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 Suicide Attempt
Problem for Lesbian and Bisexual Female Youth, and for Gay, Lesbian, and
Bisexual Youth of Colour1
The Bagley (1994) random sample data confirmed the hypothesis made from
the information and research data available on gay and bisexual males,
and similar data has also been available for lesbians and bisexual females,
and for GLB people of colour. The Bell & Weinberg (1978) data (figure
1, figure 2, and figure
3) reveals that lesbian and bisexual female youth have had attempted
suicide rates comparable to, and even higher than, gay and bisexual male
youth. A major 1988 study of 1,925 17- to 55-year-old lesbians (sample
taken in 1984) suggests that lesbians have been at high risk for suicide
attempts (47). The related data given in Figures
4 and 5 also suggests that the attempted suicide
rate for lesbians has almost doubled from about 1950 to 1980, given the
difference in rates between the 45- to 55-year-old (13%) and 17- to 24-year-old
(24%) lesbians (Figure 4). Furthermore, the
attempted suicide rate for lesbians of colour, 27% and 28%, is almost double
the white lesbian rate of 16% (Figure 5).
A detailed analysis of the available attempted suicide rates for lesbian
youth was made in The Gay Lesbian and Bisexual Factor in the Youth Suicide
Problem (107), but the limitations placed
on this paper make it impossible to render this lengthy, sometimes argumentative,
but interesting presentation. Suffice to note, however, that lesbians of
colour have higher attempted suicide rates than white lesbians; and that
this phenomenon, although not as pronounced, is also noticeable in the
attempted suicide rate data for GLB youth. The Remafedi et al. (1991) sample
produced an attempted suicide rate of 40% for GB males of colour, compared
to a 28% rate for white GB males (Table 1). The Rotheram-Borus
(1992) sample produced a 39% rate for a group of mostly GB males of colour,
and the Uribe & Harbeck sample of 37 males (67% of colour) had an attempted
suicide rate of about 50% (Table 4). This contrasts
with an average attempted suicide rate of about 30% for samples of mostly
white GLB youth.
Similar differences (Table 2) were also reported
by Schneider at al. (1989) who spoke to this. "In general, however, being
a stigmatized 'minority within a minority' may contribute to suicidality.
Gay members of ethnic minorities are often disenfranchised from both mainstream
social institutions that normally provide support and psychological protection
from distress symptomatology" (36:391). This factor,
responsible for the higher rates of distress for GLB people of colour and
also articulated by other professionals (24, 48,
is essentially the same one given to explain why GLB people in general
are at higher risk for having suicide problems than heterosexual people.
Saunders & Valente (1987) emphasized that "empirical evidence, risk
factor and Durkheim's theory of anomic suicide... supports the proposition
that gay men and lesbians are at higher risk for suicide (34:01)"
The concept of "anomie" refers to people who don't feel they belong to
society, have been marginalized, and are stigmatized. GLB youth, however,
would have fewer problems if it was only a matter of not belonging to society,
but the situation is severe for them. Often enough, they feel hated and
rejected by almost everyone, including peers, teachers, parents, religious
leaders, and even their god. Martin (1988) described the situation. "The
truth is that gay and lesbian youth are not like other adolescents. Their
difference stems from their status as members of one of the most hated
and despised minority groups in the country" (50:59).
In addition, most GLB youth have been socially set up to hate themselves
(Note 13). thus producing what could be called
internal anomie. When combined with Durkheim's "anomie," high levels of
distress, attempted suicides, and even suicide can be expected. Unfortunately,
with respect to this phenomenon, as noted by Erwin (1993), little research
exists. Scientific assumptions prevail, and an important question must
be asked: "[But] how does one measure the cumulative effects of multiple
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).
The chapter, The Additional
Problems of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth of Colour is available