LGBTQ Young People & Risk of Suicide

From a report compiled by The Trevor Project:

StaticAfAmBoy300x250Although, practically, there is no way of knowing how many suicides are completed by LGBT and questioning adolescents, reliable research on the attempt rates of this demographic group  are available. In the 2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (MA YRBS) concluded that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are “almost four times as likely to have attempted suicide” and “more than five times more likely to have received medical attention for a suicide attempt” than their heterosexual peers.

The reasons for these disproportionate numbers are varied and many, but almost certainly include the lack of self-acceptance as the primary among them. In a 1995 study published in the Journal for Developmental Psychology (Herhberger and D’Augelli), the single largest predictor of mental health was self-acceptance. According to Remafedi (1991), highly feminine boys have also been shown to be at higher risk for suicide attempts because they are the ones perceived by others to be homosexual and behave outside of gender specific norms.

Because of this, feminine boys and “butch” girls are more likely to receive the brunt of bullying in school along with traditional society’s disapproval. As recent events have proven, the perception of being gay is enough to precipitate bullying and harassment, many times with dire consequences. How much more dispiriting would this harassment be if the one being bullied was already questioning their own sexual orientation, or fully aware that they did not fit the “norm”.

The crisis that precipitates suicide is typically related to real or imagined loss. In the coming out process there is the potential for many significant and pervasive experiences of loss (e.g. being thrown out of one’s home, ostracized by friends or having a school environment become hostile). Anticipating negative outcomes can be as traumatic as experiencing them. While many young people are surprised at the level of acceptance they receive from their peers, family and community experiences of loss are commonplace.

Gay and lesbian adolescents are more likely to be physically assaulted or otherwise feel unsafe in school and are often the target of anti-gay harassment. From Teasing to Torment: New National Report on School Bullying (2005) by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reports that:

  • 2/3 (65%) of teens report verbal or physical harassment or assault during the preceding year because of their perceived or actual appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race/ethnicity, disability or religion.
  • The 2nd most common reason for frequent harassment (after physical appearance) is real or perceived sexual orientation. 1/3 (33%) of teens report that students are frquently harassed because they are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.
  • LGBT students are 3 times as likely as non-LGBT students to say that they do not feel safe at school (22% VS. 7%)
  • 90% of LGBT students (vs. 62% of non-LGBT teens) have been harassed or assualted during the previous year.

In addition, 28% of LGBT young people drop out of school because of continued harassment due to sexual orientation (Hershberger, 1995). Gay youth are more than 4 times as likely to skip school because the feel unsafe (Massachusetts Dept of Education, 1995). In 1/3 of a reported 92 incidents of anti-gay harassment in Washington State Schools, adults witnessed the incidents but did nothing to help. Of those students victimized in those particular incidents, 10 attempted suicide with 2 of them dying (Safe School Coalition of Washington State, 1999).

Findings from a national web-based, self-report survey of “suicidal experiences” of 26,000 students from 70 colleges and universities indicate that during their lifetime, half of the responents had experienced suicidal ideation (imagining suicide), 15% had seriously considered suicide and more than 5% had attempted suicide. [Of course, those that had completed suicide were not included in the survey.] The authors cite relying solely on the current treatment model as “insufficient” in reducing suciidal behavior on campuses (Science Daily, 2007).

Gay male adolescents with family problems are at risk from becoming runaways and/or homeless. Once on the street, the high incidence of substance abuse (self-medication), involvment in survival sex and prostitution significantly increases their risk for suicide.


Personal experience is one of the biggest motivators in choosing the issues we champion. This is one of mine for a reason. The barest essentials of my story can be found in the article My Recovery From Homophobia. I have been harassed, bullied, assaulted and abused because of the perception of being gay, even though “gay” wasn’t a commonly used word forty years ago. I have also been a bully, relentlessly harassing verbally those I perceived to be gay.

This pattern of abused to abuser, and even self-loathing, self-abusive and risky behaviors are other common traits of the bullied – traits that, even if they don’t lead to suicide, result in difficult and conflicted lives. As a society, we have a civil and, if Christian, religious moral obligations to care for the most vulnerable in our midst. No group is more vulnerable than our children and, of them, our children who do not fit the stereotypical male-female roles. For a variety of reasons, religious and otherwise, we may be disturbed by certain aspects of these young peoples’ lives but, in the end, we have to decide whether we consider them fully human and fully deserving of protection. We need to examine and overlook our biases and ask ourselves, “Who deserves to be bullied – especially to the point of permanent and irrevocable pain or suicide?”

Certain religious people and institutions – actually the church generally – are complicit in the abuse perpetrated against LGBTQ young people and those whose identity is unclear. The church, as it preaches sin, damnation, exclusion and reduced civil rights, is setting up the abusers to harass and bully. Ammunition is given to both young people and parents to ostracize and punish these young people based on “Christian” and “family” values, while nowhere in scripture does it suggest or condone, for any reason, driving young people to suicide. Veiled under the guise of “tough love”, parents exercise their power and grant validity to their baises, while driving their children to pain and death. The church should be ashamed and repentant for its part in this obsenity.

3 Responses to “LGBTQ Young People & Risk of Suicide”

  1. May 13, 2009 at 6:20 AM

    I think that you’ll find, if you can research the raw data, that the GLSEN’s finding are quite skewed. That is natural since they have an agenda are are hardly likely to let facts stand in the way of twisting public opinion.

    Are queers harassed in school? Of course. So are fat kids, skinny kids, ugly kids, poor (by comparison) kids, and anyone else that doesn’t fit in with the majority.

    Does such harassment make it easier for these kids to skip school or drop out completely? Of course. Is it the cause of such behavior? Doubtful, if one means the cause. One would have to cross reference for race, family status, poverty, and a host of other vectors before reaching a factual determination or statement of probability.

    • May 13, 2009 at 7:12 AM

      I thought seriously about deleting this comment based on the fact that it perfectly illustrates my ending comments in the article and perpetuates stereotypes and biases. I decided, however, that it should stand as a prime example of the thinking that results in damage and suicide. I will not be so inclusive if the tenor of this comment repeats itself.

      First, to the point of raw data being skewed. I am not accustomed to using data without researching it myself. The data agrees with studies performed by the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers and many others. Now, while I concede that your pre-existent biases may cause you to consider these studies “skewed” as well, I will chalk that up to being a symptom of such bias. I let your epithet “queer” stand for itself.

      Now, simply because other groups are bullied and harassed, does that make it right? Which of these groups deserves to be bullied in your estimation? Your listing in the last paragraph are contributing factors to suicide, as is being LGBTQ. None of them are “causes” as such, but do, in fact, lead to increased incidents of suicide ideation, attempts and completion in young people who are already dealing with the stresses inherent in being adolescents. Just because they are “normal” does not obviate the need to mitigate the effects through education and advocacy.

      • May 13, 2009 at 10:00 AM

        Firstly, I dispute that “queer” is an epithet since that is the phrase they use to describe themselves and have more than once complained that my use of “LGBT” or “homosexual” showed “my intrinsic heterosexual bias.” If you chose to take it as an insult though, there’s little or nothing I can do about that.

        Sadly, bullying and “tribalism” are a part of growing up in any society where differing groups are encouraged or forced to mingle. Is it right? No, but it’s normal and largely unsolvable. I see no reason to focus on one group of non-normative individuals over any other group. In point of fact, focusing on protecting one particular group will most likely only cause that group to be further stigmatized and seen as weak and therefor prey.

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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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