Suicides among gay and lesbian youth
- By a concerned mother: "My child is of sacred worth. Both my children -
one lesbian, one straight -- are of sacred worth. I will faithfully work
until my church truly reflects God's love for both." 1
We hesitate to explore this topic, because the main protagonists --
religious/social conservatives vs. homosexuals and their supporters -- 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.
Numbers of gay and lesbian youth suicides:
The Universal Almanac 1 listed a total of 4,960
completed suicides among US youth aged 15 to 24 years of age in 1993. They quote a National
Center for Health Statistics report. 2 The true numbers
are probably a lot higher, because many deaths categorized as accidents are really
Statistics of gay and lesbian youth are hard to find.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated
that "as many as 30% of completed youth suicides each year" are performed
by gays and lesbians. Unfortunately, many information sources have quoted the
30% as if it is an absolute figure. The Department indicates that it is
30% or fewer. If we assume that the 30% figure is valid and that it is
constant across the age range of 15
to 24 years, then approximately 1,488 suicides per year are committed by homosexual youth.
If we assume that gays comprise 5% of the total number of youth, then the 1,488 suicides
represent an excess of 1240 suicides related to their sexual orientation.
- The Guardian, an
English newspaper reported on a study by Dr Ian Rivers, a senior lecturer in
social psychology at York, St John College in England. He suggests that there
could be as many as 46,000 young people being bullied for their real or
orientation in British 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 they are or not. 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 these had tried to kill themselves more than once. 5
Cause of gay/lesbian suicides, according to religious conservatives:
Religious conservative generally agree that suicides among youth with a
homosexual orientation are elevated. However, they attribute it to two main
- Despair by homosexual youth when they are told that they are trapped forever in the
- Depression and suicidal ideation brought about by homosexual
behavior itself which most religious conservatives consider to be disordered, a
mental illness, and/or an addiction.
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'."
- Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, a
conservative Christian ministry to gays and lesbians said:
my experience. 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."
The term "coming out of homosexuality" as used by religious and social
conservatives, is often interpreted as changing one's sexual orientation
from homosexual to heterosexual. In practice, it exclusively or almost
exclusively means to adopt a celibate lifestyle and live the remainder of
their life without any possibility of an
There is much anecdotal evidence that as long as
gays and lesbians believe that change is possible, many of them desperately seek
reparative and other therapies in an attempt to change
their sexual orientation. many gays and lesbians experience an improvement
in their mental health after realizing that their
homosexual orientation was caused by situations beyond their control and is
probably fixed without any possibility of change.
Cause of suicides according to religious
liberals, therapists, etc:
On the other
hand, most gays, lesbians, therapists, religious liberals and mental health
professionals believe that many of the individuals 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 permeates society
and which they internalized during their childhood.
- Homophobia is largely based on religious beliefs which among Christians
are derived from about 6 quotations from the Bible.
- Three out of four Americans identify themselves
- Most Christian churches have actively taught hatred of homosexuality for
- Conservative Christian churches are currently leading the fight to:
- Prevent gays and lesbians from enjoying rights and protections equal
to the general population,
- Prohibit marriages for loving, committed
- Oppose adoption by gay or lesbian adults, and
- Keep accurate information on sexual orientation out of the public schools.
we estimate that Christian churches are responsible for at least 40% of the
homophobia in the United States.
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
Association and United Church of Christ have been for many years. After a few decades,
children would no longer grow up hating homosexuals. After puberty, when a minority of
children became aware of
their own homosexual or bisexual orientation, they would accept it as a normal expression of human
sexuality. They would be far less liable to commit suicide to avoid a life of same-sex
Assuming that external and internal homophobia is a main cause of suicide, we believe that churches can be conservatively assigned indirect responsibility
for about 496 youth gay/lesbian suicides per year. This rate is greater than the witch genocide rate in Western Europe during the
times in the late Middle Ages and Rennaisance.
If we include:
- suicides by homosexuals over the age of 24,
- youth suicides which are reported as accidents,
- the additional deaths from STDs due to lack of sex-education in the schools (which is
often kept out by influence by religious groups and the federal government)
then the churches' responsibility is much greater.
Gay positive religious groups:
Not all denominations share an equal portion of this responsibility. Some
mainline, liberal, and progressive Christian groups are accepting homosexuality
as an alternative, normal and natural sexual expression for a minority of adults. But to our knowledge, the
United Church of Christ
in the U.S. and United Church of Canada in Canada are
the only large Christian denominations that:
- accept gays and lesbians (both celibate and involved in committed relationships) as
- accept gays and lesbians for ordination
- promote a homosexual-positive educational program in their churches
- advocate in their behalf against discrimination and persecution,
- 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." 2
- 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. Cost is $20 for the curriculum and video." 3
Until all denominations change their policies to match that of the United Churches, they
will remain part of the problem and not part of the solution. And they will all share some
responsibility in these suicides.
- Quotation extracted from The Reconciling Ministries Network's home page
- Reconciling Ministries Network has a home page at
- The lesson plans can be ordered from Multifaith Works at:
Copyright © 1997 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson