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.
History of the
Suicide Problem in Gay Communities1
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895), a lawyer and a pioneer of the modern
gay movement, often noted the reality of suicide, especially with respect
to the legal prosecution of homosexuals (15).
Being "outed" by the legal system, and especially being threatened to be
"outed" (often accompanied by blackmail), was a great concern of the poet,
writer, and expert on homosexuality, John Addington Symonds (1840-1893)
who wrote: "I do not think it far from wrong when I mention that at least
half of the suicides of young men are due to this one circumstance" (16:150).
Gender nonconformable gay males were also deemed to be at greater risk
for suicide, as the situation still exist today for gay youth (31).
In the first book on homosexuality in the English language, Sexual Inversion,
Havelock Ellis reported that "inverted men [effeminate men]...frequently
commit suicide." (17:201 - Note
Although this information is anecdotal, such life experiences were reported
throughout the twentieth century, and especially during the last 30 years
in North America. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon(1972) described the prominence
of the suicide problem in the American lesbian community by reporting on
a group of "twenty lesbians between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-two"
who had been involved in a discussion. There were "only two [who] had not
attempted suicide when they were teenagers" (18:27).
Concerning suicide in the gay community, Allen Young (1972, 1977) noted:
"Most of us in gay liberation don't hear about a suicide without automatically
assuming there's a good chance the person is homosexual" (19:23).
More recently, Gens Hellquist (Gay and Lesbian Health Services, Saskatoon)
reported that "AIDS is not the only thing that is killing our friends.
While I'm not aware of any statistics on the subject I believe we've lost
more lives to suicide than to AIDS. I certainly know more people in our
community who have taken their own lives than I know who have died from
AIDS"(20 - Note 2).
Reports of significant suicide problems have a long history in gay and
lesbian communities, but this reality has not been recognized by most suicidologists.
To this day, however, openly gay males do commit suicide, as do closeted
homosexually active males. In some cases the latter commit suicide following
an arrest related to their homosexual activities, or following the threat
of an arrest. Related information is available at SIEC (The Suicide Information
and Education Centre, Calgary, Alberta.), in gay literature, and from me
and others. For example, in 1988, a married male high school teacher in
a Calgary Catholic high school committed suicide after a male student complained
to police about a sexual advance. Suicides of gay males and lesbians also
occur for other reasons but it is often not known that the victim was homosexually
active, and that he/she may have been wrestling with wholly or partially
recognized and unwanted gay/lesbian desires and/or identity. This intra-psychic
situation is well recognized factor (among others) in the suicide attempts
of GLB youth (24-25).
Due to a number of homophobic social factors, among them the nature
of the closet, it may not be possible to establish the exact representation
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in the suicide problem. The same problem
applies to a lesser extent with respect to suicide attempts. People who
commit suicide cannot tell us why they did it, unless they left a suicide
note, reported their problems in a diary, or confided in a friend or therapist
who can tell an investigator the facts of the case. For some GLB individuals,
we learn that they often committed suicide for reasons wholly or partly
related to their unwanted homosexual identity, and the same factor is also
often implicated in GLB youth suicide attempts (23-38).
A shortened version of a chapter in the 1994 book,
The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Factor in the
Youth Suicide Problem. by Pierre Tremblay. Table
of Contents with links to some sections available online at the
and Bisexual Male Suicide Problems Information web page(s).