Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Linked to Suicidality Among LGBT Youth

Public health research connects hate crimes with poor mental health outcomes.

Posted May 10, 2018

Hate crimes are defined as criminal acts specifically motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically involving violence. The federal government and most US states have passed anti-hate-crime laws that apply additional punishments for crimes motivated by hate or bias.

elza Fiuza/WikiCommons
Source: elza Fiuza/WikiCommons

The reasoning underneath hate crime laws is two-fold. First, crimes motivated by hate or prejudice are seen as especially harmful because they are meant to terrorize an entire community, not just the particular victim at hand. Secondly, victims of hate crimes are typically members of protected classes, populations that have suffered, and continue to suffer, discrimination and victimization. Crimes that are committed against people specifically because of their minority status does additional psychological harm to them, above and beyond the criminal harm per se.

While the political issue of hate crimes legislation is a question of public policy and values, the work of connecting hate crimes to the harm that they cause is indeed a scientific question, and one that can be pursued in a variety of innovative research methods. Work in this area brings together scientists in the area of public health, psychology, sociology, criminology, and others.

Professor Dustin Duncan, then at Harvard and now at New York University, led a team of researchers interrogating the question of whether anti-LGBT hate crimes harm the mental health of the LGBT community, particular adolescents. This can be examined at a number of levels, but Dr. Duncan looked at community-level data. 

Specifically, Duncan and colleagues mapped reports of anti-LGBT hate crimes through the Boston area. Then, they looked at the correlation between those hate crimes and suicide attempts by adolescents in the Boston area. They found that, in "hot spot" areas of anti-LGBT bias and hate, there were also elevated levels of suicidality among LGBT youth.

Importantly, this analysis was able to confirm that the poor mental health outcomes were specific to LGBT adolescents in these areas, not just in young people overall. In public health terms, we would say that the correlation is specific, not spurious. 

Click here to read the full article. 

You can also click here to listen to an interview with Dr. Duncan about this work on the This World of Humans podcast. (Episode #8)

NYU website, TWOH podcast (NH Lents)
Source: NYU website, TWOH podcast (NH Lents)


Duncan, D.T. and Hatzenbuehler, M.L., 2014. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender hate crimes and suicidality among a population-based sample of sexual-minority adolescents in Boston. American journal of public health, 104(2), pp.272-278.

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