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Gay Studies: Suicide Attempt

Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...Introduction:

Affirmation - a Mormon group - is organizing a Gay Suicide Vigil on May 8, 2001, and they will be contacting the media with the hope that informed reports will be written on the "suicide problems" of gay lesbian, and bisexual youth:  children, adolescents, and young adults. To assist them, I decided to make available some of the "education" information prepared for four presentation made in Eastern Canada in February and March, 2001: two in Quebec City (Université Laval), one in Bathurst, New Brunswick (the small city of 15,000 people where I grew up; the 2.5 hour evening presentation was organized by the Sexual Health Centre and the French / English GLB group " Nor Gay"), and one at McGill University in Montreal which was part of a meeting of GLB researchers sponsored by Health Canada.

Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...Section Organization:

This section was developed to be a reference for journalist and others wishing to have a quick summary of the studies reporting on the relationship between "youth suicide problems" and homosexuality issues. The information is grouped and presented in tables (titles and links given below), each table having its own web page. In addition, given that little has yet been published in journals on the relationship of harassment in schools and suicide problems - nothing on anti-gay/lesbian harassment in schools and suicide problems - information will therefore be given on this subject as based on two Youth Risk Behavior Data sets (Oregon, 1999; Wisconsin, 1999), and a third data set obtained from an Internet survey carried out by and Oasis magazine.

These data sets are presently being analysed and the results will be part two papers on harassment and suicidality being prepared by myself, Pierre Tremblay, and the following researchers: Professor Richard Ramsay, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary (with whom I am an associate researcher) - Dr. Chris Bagley, Social Work Studies Department, University of Southampton (who made possible my "Visiting Research Fellow" status at this university) - and Professor Michel Dorais, Faculté des sciences sociales, Université Laval. I am presently translating to English Michel's Dorais' book, "Better be Dead Than a Fag," the only qualitative study ever done on gay males who attempted suicide. The English translation of this study, combined with a comprehensive analysis of the quantitative studies available on gay and bisexual suicide problems, will form a book to be published early in 2002.

Individuals who are concern enough about "GLB Suicide Issue" that they will want to make related presentations were also taken into consideration. For them, I have made available all the tables of information in the form that they can be printed on one page. To have them printed on one page, however, you "must" do the following: On your browser, set the "printing preferences" to "0" for the margins: top, bottom, left, and right. If need be, also remove all additional information normally printed on the top and bottom of page when a web page is printed, such as the URL, date, page number, etc.. This will give you a printed page with only the information you want. Furthermore, after you have such a page, you can make transparencies (for an overhead projector), meaning that you may use them "with my permission" if you are to give a presentation on the subject. Netscape Communicator / Composer 4.6 was used to make the tables. (Notice: These pages are not yet verified for their one-page printing. A few may be a little longer than a page. This notice will be removed when pages have all been doubled checked in this respect.)

Some of the "Information Tables" are also available in French. La plupart des "tableaux d'information" sont disponibles en français. Vous n'avez qu'a cliquer sur le lien "Tableau 1,2.." ci-dessous. Une liste des tableaux - et les liens à ces tableaux - se retrouve à cette page: Les Problèmes Suicidaires des Jeunes Gais, Lesbiennes, et Bisexuels(elles) : Index français.

Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...A Short History of North American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth Suicide Problems... and negative issues related to most mainstream youth suicidologists who have continued to ignore homosexuality issues in their research work.

To 1994: there were 12 studies available of gay and lesbian youth - mostly gay and bisexual male youth - that produced an average lifetime "suicide attempt" incidence of about 30%. Additional studies have not changed this estimate. By the 1970s, as the result of a major study of homosexual males (San Francisco Bay Area - a 1969 sample) carried out by Bell and Weinberg (1978, a Kinsey Institute study), it became known that homosexual males were more at risk for having attempted suicide than heterosexual males. (In studies, it is recommended that a control sample be used in statistical analyses, as it was done by Bell & Weinberg.)  However, for reasons that inquisitive journalists should explore, almost all mainstream youth suicidologists not only ignore the Bell & Weinberg study findings, but they also did not seek to do replication studies; ;in mainstream suicidology a deadly tradition of not soliciting 'homosexuality" information from subjects studied continues to this day. The first study replicating the Bell & Weinberg (1978) findings was published by Dr. Chris Bagley and myself in 1997 - almost 20 years after the Bell & Weinberg study results had been published. From 1998 to 1999, results were published from school-based studies: mostly YRBS (Youth Risk Behavior Survey) studies to which some homosexuality-related questions were added, but the original CDC - Centers for Disease Control - Questionnaire does not contain such questionsm and most YRBS still do NOT ask "homosexuality" questions. The results confirmed that the 2 to 4 percent of adolescents self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and/or the ones who report being homosexually active, or the greater numbers identified / suspected by others as being homosexual and are harassed - abused - accordingly, are all at higher risk for attempting suicide than are their counterparts: the ones identified as heterosexual, the ones only reporting being heterosexually active, or the ones not harassed on the basis of presumed homosexual orientation, respectively. Furthermore, these sutdies show that, on average, homosexually oriented adolescents are at even higher risk for attempting suicide than previously estimated from non-random community based samples: an average of about 30% for a lifetime "suicide attempt" incidence (See Tables 1 - 2). The YRBS studies report that homosexually oriented adolescents are attempting suicide at a rate of about 30% in every 12 month period! Not mentioned in published studies, however, is the fact that the data from YRBS studies indicate that adolescents self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and/or the ones who report being homosexually active, or the ones  identified / suspected by others as being homosexual and are harassed - abused - accordingly, are all - as a rule - at higher risk for the more serious suicide-related behaviors than are their counterparts: the ones identified as heterosexual, the ones only reporting being heterosexually active, or the ones not harassed on the basis of presumed homosexual orientation, respectively. Their risk for "the more serious behaviors" also increase, relative to their counterparts. Anti-gay harassment - motivated by what some researchers have called "homophobia" or "homonegativity" (Morrison wt al., 1999; Roderick et al., 1998) - has also become an issue, and a good description of the homophobia / homonegativity existing in North American public schools is given by Richard Goldstein in the article The ‘Faggot’ Factor: The chickens came home to roost at Columbine High:
The word "faggot" has never merely meant homosexual. It has always carried the extrasexual connotation of being unmanly. But these days, the implications of that insult have expanded. To say that a certain behavior is "so gay" can apply to anything stupid, clumsy, or outré. It’s probably the most effective way to call a guy a loser, and in this age of sexual candor, when high school students know that some of their peers may actually be gay, the accusation has an even more fearsome ring.
Adolescents harassed in school (or on the way to and from school) because they are assumed to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual are also at greater risk for suicidality; their general relative risk for increasingly serious suicide behaviors is a result of both the Oregon (1999) and Wisconsin (1999) Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (Tables 7, 8). These negative outcomes, however, are the most pronounced for adolescent males. In the Oregon survey, males harassed because they were presumed to be homosexually oriented are 5 and 7 times more at risk for being multiple suicide attempters, and for a suicide attempt(s) associated with having received medical attention, and they account for 33% and 35% of suicide attempters in these categories, respectively. Females are also negatively affected by such harassment, but to a lesser degree than males are at risk, compared to their respective counterparts. (Gay Youth Against Discrimination - GYAD - is attempting to end anti-gay harassment, at least in some American schools.) In the Wisconsin survey, males "threatened or hurt" (a more serious form of harassment than simply "having been harassed") based on presumed homosexual orientation are 11 times more at risk for being multiple suicide attempters and attempting suicide resulting in having received medical attention, and they account for about 40% of suicide attempters in these categories. About 20% of females in the same suicide attempt categories were harassed on the basis of one's presumed homosexual orientation.
Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...The many forms of anti-gay harassment to consider when evaluating the effects of this type of harassment on suicide behaviors of all adolescent males, and especially on self-identified gay and bisexual adolescent males.

Harassment based on one's presumed homosexual orientation, however, is NOT a single issue as may be inferred from the Oregon 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey question related to anti-gay harassment: Q-12: "During the past 12 months have you ever been harassed at school (or on the way to and from school) because someone thought your were gay, lesbian or bisexual?" Nor is it also a matter of only a more serious form of harassment noted in the 1999 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey: ""Have you ever been threatened or hurt because someone thought you were gay, lesbian, or bisexual?" In the Outproud / Oasis Magazine Internet Survey (2000), for example, information was solicited on seven types of anti-gay harassments in the following way:

How many times have you...   because you are, or were thought to be, queer?

1. ...been verbally insulted (yelled at, criticized) [70.1%] - 2. ...been threatened with physical violence [32.7%] - 3. ...had an object thrown at you [22.4%] - 4. ...been punched, kicked or beaten [14.2%] - 5. ...been threatened with a knife, gun or another weapon [7.3%] - 6. ...been attacked sexually (forced to have a sexual experience, raped) [6.2%] - 7. ...has someone threatened to tell someone else that you are queer? [36.0%] Answers:   (1) Never,   (2) Once,   (3) Twice,   (4) Three or more times.

The percentages given above - e.g. [70.1%] - are for about 1200 gay and bisexual males who were 13- to 18-years old and answered both the "harassment" and "suicide attempt" survey questions during September and October, 2000. For the analysis results referenced below (Table 9), however, only the last six harassments were used in the data analysis because the first type of harassment - "being verbaly insulted" - was too common and would therefore have little effect on suicide behaviors. The results of the "Table 9" analysis indicates that gay/bisexual males experiencing harassment in only one of the six categories are at higher risk for attempting suicide than their non-harassed counterparts, and that the risk increased with exposure to increasing numbers of harassment. The results of another analysis which took into consideration both the 6 different categories of harassments and the number of harassments in each category - a value of "0" for no harassment experienced, "1" for one experience of harassment in any of the six category, "2" for two experiences, and "3" for three of more experiences, producing a maximum score as "18" - are given in "Table 10" referenced below. Generally, as the experiences of harassment increase for all males (and the same applies for males males separated on the basis of ethnicity: White Males / Males of Color, with differences existing between the two groups), their risk for 3 types of "suicide attempts" also increases.
Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...White Males & Males of Color: Differences?

Issues of white racism continue to be a fact of life in predominantly white gay and lesbian communities (See Tremblay, 2000): Racism Issues in Predominantly White  Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Communities North America - Europe - Australia), and such racism is also be reflected in studies of gay and bisexual males. Related studies generally consists only of white males, or maybe of white males and about 20% males of color, but the results are generally not separated on the basis of ethnicity. Often enough, however, when studying various problems such as harassment and suicidality, there may be significant within-group and inter-group differences; this is made evident in the Tables 9 & 10 presenting results for the Outproud data. A number of ethnic differences were also detected when analysing the 1999 YRBS Oregon and Wisconsin data, but these results will not be reported here. Suffice to say that, given information encountered over the years, gay and bisexual male youth of color may be at higher risk for experiencing suicide problems than are their white counterparts. Siignificant differences between the many groups forming the "males of color" category may also exist.

Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...Why the Emphasis on Males?

Males form about 80% of youth who commit suicide in the United States and Canada. From 1950 to 1990, however, there was a great increase in youth suicide (often noted in the media), but it is often not mentioned that males accounted for about 90% of the increase in youth suicide. Therefore, it could be said that investigating the issue of "representation" with respect to "The Homosexuality Factor in Youth Suicide Problems," and especially with respect to evaluating the likelihood that this factor also applies for actual suicides of youth, means to tackle to tackle the problem with a focus on males.

Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...Would Gay and Bisexual Male Youth be at Greater Risk for Suicide than their Heterosexual Counterparts?

Some male youth who recognize their same sex desires feel like it would be better for them to be dead than ever be "gay," or "a fag!" Speaking to this fact is the web page "Better to be Dead than Gay," and the same applies for the study "Better dead than gay? Depression, suicide ideation and attempt among a sample of gay and straight-identified males aged 18 to 24" by Jonathan Nicholas and John Howard (Macquarie University, Australia).  The recently published book, "Better Dead than a Fag" (Mort ou Fif) by Michel Dorais (Université Laval, Québec City) also explored the same phenomenon manifested by French Canadian male youth. Finally, the 52-minute 1995 British documentary film, "Better Dead Than Gay," directed by Christopher O'Hare had made the same point. Case studies - such as one supplied to me by the mother of such a male who stated the "gay" fact concerning himself in his suicide note - and many other cases do illustrate "the fact" that some male youth commit suicide because they have somehow been educated to think / feel that "being gay" is unacceptable; it is so totally unacceptable, in fact, that they will also murder themselves. (A serious problem associated with the same "hatred of homosexuality" education is the creation / existence of male youth will seek out the ones they hate - gay males, or males believed to be gay - to assault [called "gay bashing"] and, in some case, to murder them.)

It should not be assumed, however, that socially induced self-hatred is the only reason for the suicides of gay male youth. Often enough, many additional negative life events / experiences / feelings add to one's problems: loneliness, hopelessness, having been taught that their God hates them and wishes their deaths, having to quit school due to anti-gay harassment, losing one's friends, being assaulted, being thrown out of one's home, having to engage in prostitution to survive, using street drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication (and possibly becoming dependent / addicted), being sexually assaulted / abused, and other problems, with some associated with gay communities. Adolescent gay/bisexual identified males seeking older males - that they are often enough most attracted to - will experience a number of problems that may place them at risk for suicide problems. (A listing of references on the Home Page: July / November 2000 Additions.)

But why have most mainstream youth suicidologists continued to ignore "The Homosexuality in Youth Suicide Problems" given the facts as summarized, for example, in the Colorado (1997) paper?


Ethical Issues related to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

Section Coming Soon!


Morrison TG, Parriag AV, Morrison MA (1999). The psychometric properties of the Homonegativity Scale. Journal of Homosexuality, 37(4), 111-26. (Medline "abstract" and document delivery service.)

Roderick T, McCammon SL, Long TE, Allred LJ (1998). Behavioral aspects of homonegativity. Journal of Homosexuality, 36(1), 79-88. (Medline "abstract" and document delivery service.)

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