Often times in our lives we find ourselves wondering: “Who am I and what would happen if people knew the real me? Would they leave me, stop being my friend, or would they embrace me and accept me as I am?” These are the million-dollar questions that are plaguing the lives of so many people in America, and even across the world, today. The reality is that people may not accept you. So do you hide yourself. Do you commit suicide, run away from home, turn to drugs and alcohol to cope? Or do you say I don’t care it's my life and I’m going to live my best life.
As a therapist, these thoughts represent many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and adults that I have counseled as well as those that are living in our communities. I decided to write this article because of the alarming rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth and adults—all because they aren’t being accepted for who they are. This topic is considered by some as controversial and negative. It’s pressing up against the definition of marriage, it’s finding itself wrestled in our politics, and it has made its presence known in our legal system and our military. There is also a group of people that feels it shouldn’t be discussed, that we should just ignore it. These conversations happen every day in our churches, communities, homes, political arenas, and schools.
But the reality is that there are LGBTQ youth and adults filling up our schools, teaching our children, playing on our favorite football or basketball teams, providing security for our cities, serving our food, and cutting our hair. The fact is that the LGBTQ community is everywhere.
I’ve heard story after story from parents about the difficulty of understanding that a son or daughter is gay or lesbian. In equal numbers, I’ve also heard from youth and adults about their difficulty in disclosing their sexual orientation to their parents and friends because they fear being ridiculed, abandoned, judged, hated and isolated. This difficulty has led many to take their own lives. The statistics are:
● 5,000 LGBTQ youth now take their lives each year with the number believed to be significantly higher if deliberate auto accidents and other precipitated events are counted.
● 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt suicide every year.
● Homosexual and bisexual junior high and high school boys are seven times more likely than heterosexual boys to report suicide attempts.
● Lesbians are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than heterosexual women.
● A majority of the suicide attempts by homosexuals take place at age 20 or younger with nearly one-third occurring before age 17.
● Gay male, lesbian, and transsexual youth make up about 25 percent of the homeless living on the streets in this country.
The LGBTQ youth and adults often talk about the judgment, hatred, insults, negative comments, and violence that are part of their daily lives. This daily abuse may result in youth and adults experiencing mental health problems such as: depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home), dissociative disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders, sleep disorders and adjustment disorders. Some also experience drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, and self hatred.
There have been many horrific stories in the media about LGBTQ youth and adults who commit suicide because they were being harassed. In New York: A 26-year-olde black youth took his own life and wrote on his Facebook page the day he committed suicide: “I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called social mainstream”.
Another story is Tyler Clementi's, a student from Rutgers University who jumped off a bridge after being videotaped by his roommate while having a sexual encounter with a man. And there are more stories such as that of a 13-year-old student who shot himself in the head after being teased and harassed at school.
I recount these stories to show that these were real people that had real lives and because they were not accepted or feared being rejected, they decided to end their lives.
Suicide is seen by some as the final revenge on those who have rejected or judged them. Family members will say they didn’t see the signs of suicide. This can be true because they will fake their mood, so that they do not alarm their family members and friends. Or perhaps a traumatic event occurred and they decided to end their lives. In some cases the signs are obvious, and in other cases the signs are more subtle. Here are some key warning signs that a family member or friend may be contemplating suicide:
Rage, uncontrollable anger, seeking revenge
Feeling trapped, like there is no way out
Withdrawing from family and friends
Unable to sleep
Expressing no reason to live or sense no purpose in life
Someone threatening to kill or hurt themselves
Someone looking for the means to kill themselves (guns, pills, suicide by police (a suicidal individual deliberately acts in a threatening way, provoking a lethal response from the police))
Someone writing about death or dying
In conclusion, I wanted to highlight this issue so that we can open up the dialogue in our communities. I want you to think about the fact that those in the LGBTQ community are full of dreams, aspirations, emotions and goals. Bullying towards this community is on the rise and it’s imperative that laws are changed to increase the punishment of those that bully. If you, or someone you know, are in this situation please contact the list of resources below. There is a lot of great work being done to highlight the trauma and suicides occurring in the LGBTQ community.
For more information on this topic, please visit my website: Johngtaylor.com
Sources for this article:
1. Jay, K. and Young, A The Gay Report: Lesbians and Gay Men Speak Out About Their Sexual Experiences and Lifestyles. New York: Summit, 1977.
2. National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Human Rights Campaign
GLBT National Help Center (1-888-843-4564)
GLBT National Youth Talk line (1-800-246-7743)