In a study of 137 gay and bisexual youth,
Remafedi et al. (1991) reported that effeminate gay male youth were three
times more like to attempt suicide than other gay male youth (31).
Speaking about this reality in a small
group, a male Air Canada flight attendant also told me that he had known
more gay males who had committed suicide than died of AIDS. Such life experiences
occur because the gay community is cellular in nature. Many gay males now
know more gay males who have died from AIDS than from suicide.
The result of this study are most often
noted without telling the reader that, with respect to the attempted youth
suicide problem, the data may not reflect the present situation for GLB
youth. The data also does not reflect the situation as it existed when
the study was published.
These figures represent estimates for
suicide attempters, and not the percentage of suicide attempts (to the
age specified) which would be attributable to predominantly homosexual
males. The fact that some individuals will attempt suicide more than once
must be taken into consideration when making such estimates.
A major recent study (as well as others)
has reported on "the pervasiveness of different forms of victimization
in the lives of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth" (64:50).
This was also the conclusion of The Massachusetts Governor's Commission
on Gay and Lesbian Youth in its 1993 report, Making Schools Safe for
Gay and Lesbian Youth: Breaking the silence in schools and in families
Other papers and a book have been written on the subject (66-70)
Books on adolescent suicide have a history
of silence about GLB youth being (or probably being) at risk for attempting
(and possibly committing) suicide. See Appendix B
for a summary. Some minor progress, in this respect, has been made since
1991. This includes the recent publication of the 1995 Supplement of
Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour: Research Issues in Suicide and
Sexual Orientation, also noted in Appendix B.
All pamphlets and booklets on suicide
and youth suicide available in Calgary, Alberta, were reviewed. Homosexuality
has not been mentioned in them. One exception occurred in 1992 in the pamphlets
about youth problems (including suicide) made available by Calgary's Canadian
Mental Health Association which has been responsible for suicide prevention
in the Calgary area. As the result of my work, a gay and lesbian youth
group had been referenced, although nothing specific to GLB youth problems
was noted in the pamphlets. By 1995, however, there are no references to
GLB organizations in the new version of the pamphlets. There is also no
mention of GLB youth and their high risk for having many problems, including
Calculated by Dr. Christopher Bagley.
Savin-Williams(1994) reports that studies
of "homeless and runaway youths" had produced estimates "in the 2%-to-3%
range." Noting the high concentrations of gay and bisexual youths missed
by their sampling method, he then emphasized that these "percentages are
probably a gross underestimation because few youths are likely to tell
authorities and staff their sexual identity." The higher estimates given
above, as obtained by professionals (who knew how to get homosexual orientation
information from adolescents) were then cited (35:264).
During the summer of 1995, a CTV Canada
AM segment outlined the problems of street youth in Toronto in the light
of a program recently implemented to help them. It was noted that depression
was a major problem for these youth, that their suicide attempt rate was
about 50%, and that a significant number of these youth were gay, lesbian,
Memory (1989) calculated the American
suicide rate for juveniles in juvenile detention centers in 1978 to be
57/100,000/year, and juveniles in adult jails to be 2,041/100,000/year,
compared to the rate of 12.4/100,000/year for males aged 12-24. (43:460-461).
A summary of the Canadian prison situation with respect to the elevated
suicide and attempted suicide problem for inmates was given in Suicide
in Canada(1995), but nothing specific to juvenile and young adult offender
was mentioned. Suicide rates for federal penitentiary inmates have ranged
from 87-197/100,000/year, compared to 12.7-14.8/100,000/year for the general
male/female population (101:25-27).
In 1990, the Center for Disease Control
(CDC) in the United States reported that studies had produced lifetime
adolescent attempted suicide rates ranging from 9% to 14% (44:1011).
The range given by Garland & Zigler (1993) is 6% to 13% (9:170),
but studies not representing lifetime rates were including in the tally.
Males also attempt suicide at lower rates than females, meaning that 25%
to 30% of adolescent suicide attempters are male (9,
and the lifetime attempted suicide rate for adolescent males would therefore
range between 2.2% and 5.2%. The rate for a group of young adult males,
having a mean age of about 23, as in the Bagley et al. (1994) sample, would
also be a little higher than the reported lifetime adolescent rates.
The Canada Youth & AIDS Study (1988)
reported that, for the Grade-7 youths in their study sample of 38,002 Canadian
youths, 45% believed that "homosexuality is wrong," only 33 believed that
"homosexuals should be allowed to be teachers, an still fewer (18%) reported
that they "would be comfortable talking with a homosexual person" (108:7,
73) Therefore, at the age when the average GLB youth are discovering their
homosexual desires, there is a 60% to 80% probability that they will respond
negatively to discovering such inner realities. If they were taught to
have a murderous hatred for homosexuals, this hatred may be turned on themselves,
yielding suicide problems or other behaviours, such as projection. Their
hatred for homosexuals may be vocal, thus intensely hating in others what
essentially exists in themselves. A number of GLB have reported going through
such a stage. Some males in this category even have sex with gay males,
but then assault them, and may even kill them. Money(1988) has labelled
the phenomenon, well documented in gay history, "the exorcist syndrome"
(109:110). With such responses they are 'saying':
"I am not like him. I am not homosexual, I hate homosexuals." Other pathologies
may also result from socially induced self- hatred.
One of the reasons why these youth may
be really trying to kill themselves may be related to the knowledge that
failure will result in intervention, thus forcing them to tell others what,
in many cases, they did not want to even accept about themselves. That
is, they will have to "out" themselves. One Calgary gay youth I met at
the age of 14 had attempted suicide by hanging soon after his thirteenth
birthday. When he regained consciousness after the failed attempt, which
he had evaluated to surely result in his desired death after he failed
to locate a gun, he panicked. Members of his family would now discover
the truth about him, because he will have to explain why he did this. He
invented an explanation for the bleeding burns on his neck to avoid revealing
the real reason for his injury.
A gay male in Calgary attempted suicide
at the age of 10 by throwing himself in front of a car. He was taken to
the Alberta Children's Hospital where they sought to discover the reason
why he did this. At that age, he already knew he could not tell the truth
to anyone. At the age of 20, when he came out to his mother, the reason
why he had attempted suicide was revealed. His mother wrote his story for
a presentation to officials in the Calgary Board of Education, and it is
now part of The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Factor in the Youth Suicide
Problem (107). Another gay male (interviewed
at the age of 19) attempted suicide at the age of 14 and was in hospital
for 1.5 months before he revealed the reason why he had wanted to die:
because he was gay. He only admitted this fact about himself after his
older lesbian sister came out to him while he was still in hospital. To
this date he has needed help but has only been harmed by mental health
professionals. After assimilating the historical facts he was giving me,
I asked: How the hell do you cope? The answer: "I drink until I black out."
The closet factor has been so pronounced
for GLB youth involved with professionals that the Alberta Alcohol and
Drug Abuse Commission's Adolescent Program had never, until September 1995,
encountered a youth who revealed his/her homosexual orientation on intake.
They have now had their first experience in this respect with two gay youth
I know. Their adolescent treatment professionals have not yet been educated
and trained to effectively address GLB substance abuse problems, and all
the GLB issues which factor into these youths having such problems.
One of the suicide attempters in the
Bagley et al. (1994) sample was homosexually active in the "occasional"
category, and two were in the "regularly" category. This means that gay
and bisexual young adult males are 8.4 times and 3.8 times more likely
to have attempted suicide than heterosexual males.
Male victims of child sexual abuse most
often code their abuse to have been homosexual acts, and they are correct,
even though it is mostly heterosexual-identified males who sexually abuse
boys. Homosexuality, by definition, is male-male sexual behaviour occurring
between same-sex same-species individuals. For this reason, the Journal
of Homosexuality has published papers on male-male paedophilia, and
bisexuality. For the same reason, the book,
in Melanesia(1984) edited by Gilbert Herdt, is correctly titled. It
describes the ritual of older males repeatedly having sex with boys (sometimes
beginning at the age of 8), most often lasting for a number of years.
CTYS also produced the 1988 book, Often
Invisible: Counselling Gay and Lesbian Youth (71)
and the 1992 video Pride & Prejudice: The Life and Times of Lesbian
and Gay Youth.
They are not the only ones who have
avoided addressing GLB youth issues, often for "fear" reasons. In the spring
of 1994, I was meeting with a gay/lesbian mental health professional and
expressed my feelings given that Calgary's only youth group had folded
due to lack of support. "What really troubles me is that not one gay or
lesbian mental health professional in this city has ever come forward to
help GLB youth." The reason supplied to explain this was fear, given that
there was "too much to lose" if anyone ventured out alone to help these
kids. Now, Calgary had a GLB youth group, I-DENTITY, with about 130 youth,
and a multidisciplinary group of more than 30 gay, lesbian, and heterosexual
professionals working to help GLB youth and educate professionals about
GLB youth problems. The group is based in Family Therapy in the Faculty
of Medicine, University of Calgary, and Dr. Gary Sanders (Associate Director
of Family Therapy), Dr. Joel Fagan (former president of the Alberta Pediatric
Society) now living in Victoria, B.C., and myself, were responsible for
One of the major reasons why the GLB
youth attempted suicide problem has about doubled in the last 40 years
may be related to the age of self-identification which has dropped from
about the age of 18-19(21) to 14 and 15(31,110).
Remafedi et al.'s 1991 analysis of gay and bisexual males reveals that,
for each year of delay in this process, the risk of an attempted suicide
decreases by 80%(31).
Two recent AIDS studies (reported on
in the gay media) have revealed that a significant relationship exist between
gay males who contract HIV, a sense of fatalism, and a history of child
sexual and physical abuse (111,
These factors would be predictable given the information rendered in this
paper. A 1995 study of 136 14- to 19-year-old GB youth concludes with:
"[The intervention these youth have been getting in New York] is far more
comprehensive than what is available to most homosexual and bisexual youths
nationally, and yet the results of this study indicate that [GB] youths
who are most distressed require even more intensive intervention to change
their sexual risk behavior." "Emotional distress, substance abuse, and
conduct problems are linked to HIV-related behaviors and may interfere
with preventative efforts... HIV-preventative programs need to be offered
in the context of comprehensive health and mental health care" (114:594).
Given the information made available
by the journalist about Bobby
Steele, he would have been classified to be homosexual by the Shaffer
et al. (1995) researchers. However, the method they used to identify gay
or homosexually active male youth victims would have resulted in classifying
him to be heterosexual.
The Advocate is the flagship
publication of the American gay/lesbian community. The first cover story
"Teen Suicide: The government's cover-up and America's lost children",
was published on Sept. 22, 1991, and the second, "Suicidal Tendencies:
Is sexual orientation causing gay and lesbian teens to kill themselves?"
on April 8, 1994.
A soon to be published paper by Bagley
et al. will report the results of a study of 1,087 Grade 7-12 boys and
1,025 girls. "The results suggest that experiencing unwanted sexual contacts
in families and community are a major risk factor for poor mental health
and frequent suicidal behaviors in adolescent males and females. In making
this conclusion we assume that there is a direct causal link between
sexual assault and mental health impairment." (83,
At the time of writing, the numbers
in this category was only available for 700 of the 750 males studied. The
Bagley results may be more valid that the 1994
Sex in America study.
Even though this study used a random sample of 3,432 men and women, there
would have been only 400 males in the 18- to 27-year-old category. The
Bagley random sample contains almost twice the number of males, thus producing
statistically more significant results, at least for estimating homosexual
realities in the young adult male population.
Gonsiorek et al. (1995) reviewed the
exiting studies and doubled Diamond's 1993 5% estimate (86).
"[T]he available research suggests that the prevalence of predominant same-sex
orientation (i.e., regular behavior or substantial attraction or both)
in the United States is currently in a range from 4% to 17%, with the most
reliable estimates likely in the middle of that range" (86:47),
or about 10%. The Bagley (1994) results are more in support of this estimate
than Diamond's 5% estimate.
This reality about boys having sex with
men is highly taboo. The boys know this and will usually not tell anyone,
including parents, teachers, or peers what they are doing. About one-third
of gay males report that they had sex with a man before the age of 15,
because they wanted to. These boys are also at great risk for contacting
HIV, but most AIDS prevention work have ignored their existence.