The Suicide Attempt Problem for Lesbian and Bisexual Female Youth, and for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual youth of Colour

The Bagley(1994) random sample data confirmed the hypothesis made from the information and research data available on gay and bisexual males, and similar data has also been available for lesbians and bisexual females, and for GLB people of colour. The Bell & Weinberg(1978) data (figure 1, figure 2, and figure 3) reveals that lesbian and bisexual female youth have had attempted suicide rates comparable to, and even higher than, gay and bisexual male youth. A major 1988 study of 1,925 17- to 55-year-old lesbians (sample taken in 1984) suggests that lesbians have been at high risk for suicide attempts(47). The related data given in Figures 4 and 5 also suggests that the attempted suicide rate for lesbians has almost doubled from about 1950 to 1980, given the difference in rates between the 45- to 55-year-old (13%) and 17- to 24-year-old (24%) lesbians (Figure 4). Furthermore, the attempted suicide rate for lesbians of colour, 27% and 28%, is almost double the white lesbian rate of 16% (Figure 5).

A detailed analysis of the available attempted suicide rates for lesbian youth was made in The Gay Lesbian and Bisexual Factor in the Youth Suicide Problem (107), but the limitations placed on this paper make it impossible to render this lengthy, sometimes argumentative, but interesting presentation. Suffice to note, however, that lesbians of colour have higher attempted suicide rates than white lesbians; and that this phenomenon, although not as pronounced, is also noticeable in the attempted suicide rate data for GLB youth. The Remafedi et al.(1991) sample produced an attempted suicide rate of 40% for GB males of colour, compared to a 28% rate for white GB males (Table 1). The Rotheram-Borus(1992) sample produced a 39% rate for a group of mostly GB males of colour, and the Uribe & Harbeck sample of 37 males (67% of colour) had an attempted suicide rate of about 50%(Table 4). This contrasts with an average attempted suicide rate of about 30% for samples of mostly white GLB youth.

Similar differences (Table 2) were also reported by Schneider at al.(1989) who spoke to this. "In general, however, being a stigmatized 'minority within a minority' may contribute to suicidality. Gay members of ethnic minorities are often disenfranchised from both mainstream social institutions that normally provide support and psychological protection from distress symptomatology."(36:391) This factor, responsible for the higher rates of distress for GLB people of colour and also articulated by other professionals (24, 48, 49), is essentially the same one given to explain why GLB people in general are at higher risk for having suicide problems than heterosexual people.

Saunders & Valente(1987) emphasized that "empirical evidence, risk factor and Durkheim's theory of anomic suicide... supports the proposition that gay men and lesbians are at higher risk for suicide."(34:01) The concept of "anomie" refers to people who don't feel they belong to society, have been marginalized, and are stigmatized. GLB youth, however, would have fewer problems if it was only a matter of not belonging to society, but the situation is severe for them. Often enough, they feel hated and rejected by almost everyone, including peers, teachers, parents, religious leaders, and even their god. Martin(1988) described the situation. "The truth is that gay and lesbian youth are not like other adolescents. Their difference stems from their status as members of one of the most hated and despised minority groups in the country."(50:59)

In addition, most GLB youth have been socially set up to hate themselves,13 thus producing what could be called internal anomie. When combined with Durkheim "anomie," high levels of distress, attempted suicides, and even suicide can be expected. Unfortunately, with respect to this phenomenon, as noted by Erwin(1993), little research exists. Scientific assumptions prevail, and an important question must be asked: "[But] how does one measure the cumulative effects of multiple oppressions?"(49:448-449)

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25 Nov 1995