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"
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
of Contents with links to some sections available online at the
and Bisexual Male Suicide Problems Information web page(s).