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The Homosexuality Factor in Social Violence


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TO: Physical Violence Against Gay Males
Presented to The Action Committee Against Violence City of Calgary
For Easier printing: Document in Two Parts!

Gay And Lesbian Youth Suicide And Related Problems

I have not formally investigated the gay and lesbian youth suicide problem, except for having studied the related research work, and I have occasionally talked about the subject with others. In my own history, however, there have been some tragedies. The first male I fell in love with admitted that he felt the same way about me, but he also recognized society's demands. He therefore married a female. The second male I fell in love with went to Bermuda for a Christmas Holiday with his parents. For unexplainable reasons it was reported that Brian had drowned and I was reminded of this event when reading about how another closeted gay male felt when the was at the beach with his family.
... well, what was left for me? only to disappear alone into the ocean, and that night I felt like it. (35: 8-9)
Before Brian had left for this vacation I knew be was having trouble accepting his homosexual orientation but, at the time, I knew little about the more gay-identified males, and we did not have sex with each other. This asexual situation replicated the first overt love response for a male.

One major negative experience related to the gay suicide problem occurred in Calgary, near the mid-1980's. A gay male had come to my New Year's Eve party involving three couples and, the next day, a telephone call reported the bad news. After he had left the party (which had included partaking of celebrations at a gay club), he had gone home, went into his garage, started his car, put on his favorite music, and died. Soon after this event, we learned about his two previous attempts to kill himself.

When I was working on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth Need Our Help, I met a young Calgary gay male who told me the story of a male friend he had since childhood. He had a homo-sexual sex history and the memory of these enjoyed experiences greatly troubled him. He was therefore acting out the macho male role in heterosexual settings and, one night, after being at a party, he drove his car into a concrete structure and killed himself. A number of suicidologists have long suspected that some auto accidents are suicides (Note 8).

As I was editing this document (November, 1992), I told a married female friend, Suzanne, who has three young children, about my work related to gay and lesbian adolescent problems. As I was listing telltale lesbian indicators in adolescence, the expression on her face changed. Without knowing it, I had described her 19-year-old adolescent friend who had committed suicide, and she told me the story. Her friend had always manifested an aversion to the idea of having sex with males, and she then became highly promiscuous, resulting in pregnancy (Note 9). At the beach, Suzanne saw the gun in her bag and took it from her. Her friend then explained - with lies - why she had the gun. Later, alone, she aimed the gun at the location where the fetus would be and killed herself.

I was recently reading about an adolescent gay male who murdered the adolescent male who was publicly outing him, even to his parents. Obviously, the casualties of homohatred are not only gay males and lesbians, as I learned while I was in my late teens. The male I had the most sex with between the ages of 8 to 18 began responding to society's homohatred as much as I was, but in a different way. He got a job, bought a fast car, had sex with different females as often as possible, drank too much alcohol, and drove his car when intoxicated. In an single car accident caused by him, the adolescent female passenger was killed.

In a February 27, 1992, letter to Mayor Al Duerr, and in other letters written to highly placed education authorities in Calgary who should be concerned about the welfare of gay and lesbian youth, a number of quotations were used to outline the life situation of these youth. The quotations are from the 1989 book, Gay and Lesbian Youth, edited by Gilbert Herdt. The book contains many papers published by social scientists who have studied these youth, and they were also published in the Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 17, No. 1/2/3/4, 1989 (Note 10).

"In spite of their large numbers and the profound difficulties that [gay and lesbian youths] confront, few groups of young people have been so ignored, and few evoke so poignantly the aura of quiet desperation to which our statistics on adolescent suicide are such disturbing testimony." (P. XIV) From: Preface, by Robert W. Deisher, MD, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Adolescent Medicine, University of Washington School of medicine, Seattle, WA. [Is ignoring such problems an act of violence against gay males and lesbians?]

"What research increasingly suggest is that, as the age of coming out, of the life crisis transition, lowers for gay youth, [which is documented in one of the research papers,] additional developmental age related pressures may overburden the gay or lesbian teenager. This has greater psychosocial costs, and it raises the risk factors, such as suicide ... (34: 24).

"The general point could be extended to encompass gay teenage problems of adjustment grief, depression, drug abuse, school achievement, and so forth. Paradoxically, gays present a social problem to society, but when particular social problems are studied, gays are often ignored. (34: 3l) [This is exactly what the Calgary Board of Education did with respect to both the suicide and school dropout problem.]

"The problem of the gay teenager must be understood in this sense .... Gibson highlighted the issue in understanding gay teenage suicide, which is alarmingly high and must be cause for great concern. Between 20 and 35% of gay youth have made suicide attempts, the best statistics show. Youthful gays often internalize negative stereotypes and images of themselves. And when you have been told that you are 'sick, bad and wrong for being what you are,' you begin to believe it" (34: 31). [From: Introduction by Gilbert Herdt, PhD, Associate Professor, Committee on Human Development at the University of Chicago.]

"This point of view has been theoretically articulated by several writers who attempted to explain why gay persons have low self-esteem. For example, in Hoffman's (1968) revelation of the gay world, low self-esteem among homosexuals is said to result from their internalization of the homophobic values and reflected appraisal of others as they grew up, especially those of parents, siblings, and teachers. Weinberg (1983) noted, 'The way people feel about themselves intimately relates to the kinds of feedback that they perceive they are getting from others.' Heterosexuality is assumed and encouraged; homosexuality is either invisible or condemned. This is the message given to the child, and later accepted by the child as an adolescent and as an adult. As a result, the gay person's self-esteem suffers" (34: 96). From: "Parental influences on the Self-Esteem of Gay and Lesbian Youths: A Reflected Appraisal Model" by Ritch C. Savin - Williams, PhD, Associate Professor of Social/Personality Development in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University. The paper reports on a study of 317 gay and lesbian youth.]

"What is internalized for the young man who has identified himself as a homosexual? Once there is mutual acknowledgment between a young man and the members of his social world that he is homosexual, he faces implicit condemnation and increasing stigmatization. A hostile and rejecting world unfolds for homosexuals in which the objective understanding they have of homosexuality as unnatural, abnormal, and despised becomes a statement of self-definition" (34: 167). "Male Prostitution and Homosexual Identity" by Debra Boyer, PhD, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.. She studied 47 male youth prostitutes whose average age was 16.2 years and they had first engaged in prostitution at the average age of 14. Most self-identified as homosexual or bisexual and "held beliefs about themselves that were similar to those presented to them by their society and culture." They spoke in ways which reflected "the ambivalence they had about their homosexual identification and of a developing sense of shame and self-hate." (34: 169) "Male prostitutes practiced being gay. As prostitutes, they enacted the myths and reflected the images of stigma they had learned." (34: 177) The following should be of importance to anyone studying the school dropout rate: "Of the prostitutes, 87.2% were not in school," and they had left school, on average, in grade 9 (34: 157).

Ken Plummer, PhD, from the University of Essex, relegated the following to the "Other Problems" category for gay and lesbian youths in England who share the same fate as their counterparts in Canada and the United States: "I have only highlighted a few of the most general problems that gay youth face. There are many others. For instance, the negative self-image and worry may be so extreme as to lead to thoughts of attempted suicide. Indeed, in the London survey, nearly 1 in 5 had made a suicide attempt; in the Bye's survey of isolates, it was nearly 2 in 5; and in the survey conducted by Parents Enquiry in 1982, some 55% had made a suicide attempt. These are desperate acts and worrying figures that have been indicated in other research studies too (Rofes, 1983). They highlight very concretely just how painful it can be to come to identify oneself as gay in a society that has structured out the possibility and the plausibility of being so." (34: 209)
A concept of monumental importance with respect to the mental health of gay and lesbian youth is quoted from Hetrick & Martin's Ego dystonic homosexuality: A developmental view published in Hetrick & Stein (Eds.) Innovations in Psychotherapy with Homosexuals. American Psychiatric Press,  Washington, D.C., 1984:
"At a time when heterosexual adolescents are learning how to socialize, young gay people are learning how to hide." (34: 117)
The consequences of this reality and other life situations for gay and lesbian youth may be so negative that it will lead to the mental disorder once called "Ego Dystonic Homosexuality." The condition is characterized by the non-acceptance of one's homosexual orientation (desires) and it is related to a number of serious problems, including suicide problems.

This socio-religious set-up is often noted by gay males and lesbians, and it is well recognized by social scientists studying gay youth. In many ways, most gay and lesbian youth are overtly and/or covertly taught to hate homosexuality, thus creating great internal havoc when they are recognizing or discovering their homosexual orientation / desires. At worse, the expected negative results of the psychological set-up are self-destructive activities, suicide being the most dramatic and lethal outcome. Michael W. Ross, PhD, from the South Australian Health Commission, is aware of this and began his research paper, "Gay youth in four cultures: A comparative study," with:

Martin and Hetrick (1988), in reviewing the psychological and social concomitants of being young and homosexual in the United States, noted the major difficulties such individuals face. In the society that is homophobic and in which there are few if any role models for the homosexual adolescent to follow, the process of identifying oneself as a homosexual person may be both difficult and painful. The cognitive task of developing a positive self-image in an atmosphere of prejudice will almost certainly produce cognitive dissonance and ego-dystonic reactions in those individuals who are homosexual: in some 20%, internalized self-hatred will lead to attempts at suicide, and it is impossible to estimate how many successful suicides are related to sexual orientation. The difficulties related to becoming homosexual, Martin and Hetrick noted, include the fact that there are no role models as in the case of other minority groups.... (34: 299-300).
One of Ross' conclusions from his cross-cultural study involving 604 gay males was "the finding that young homosexual men have greater and more numerous difficulties in societies that are more antihomosexual" (34: 313).

Ken Plummer, in Gay and Lesbian Youth (1989), describes the closeted gay teacher situation on the basis of a study which had been done:

It was not so much that teachers have their jobs terminated for simply being gay; it is rather that authorities objected to teachers being 'known about' or openly discussing the issue. Yet it is precisely this quality of 'being out' that is required in schools if gay teenagers are to have the heterosexual assumption [-that only heterosexuals exist-] at least punctured, and, more practically, if they are to have access to adults who may help them discuss their gay feelings and develop (34: 203).
When we recognize that our society is teaching a high level of hatred for a minority group, and that members of the hated group will therefore experience various levels of self-hatred, we are committing an act of violence against these people given the numerous negative consequences, including possible suicide problems (acts of self-directed violence). Gay males and lesbians also commonly anticipate violence, given their own experiences in this respect and/or the experiences of others at the hand of individuals manifesting a learned and acted-out blatant hatred for homosexuals. A high level of hatred may also result in quests (hunts) for members of the hated minority group, the objectives being to verbally and physically assault such individuals, and related murders do occur.

It is therefore important to now review the cases of physical violence against gay males brought to our attention in the two Calgary newspapers during the past year. Other cases, not reported on in the media, are also given, and the cases represent much less than the total homosexuality-related violence inflicted on Calgary males during the period.
 

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