Beliefs By U.S. Religious Groups
About Suicides Among Gay And
Lesbian Youth

Part 2

depressed teen

A depressed teen

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Cause of gay/lesbian suicides, according to many religious conservatives:

Religious conservative generally agree with others that suicides among youth with a homosexual orientation are elevated. However, many have attributed this to one of two main causes:

  • Despair by homosexual youth when they are told that they are trapped forever in the homosexual "lifestyle," and cannot change.

  • Depression and suicidal ideation brought about by homosexual behavior itself which many religious conservatives consider to be disordered, a mental illness, and/or an addiction and a behavor that will lead to an eternity in Hell after death.

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Concerning feelings of being trapped:

  • Melissa Fryrear, a gender issues analyst for the fundamentalist Christian activist group Focus on the Family identifies herself as a former lesbian. She said:
    "From my vantage point the people that I found were suicidal are those who thought they were trapped in homosexuality, who thought they had to live homosexually. And so they actually had been filled with hope when we shared with them that, 'No, you can come out of this'." 1
  • Exodus International once described themselves as:

    "... the leading global outreach to churches, individuals and families offering a [conservative] biblical message about same-sex attraction." 2

Their president, Alan Chambers, once said:

"I was told there was only one option for me: 'You have to accept who you are and there is no other way.' And for me, as a teenager when I was coming out of homosexuality 15 years ago, that made me want to die. [It wasn't] until I found that there was an alternative, that there was something for me, for someone who was pursuing what I was pursuing, that caused me to want to live." 3

The term "coming out of homosexuality" has been often used by religious and social conservatives. It is often interpreted as changing one's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. In practice, it almost exclusively meant for lesbians and gays to try to adopt a celibate lifestyle and live the remainder of their life without any possibility of an intimate partner. It sometimes refers to persons with a bisexual orientation who are attracted to both women and men, but who decide to confine their sexual relationship(s) only to members of the opposite sex.

However, during mid-2013, President Chambers posted a public apology on the Exodus web site titled "I am sorry." He acknowledged that the organization had promoted false beliefs concerning the nature of sexual orientation and the effectiveness of reparative therapy. Exodus went out of business soon after, after having been in business for almost four decades.

As long as gays and lesbians believed that a change to their sexual orientation was possible, many of them desperately sought reparative and other therapies in an attempt to change.  Many gays and lesbians experience an improvement in their mental health after accepting that their homosexual orientation was caused by situations beyond their control and is probably fixed without any possibility of change.

Unfortunately, change in public attitudes toward sexual orientation typically takes many decades. For example:

  • In the mid 20th century, same gender sexual behavor was widely believed to be chosen and disordered. Homosexual orientation was almost universally believed to be a mental illness.

  • Pioneering studies by Evelyn Hooker during the 1950's showed that homosexuality was not a mental illness.

  • It took two decades before the American Psychiatric Association (APA) deleted homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses in 1973, and accepted it as a normal sexual variant for a minority of adults.

  • It took three more decades before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized consensual same-gender sexual behavior in private among adults.

  • It took another decade, until 2015, before the same court legalized gay marriage for same-sex couples.

An interesting event occurred in 2015 which may cause changes in future attitudes towards the LGB community. A test has been developed that predicts which adult males are gay with an accuracy of 83%. It measures markers on the epigenetic layer that encompasses their genes. These epigentic markers are present, unchanged, from before birth to adulthood. This is the first definite proof that homosexual orientation is set up prior to birth, and is not chosen later in life. The accuracy of the test is expected to be further refined in the future to increase its accuracy. More details.

Currently, there are still a few agencies who carry on the earlier work of Exodus International and still teach that a person can change their homosexual orientation.

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Cause of suicides according to religious liberals, therapists, etc:

Most members of the LGBT community, therapists, religious liberals, some religious conservatives, and mental health professionals believe that many of youths who commit suicide are motivated to end their life by their hatred of themselves as gays and lesbians. This, in turn, is derived from the hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality which permeated society and which they internalized during their childhood.

Considering that:

  • Homophobia in North America and much of the west is largely based on religious beliefs which many Christians derived from about 6 quotations from the Bible.

  • As of 2014, about 71% of American adults identify themselves as Christians. This value is dropping almot 1 percentage point a year. The percentage of "NOTAS" who do not identify themselves as affiliated with a religious group has been increasing at almost this rate.

  • Many Christian churches have actively taught hatred of and discrimination against homosexuals, and both rejection of and discrimination against homosexuals for decades.

  • Conservative Christian churches are currently leading the fight to:
    • Prevent gays and lesbians from enjoying rights and protections equal to the general population;

    • Reverse the mid-2015 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize marriages for loving, committed same-sex couples;

    • Oppose adoption of children by gay or lesbian adult couples; and

    • Keep teaching about sexual orientation out of the public schools.

Another way of looking at this is to imagine what would happen to the acceptance of homosexuality in North American culture if all religious institutions were as active in promoting equal rights and acceptance of gays and lesbians as the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ have been for many years. After a few decades, fewer children would grow up disliking homosexuals. After puberty, when a minority of children became aware of their own homosexual or bisexual orientation, more would accept it as a normal expression of human sexuality. They would probably be far less liable to commit suicide to avoid a life of same-sex orientation.

Assuming that external and internal homophobia is a main cause of suicide, we believe that churches can be conservatively assigned indirect responsibility for many youth suicides per year. They have blood on their hands/

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Gay positive religious groups:

Not all denominations share an equal portion of this responsibility. Some mainline, liberal, and progressive Christian groups arenow accepting homosexuality as an alternative, normal, and natural sexual expression for a minority of adults. They:

  • accept gays and lesbians (both celibate and involved in committed relationships) as church members;
  • accept gays and lesbians for ordination;
  • promote a homosexual-positive educational program in their churches;
  • advocate in their behalf against discrimination and persecution; and
  • provide a religious ritual recognizing their unions or marriages.

These teachings are found also among:

  • Non-Christian groups, including congregations associated with the Unitarian Universalist Association in the U.S. and the Canadian Unitarian Council in Canada.

  • Congregations of the United Methodist Church who have joined the Reconciling Ministries Network, It is: "a national grassroots organization that exists to enable full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the United Methodist Church, both in policy and practice." 4

  • Other mainline and liberal Christian denominations who identify themselves as welcoming congregations. More information

  • A course by Multifaith Works called "Challenging Myself, Deepening My Faith: A curriculum challenging faith-based homophobia." This is "... a collection of four lesson plans addressing attitudes toward homosexuality in different faith communities. The lesson plans are written from the Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist traditions, as well as a session appropriate for any faith tradition. The curriculum is accompanied by a four-segment video focusing on personal stories." 5

Until all denominations change their policies to match that of the more progressive churches, they will remain part of the problem and not part of the solution. And they will all share some responsibility in these suicides.

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An essay containing more recent data about suicide by LGB youth is currently being written.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Why are Gays pushing there [sic] Gay agenda on us," Godlike Productions' forum, 2012-MAY-21, at: https://www.godlikeproductions.com/
  2. "About Us: What is Exodus," Exodus International, at: http://exodusinternational.org/
  3. Original citation is no longer availalible.
  4. The Reconciling Ministries Network's web site is at: http://www.rmnetwork.org
  5. Multifaith Works' curriculum is at: http://www.multifaith.org/

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Copyright 1997 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2017-APR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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