Pierre J. Tremblay
at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Suicide
Prevention, Banff, Alberta, October 11-14, 1995, (c) Oct 1995. First made
available on the Internet on January 19, 1996.
The Bagley (1994)
Confirmation of the Gay and Bisexual Male Over-Representation in the Male
Youth Attempted Suicide Problem1
In a recent study carried out by Dr. Christopher Bagley (Faculty of Social
Work, University of Calgary), a stratified random sample of 750 18- to
27-year-old Calgary males was studied to determine the percentage of young
adult males who were sexually abused as children, the number of these males
who had had sex with children since their eighteenth birthday, and especially
the possible negative mental health effects (including suicide attempts)
sexual abuse may have had on these males. When it was learned that about
1% of males (8/750) admitted to having had sex with children (39:683).
I was impressed with the results, given that males who have sex with children
will rarely, if ever, readily admit to such activities, unless they were
given a highly credible guarantee of anonymity.
For reasons given in Appendix A, the Bagley
et al. (1994) study is deemed to be one of the best available with respect
to producing demographic data on the basis of sexual orientation, and especially
with respect to determining the percentages of urban males who are homosexually
active as young adults. The sample data reveals that 4.3% and 4.9% of these
males have been having sex with other adult males on a "regular" to "occasional"
basis, for a total of 9.2% of males who may be classified gay or bisexual,
and homosexually active (40).
Bagley (1994) also reported that there were 3 suicide attempters in
the gay/bisexual category out of the 8 suicide attempters in the Bagley
et al. (1994), thus producing the estimate that 37.5% (3/8) of male youth
suicide attempters are gay or bisexual (X2= 7.75, p < 0.01,
df = 1 - .Note 8)2.
The results of this study therefore represent a great milestone reached
in the field of Suicidology, especially in the debate over whether or not
gay and bisexual male youth are at greater risk for having a suicide attempt
problem than their heterosexual counterparts.
Although the above result must be replicated in other studies to establish
its scientific validity, the study nonetheless begins to answer (in the
scientific way most suicidologists seem to demand, as in using random sampling)
the hypothesis, or highly informed speculation, that gay/bisexual males
(and even lesbian/bisexual females) are at higher risk for at least having
an attempted suicide problem. Although the caveats for the Bagley study
are many, most suggest that the gay/bisexual representation in the male
youth attempted suicide problem may be greater than 37.5%.
The stratified random sampling of males studied by Bagley et al. (1994)
was taken in middle- to lower-class neighbourhoods located in the northern
half of Calgary, or outside the area (a 20 by 20 block area) predominantly
housing Calgary's gay community. Therefore, the sampling missed the highest
concentration of young adult gay males living in Calgary, the ones who
would have an attempted suicide rate greater than 20% (table
1, table 2, table 3, and
4). Gay/bisexual/heterosexual street and delinquent youth (and related
services) are also concentrated in the same area. This knowledge of Calgary
therefore reveals that the Bagley et al. (1994) sampling missed a high
concentration of 18- to 25-year-old street youth probably having a history
of delinquency and being runaways.
Research work has revealed that adolescent runaways have elevated rates
of all the interrelated problems - depression, conduct disorders, family
problems, arrests, substance abuse, and a history of suicide attempt(s)
- correlated with youth who attempt suicide and commit suicide (41:103).
The reported attempted suicide rates for male runaway youth have ranged
from 15%-19% (42:157), to 29% (41:105
- Note 9). and it has been estimated that
30% of runaway youth and 40% of street youth are gay, lesbian, or bisexual
(35:264 - Note 10).
The sampling of the 750 males was also carried out by using the telephone
reverse directory, the implication being that these males were living generally
stable lives. To be listed in the telephone directory, they must have been
living at the same address for a period greater than about 6 months, and
also needed to have a telephone. Because of this sampling limitation, a
predictable under-representation of "at risk" populations occurred, such
as street youth, young adult males who are in the prison system (Note
11), and other highly distressed youth (with a history of suicidality)
who have been institutionalized. This latter factor was noted by Bagley
et al. (1994), thus partly explaining why the number of suicide attempters
in the sample (8/750, 1.1%) is lower than the anticipated percentage given
that studies have produced male youth attempted suicide rates ranging from
about 3 to 8 percent (Note 12).
1. Some of the information was first rendered
in the 1994 book, The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual
Factor in the Youth Suicide Problem. by Pierre Tremblay.
of Contents with links to some sections available online at the
and Bisexual Male Suicide Problems Information web page(s).
2. These results were based on males reporting
that they were currently homosexually active. Later, the full analysis
of the study data was done on the basis sexual orientation information.
This produced two papers: one
on suicidality (two version, same data) published in 1997, and
paper published in 1998. Both are available online at the Gay
and Bisexual Male Suicide Problems Information web page(s).
The suicidality data was presented on the basis of self-identification
(as homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual) and/or being currently homosexually
active. Two additional individuals who were not currently homosexually
active but identified as homosexual were suicide attempters. This raised
the percentage of suicide atttempters who were homosexually oriented to
62.5% from the "37.5%" reported in the paper. A related note, in the form
of an Addendum,
was added to the paper when it was placed on the Internet in January, 1996.