We Need To Talk About Queer Teens & Suicide

Photographed by Stephanie Gonot.
As much as we talk about making strides for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S. in the last several years — with notably big wins like marriage equality at the national level — the fact is that LGBTQ+ people, and especially young people, are still at risk.
It's a point one new study on LGBQ youth suicide risk really drives home. According to the nationally representative study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning teens are more than three times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
The study looked at data from a 2015 nation-wide study of almost 16,000 high school students. About 80% of those students identified themselves as straight, while 2% identified as gay or lesbian, 6% identified as bisexual, and 3.2% were questioning their sexuality.
Among those who were queer or questioning, 40% said that they had considered suicide and 35% had planned a suicide attempt in the previous year. Comparatively, 15% of straight teens had considered suicide and 12% had planned an attempt. This data is in line with previous, smaller studies that suggest queer youth are at greater risk of suicide.
“We must recognize LGBQ teen suicide is a national public health crisis and bring extraordinary resources to bear to address the crisis,” John Ayers, PhD, senior author on the study, told Reuters.
While this and similar studies can only tell us that LGBQ youth are contemplating suicide more often than straight youth and not why they are, it's not too difficult to imagine what might be behind this elevated risk.
LGBTQ+ students are at greater risk for experiencing violence, both at school and in their relationships. Statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that LGBTQ+ youth are often threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, bullied on school property, and bullied online. Many also report experiencing sexual dating violence, physical dating violence, and sexual assault.
Although this study didn't look at transgender and gender non-conforming teens, earlier research has found that they experience similar acts of violence and are also at increased risk of suicide. A 2014 study from the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, for instance, found that 45% of transgender people aged 18 to 24 had attempted suicide.
As Ayers said, this is a public health crisis, and one for which anyone could make a difference. You can help by becoming an empowered ally, and stopping these instances of bullying, harassment, and violence when you see them. That could mean calling out homophobic or transphobic language, stepping in when you see someone being bullied, reporting harassment both in person or online, or simply listening when an LGBTQ+ person needs a sympathetic ear.
"When you're an ally, you speak up, and you let people know that they have nothing to be ashamed of for being who they are or loving who they love," Amit Paley, CEO of the Trevor Project, told Refinery29 in October. That can make a world of difference.
If you are an LGBTQ person thinking about suicide, please call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.
If you are a trans person thinking about suicide or experiencing a crisis, please call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860 for confidential support from other trans individuals.
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