The Bagley(1994) Confirmation of the Gay and Bisexual Male Over-Representation in the Male Youth Attempted Suicide Problem

In a recent study carried out by Dr. Christopher Bagley (Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary), a stratified random sample of 750 18- to 27-year-old Calgary males was studied to determine the percentage of young adult males who were sexually abused as children, the number of these males who had had sex with children since their eighteenth birthday, and especially the possible negative mental health effects (including suicide attempts) sexual abuse may have had on these males. When it was learned that about 1% of males (8/750) admitted to having had sex with children(39:683). I was impressed with the results, given that males who have sex with children will rarely, if ever, readily admit to such activities, unless they were given a highly credible guarantee of anonymity.

For reasons given in Appendix A, the Bagley et al.(1994) study is deemed to be one of the best available with respect to producing demographic data on the basis of sexual orientation, and especially with respect to determining the percentages of urban males who are homosexually active as young adults. The sample data reveals that 4.3% and 4.9% of these males have been having sex with other adult males on a "regular" to "occasional" basis, for a total of 9.2% of males who may be classified gay or bisexual, and homosexually active(40).

Bagley(1994) also reported that there were 3 suicide attempters in the gay/bisexual category out of the 8 suicide attempters in the Bagley et al. (1994), thus producing the estimate that 37.5% (3/8) of male youth suicide attempters are gay or bisexual (X2= 7.75, p < 0.01, df = 1).8 The results of this study therefore represent a great milestone reached in the field of Suicidology, especially in the debate over whether or not gay and bisexual male youth are at greater risk for having a suicide attempt problem than their heterosexual counterparts.

Although the above result must be replicated in other studies to establish its scientific validity, the study nonetheless begins to answer (in the scientific way most suicidologists seem to demand, as in using random sampling) the hypothesis, or highly informed speculation, that gay/bisexual males (and even lesbian/bisexual females) are at higher risk for at least having an attempted suicide problem. Although the caveats for the Bagley study are many, most suggest that the gay/bisexual representation in the male youth attempted suicide problem may be greater than 37.5%.

The stratified random sampling of males studied by Bagley et al.(1994) was taken in middle- to lower-class neighbourhoods located in the northern half of Calgary, or outside the area (a 20 by 20 block area) predominantly housing Calgary's gay community. Therefore, the sampling missed the highest concentration of young adult gay males living in Calgary, the ones who would have an attempted suicide rate greater than 20% (table 1, table 2, table 3, and table 4). Gay/bisexual/heterosexual street and delinquent youth (and related services) are also concentrated in the same area. This knowledge of Calgary therefore reveals that the Bagley et al.(1994) sampling missed a high concentration of 18- to 25-year-old street youth probably having a history of delinquency and being runaways.

Research work has revealed that adolescent runaways have elevated rates of all the interrelated problems - depression, conduct disorders, family problems, arrests, substance abuse, and a history of suicide attempt(s) - correlated with youth who attempt suicide and commit suicide(41:103). The reported attempted suicide rates for male runaway youth have ranged from 15%-19%(42:157), to 29% (41:105),9 and it has been estimated that 30% of runaway youth and 40% of street youth are gay, lesbian, or bisexual(35:264).10

The sampling of the 750 males was also carried out by using the telephone reverse directory, the implication being that these males were living generally stable lives. To be listed in the telephone directory, they must have been living at the same address for a period greater than about 6 months, and also needed to have a telephone. Because of this sampling limitation, a predictable under-representation of "at risk" populations occurred, such as street youth, young adult males who are in the prison system,11 and other highly distressed youth (with a history of suicidality) who have been institutionalized. This latter factor was noted by Bagley et al.(1994), thus partly explaining why the number of suicide attempters in the sample (8/750, 1.1%) is lower than the anticipated percentage given that studies have produced male youth attempted suicide rates ranging from about 3 to 8 percent.12

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25 Nov 1995