Estimates Of Suicide Rates Among
U.S. Gay And Lesbian Youth:
An suicide prevention fence on a bridge.
We hesitate to explore this topic, because the main protagonists --
religious/social conservatives vs. the LGBT community and their allies -- tend to have very strong,
fixed, and conflicting views on the rate and causes of suicide among gay and
lesbian youth. It is certain to motivate many readers of all viewpoints to send
us angry Emails.
There is much debate on suicide among homosexual and bisexual youth:
- Whether completed suicide is higher than for the general population.
- Whether attempted suicides are more common.
- What is the cause/causes of elevated rates of suicide, if it exists.
We will attempt to wade through the misinformation, disinformation, and
conflicting data on this topic.
Early estimates of the frequency of gay and lesbian youth suicides:
The matter of increased suicide rate among LGBT youth has been studied for decades. Some of the reports published between 1989 and 2001 were:
1989: A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report 3 estimated that "... as many as 30% of completed youth suicides each year" are performed
by gays and lesbians.
If we assume that gay and lesbian comprise 5% of the total number of youth -- which is similar to the percentage among adults -- then, on average, a LGB youth would be up to six times more likely to complete suicide than a typical heterosexual youth!
Unfortunately, many information sources subsequently quoted the
30% as if it is an absolute figure. The Department had indicated that it is
30% or less.
The same report stated that suicide is the leading cause of death for LGB youth.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center commented that these data were based on a literature review by Paul Gibson
"... of non-random studies and agency reports on diverse lesbian and gay populations. Unfortunately, the statements have often been quoted as factual even though the scientific grounding behind them is questionable." 9
1993: The Universal Almanac, quoting 1993 data, indicated a total of 4,960
suicides had been completed among all US youth aged 15 to 24 years of age. 2 They quote a National
Center for Health Statistics report. The true numbers
were probably a lot higher at the time, because many suicide deaths are categorized as accidents.
1997: An article by Michael Radkowsky and Lawrence J. Siegel of
Yeshiva University 7 quoted a number of studies and found that:
Suicides by gay youth are thought to comprise 30% of of all
adolescent suicides (Gibson, 1989). This quoted data found in the 1989 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report.
- 10.3% of adolescent females attempt suicide, and 6.2% of adolescent males attempt suicide (Rotheram-Borus, Hunter, & Rosario, 1994)'
The "Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide" states that suicide is the leading cause of death among gay youth, with suicides by these youth comprising 30% of all adolescent suicides (Gibson, 1989). This also quoted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report.
- Durkheim (1951) postulated that the suicide rate varies inversely with the extent of one's involvement with society. Not only are gay
adolescents isolated from their gay peers; they are also "estranged from social norms,
disconnected from their social ties, and denied full participation in society" (Saunders & Valente, 1987, p. 11).
- A variety of other theories on suicide is applicable to gay youth. Farber stated that "suicide occurs when there appears to be no available path that will lead to a tolerable existence" (1968, p. 17). To the isolated gay adolescent seeing a future of loneliness and discrimination, there may seem to be no such path.
- According to Osgood (1985), self hatred and low self esteem are the basis of suicidal behavior; these were characteristics of a large percentage of gay youth at the time.
- Miller (1978) states that each person has within himself or herself a "level of unbearability," a personal equation determining when the quality of life reaches a level so low that there is no longer a will to live. Given societal proscriptions and resultant inner turmoil, it may not be too difficult for a gay adolescent to reach this level.
1998: An article by Gary Remafedi, MD et al. of the University of Minnesota was published in the American Journal of Public Health for 1998-JAN. Their study compared 394 junior and senior high school students with a bisexual or homosexual orientation with 336 gender-matched heterosexual students. They collected data on suicidal ideation, intent, and attempts at suicide. Suicide attempts were reported by:
- 28.1% of bisexual/homosexual males, and 20.5% of bisexual/homosexual females.
4.2% of heterosexual males and 14.5% of heterosexual females. 6
The seven times greater incidence for bisexual/homosexual males is statistically significant. The data for females is not statistically significant because of the very small number of subjects involved.
2001: The Guardian, an
English newspaper reported on a study by Dr. Ian Rivers, a senior lecturer in
social psychology at St John's College in Cambridge, England. He suggested that there
could be as many as 46,000 young people being bullied for their real or
orientation in UK secondary schools. Any child who does not conform to the
norms current in their school can find themselves described as gay or lesbian,
regardless of whether this is their sexual orientation. So, the boy who is not keen on football
can be targeted, as can the girl who is not interested in make-up. Rivers has
looked at the effects of homophobic bullying on young gays and lesbians and
found that more than half considered suicide because of aggression at school,
and that 40% of that group had actually tried to kill themselves; three-quarters
of the latter had tried to kill themselves more than once. 5
2015: The National Youth Risk Behavior Survey sampled opinion confidentially from 15.500 public and private students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Among those surveyed:
- 89% said that they were heterosexual;
- 2% said that they were lesbian or gay;
- 6% said that they were bisexual
- 3% were unsure of their sexual orientation.
The actual percentages of students with minority sexual orientations was probably slightly greater that these values, because of reluctance on the part of those sampled to admit of their sexual orientation.
In recent years, the main author of this web site has assumed that 10% of the adult population is part of the LGBT community.
They found that among adolescents who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or uncertain:
- 40% have seriously considered suicide;
- 35% have reported planning suicide; and
- 25% have reported attempting suicide.
The corresponding values for heterosexual students were 15% 12% and 6%.
It is important to realize that when the older studies were made during the late 20th century, same-gender sexual behavior was despised by a large percentage of the population . Such behavior was only legalized among adults by a U.S. Supreme Court decision for Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Gay marriage (a.k.a. same-sex marriage) was only legalized by that court's decision for Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. The majority of U.S. adults only started to approve of gay marriages in 2011. As of 2017, the same-sex marriage approval rate is slightly over 60%. Since rejection of such behavior increases with age in the U.S., approval of gay marriages and acceptance of same-gender sexual behavior is expected to continue to increase with time. Suicidal ideation and completion should drop over time in response.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Quotation extracted from The Reconciling Ministries Network's home page
- Wright, The Universal Almanac and Book of Facts, 1995, Page 306
- "Report of the Secretary‚s Task Force on Youth Suicide," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services," 1989
"About Us: What is Exodus," Exodus International, at: http://exodusinternational.org/
"Gay in Silence," The Guardian, 2001-OCT-02, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
Gary Remafedi, MD et al., "The Relationship between Suicide Risk and Sexual Orientation: Results of a Population-Based Study," American Journal of Public Health, 1998-JAN, Vol. 88 No. 1. Downloadable from https://www.google.com/
Michael Radkowsky and Lawrence J. Siegel, "The gay adolescent: Stressors, adaptations, and psychosocial interventions," Clinical Psychology Review, Vol 17, No. 2, (1997). Downloadable from https://www.google.com/
The lesson plans can be ordered from Multifaith Works at: http://multifaith.org/
"Suicide Risk and Prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth," Suicide Prevention Resource Center, 2008, AT: www.sprc.org/
Aimee Cunningham, "Gay, lesbian and bisexual high schoolers report ‚tragically high‚ suicide risk," Science News, 2017-DEC-19, at: https://www.sciencenews.org/
Copyright © 1997 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-MAY-27
Author: B.A. Robinson