Sexuality Educator and Licensed Professional Counselor
Dying for acceptance; Suicide rates in LGBTQ Youth and Adults.
Often time in our lives we find ourselves wondering who we are, what would happen if people knew the real me. Would they leave me, stop being my friend or would they embrace me and accept me as I am. This is the million-dollar question that is plaguing the lives of so many people in America and yes even the world today. The reality is that people may not accept you as you are; so do you hide yourself, do you commit suicide, run away from home, turn to drugs and alcohol to cope or do you say I don’t care it's my life and I’m going to live my best life..
As a therapist, these thoughts represent many LGBTQ youth and adults that I have counseled during my career as well as those that are living in our communities. I decided to write this article this month because of the alarming rate that LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning) teenagers and adults that are committing suicide because they aren’t being accepted for who they are. This topic is considered by some as controversial and negative. It’s pressing up against the definition of marriage, it’s finding itself being wrestled in our politics, and it’s made its presence in our legal system and our military. There is also a group of people that feel it shouldn’t be discussed, they feel that we should just ignore it and show them what the Bible says about homosexuality. These conversations happen every day in our churches, communities, homes, political arenas, and schools. The reality is that there are LGBTQ youth and adults packing out our churches every week, filling up our schools, teaching our children, playing on our favorite football or basketball teams, providing security for our cities, serving our food and even cutting or styling our hair. The fact is that the LGBTQ community is everywhere that we go.
As a therapist, I’ve heard so many stories from parents and teens about the difficulty of understanding that their son or daughter is gay or lesbian and the difficulty that teens and adults have about disclosing their sexual orientation to their parents and friends because of fear of being ridiculed, abandoned, judged, hated and being alone. This difficulty has led many to take their own lives. The stats are:
● 5,000 LGBTQ youth now take their lives each year with the number believed to be significantly higher if deliberate auto accidents and other precipitated events are counted.
● 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt suicide every year.
● Homosexual and bisexual junior high and high school boys are 7 times more likely than heterosexual boys to report suicide attempts.
● Lesbians are more than twice as likely to try committing suicide than heterosexual women
● A majority of the suicide attempts by homosexuals take place at age 20 or younger with nearly one third occurring before age 17
● Gay male, lesbian, and transsexual youth comprise of about 25 percent of the homeless living on the streets in this country.
The LGBTQ youth and adults often talk about the judgment, hatred, insults, negative comments, and violence that are part of their daily lives. This daily verbal, physical and emotional abuse could result in some youth and adults experiencing some mental problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home), Dissociative disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders, sleep disorders, and Adjustment Disorders. Some also experience drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, and self-hatred. The messages that are given from the church and in some communities about homosexuality are filled with such hatred, judgment, and negativity that’s it's difficult for youth or adults to come to their church to discuss this part of their lives because of the vile and hateful comments that come from some pulpits today. Some may read this article and view homosexuality as a sin and may think that some of the ills that affect the LGBTQ community are because its God’s punishment towards them if this is your thought I would ask you what is God’s punishment for you because the sins that you commit? Often times many like to place sins in categories with Homosexuality being at the top of the list. The reality is that God didn’t list sins by any order but that’s what some church worshippers have done so that they feel better about the sins that they commit on a daily basis.
There have been many horror stories in the media recently about LGBTQ youth and adults committing suicide because they were harassed about their sexuality. One particular story that I read came from New York where a 26-year Black youth took his own life and wrote on his Facebook the day he committed suicide “ I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called social mainstream” Another case is the young man from Rutgers University that jumped off a bridge after being videotaped having sex with a man and the of a 13-year-old student who shot himself in the head after being teased and harassed at school about his sexuality. I recount these stories to show that these are real people that had real lives and because of not being accepted for who they were decided to commit suicide.
Suicide is seen by many as the final get back to those that they have rejected or judged them, often times the family members will say I didn’t see any signs of suicide. This can be very true because the person will fake their mood to not family members, partners and friends worry or there could be a traumatic event and decided to end their lives. In some cases the signs are obvious and in other cases, the signs are more subtle. Below I have shared some key warning signs that a loved one or friend may be contemplating suicide:
Rage, uncontrollable anger, seeking revenge
Feeling trapped, like there is no way out
Withdrawing from family and friends
Unable to sleep
Expressing no reason to live or sense no purpose in life.
Someone threatening to kill or hurt themselves
Someone looking for means to kill themselves (guns, pills, suicide by police)
Someone writing about death or dying.
In conclusion, let’s open up some dialogue in our churches/communities about how we treat and talk about the LGBTQ community. I want you to think about the fact that this community is created by God with dreams, aspirations, emotions, and goals. I also implore you to choose your words carefully when you speak to or about this community because you don’t want to be the last voice that they hear that pushes them to their death after being rejected again…we know that there is much power in the tongue the bible states in Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Some of you may say I would never say what I think about their lifestyle to their faces but if you are on the phone gossiping about them, or whispering to your friends when they walk by, or giving them weird looks or spreading rumors these acts are just as damaging as the words that you speak. I’m reminded of a great line from my favorite movie “Doubt” (“Gossip is like slicing feather down pillow and throwing it into the wind) the moral here is that you can’t go out and gather up all the feathers and that is what gossip is because once it’s out …its out. I also want you to think about love and what’s your definition of love, God has commanded that we love him and love one another the scripture states Matthew 22: 37-39 Jesus replied” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; Love your neighbor as yourself.
Lastly, think about a time that you had an experience where you just wanted to be accepted for who you are…whether its church, school, family, fraternity, sorority, friends, and employment would you have chosen to commit suicide to be accepted…… some people are…….Dying to be accepted.
Sources for this article:
1. Jay, K. and Young, A The Gay Report: Lesbians and Gay Men Speak Out About Their Sexual Experiences and Lifestyles. New York: Summit, 1977.
2. National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255