by Lyn Duff. Accessed July 10, 2007
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- Profile at Selves and Others
- "The Other Regime Change: Overthrowing Haiti's President Jean Bertrand Aristide" by Lyn Duff & Dennis Bernstein in "Impeach the President" (Eds: Peter Phillips and Dennis Loo). Seven Stories Press: 2006