Researcher Questions Intense Focus on LGBT Youth Suicide: Is it Time for a More Holistic Approach to Supporting LGBT Youth?

Jason Cianciotto

October 22nd, 2010

On October 21st, Ritch Savin-Williams, professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University, was interviewed by NPR’s Robert Siegel about LGBT youth suicide and the significant attention the issue has received over the past several weeks. In the interview, Savin-Williams claims there is no “epidemic” of LGBT teen suicide and that attention to the issue may be stigmatizing the majority of LGBT youth who are, in fact, just as happy and healthy as their straight peers.

SIEGEL And what, if anything, is harmful about all this attention?

Prof. WILLIAMS: For me, first off, scientifically it’s not true. That is that, as a developmental psychologist, when we look at the wide population of youth who identify as gay or who have same-sex attractions, it appears to me when I look at the data that they’re actually just as healthy, and just as resilient, and just as positive about their life as are straight youth.

So from a scientific perspective, there is certainly no gay suicide epidemic. But the more problematic aspect for me is that I worry a great deal about the image that we are giving gay-identified youth.

Savin-Williams is a noted researcher and published author. He isn’t a right-wing hack with an anti-gay agenda hiding behind a faux academic mask.

Rather, much of his work has focused on the experiences of LGBT youth, the resilience factors present in their lives that enable them to thrive in anti-LGBT climates, and the new ways LGBT youth are assimilating and expressing their identities, often without adopting the labels used by established LGBT culture. (For more, see his book The New Gay Teenager).

When asked in the interview about the differences between reported research confirming that LGBT Youth are significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers and his own conclusions, Savin-Willams claims that those results may be skewed by lack of representative samples:

…As we get a more representative sample of youth who identify as gay, who have sane-sex attraction, what we discovered is that difference begins to narrow considerably. So, do we emphasize this kind of difference, group difference, or do we begin to say, well actually it’s not quite as bad as we have portrayed it to be , or at least as how the medical sciences, the mental health providers and research, and the public policy people have said.

While many academics are just as quick to point out limitations of research on LGBT people  – an issue often discussed here on BTB – Savin-Williams seems to stand nearly alone in his conclusions that life for LGBT teenagers is not that bad. He admits that it is possible to “cherry pick” studies that support either conclusion about LGBT youth, but for him it is more about the strategy and message employed by those working to support and protect them.

Do we solely focus on the cohort of LGBT youth struggling the most? Or, should we broaden our attention to the larger proportion of LGBT youth who are healthy, well-adjusted, and not suicidal?

In the interview, Savin-Willams concludes:

Most gay youth – how many gay youth? I would say 90 percent – are actually doing quite well. They are not depressed, They are not anxious. They are not attempting suicide. They are really quite ordinary adolescents.

On the surface it may seem like this interview is fodder for anti-gay leaders’ efforts to discredit research on LGBT populations and absolve themselves of responsibility for the affect the homophobic society they create has on young people.

However, Savin-Williams is simply trying to get us to look at the “other side” of the data often cited when we are confronted by tragic incidents of LGBT youth suicide.

For example, in 2007 the American Journal of Public Health published the results of a study of over 14,000 youth ages 18 to 26 who participated in the federal National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Nearly 5 percent of youth who identified as LGB in the study reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6 percent of non-LGB youth. In other words, LGB youth were over three times more likely to attempt suicide – certainly cause for alarm.

However, approximately 95 percent of the LGB youth in the study did not report that they attempted suicide.

This is not merely a matter of semantics. There is a critical need to examine the lives of the overwhelming majority of LGB youth who are not suicidal. The goal is not to be critical of the focus on youth in despair. Rather, a better understanding of the factors and circumstances that support resilience and health in the lives of LGB youth will help us further support and decrease the prevalence of suicide for those most in need.

Still, I personally struggle with trying to balance focus on the lives of LGBT youth when confronted with the seemingly never-ending, heart-breaking stories about those who have completed suicide.

More than 15 studies have consistently shown that gay and lesbian youth attempt suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers (see: Kitts, R. L. (2005, Fall). Gay adolescents and suicide: Understanding the association. Adolescence, 40(159), 621-629.) Clearly LGBT youth suicide is widespread, even if “epidemic” is not the appropriate word to describe it.

To further explore this struggle, I took a closer look at  Savin-Williams earlier research, in which he hypothesizes that LGB youth who participate in studies through their connection to programs at LGBT community centers or who are willing to identify as LGB on a government survey may be at higher risk for suicide than the population of LGB youth as a whole.

Additionally, he points out that many of the surveys used to asses suicide risk do not ask questions that differentiate between reported and more serious suicide attempts, such as those that are life-threatening and require medical attention.

In support of his assertions, in 2001 Savin-Williams published the results of a study of 226 youth ages 17 to 25 recruited at introductory human development and sexuality college courses, which though small may have provided a more representative sample than participants recruited at LGBT community centers and youth programs.

While he did find that the LGB men and women in his study were more likely to report past suicide attempts, the magnitude of difference decreased when only “true” and “life-threatening” attempts were considered. For example, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women reported the same incidence of life threatening attempts (3 percent).

However, gay or bisexual men were still significantly more likely to report a life-threatening attempt (6 percent) than heterosexual men (0 percent).

In 2005, a study of 528 LGB youth in the New York City metro area incorporated some of the critiques of Savin-Williams and other researchers concerned about the impact of research design. While nearly 33 percent of the LGB youth in that study reported a past suicide attempt, less than half (15 percent) reported “serious” attempts, about half of which required medical attention. (See D’Augelli, A. R., et. al.  .(2005, December). Predicting suicide attempts of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 35(6), 646-661).

The researchers compared these findings to comparable epidemiological data from New York City, which showed that approximately 11 percent of high school students reported planning suicide. They concluded that, when making a reasonable assumption that many of the attempts reported in these epidemiological data were not serious, LGB youth still attempt suicide at higher rates than heterosexual youth, even if only attempts that are serious and life-threatening are considered.

What should we conclude based on this analysis and should our approach to the needs of LGBT youth change based on Savin-Williams’ critique?

First, there is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence that LGB (and T, though there is a need for more quantitative research) youth attempt suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers. Yes, the magnitude of that difference may decrease when more representative samples are studied and when only attempts that are “serious” or “life-threatening” are considered. However, we should continue to focus attention and resources on creating socio-political pressure and demanding appropriate policy change that addresses this threat to the health and well-being of America’s youth.

Second, the goal of reducing the incidence of LGBT youth suicide would be even better served by researchers and activists focusing as well on the resilience factors that enable the majority of LGBT youth to be healthy and well-adjusted despite the anti-gay climate perpetrated by conservative religious political leaders and organizations. Caitlin Ryan’s research on family rejection is an excellent example of how we can identify critical factors that affect the health and well-being of LGBT youth and direct public policy and public education efforts accordingly.

Finally, in addition to focusing resources on creating long-term and large-scale social change, we need to concurrently support the growing number of programs and interventions that make it better for LGBT youth today. From Gay-Straight Alliances and other programs at schools that create community for LGBT youth to innovative efforts like the It Gets Better Project that connect youth to the millions of adults, gay and straight, who support them and have survived despite their own struggles, there are considerable opportunities to provide hope to youth who are struggling and continued support to those who are thriving.

We must never forget the youth whose lives were taken far too soon – their stories inspire us to work even harder. Concurrently, a more holistic approach to understanding the lives of LGBT youth will only enhance our efforts to support and protect them.

Other Fred in the UK

October 23rd, 2010

Some very interesting points raised.

Do we solely focus on the cohort of LGBT youth struggling the most? Or, should we broaden our attention to the larger proportion of LGBT youth who are healthy, well-adjusted, and not suicidal?

Just because someone is not suicidal does not necessarily mean that they are happy, healthy or well adjusted. How many LGBT youths are miserable because they are bullied, have no or little support, etc. but are resilient enough that they would not take their own lives?

The statistic that the ‘excess’ of suicide attempts is lies only within the male half of LGBT youth is very interesting. If confirmed by other studies it would mean that being gay, bisexual or transgender would be a very large risk factor for suicide attempts amongst boys, much larger than for all LGBT youth.


October 23rd, 2010

Savin-Williams’ critique strikes me as roughly analogous to saying “Well, Katrina wasn’t so bad — most of the country wasn’t flooded.”

Not to deny that the majority of LGBT youth are well-adjusted (with the caveat that “well-adjusted” is a pretty loose description), but those kids aren’t the ones in trouble. We still have way too many suicides by LGBT youth. Investigating the causes of survival probably will be useful, but that doesn’t address what’s necessary now, especially since we can identify some of the immediate causes of what has been an ongoing and serious problem. And even the “well-adjusted” kids could probably use some help shoring up their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Ben Mathis

October 23rd, 2010

I don’t really understand his point, could you boil it down to something more simple? To me it sounds like he is saying that it isn’t as big a problem as some are making it out to be, so stop focusing on it because we are giving well adjusted GLBT ideas? (to commit suicide)

Which I think is hogwash, but just want to make sure I understand his long-winded point.


October 23rd, 2010

Savin-Williams is full of it. In one breath he says it’s scientifically untrue, and in the next he says, well, if you compare apples to oranges, there’s not as gigantic a difference in the suicide rate as others say, but it’s still there. I’d add that the main point of the conclusions from the linked article by Caitlin Ryan is that it’s the child’s family’s own HOMOPHOBIA (my word – the article says “rejecting behaviors”) that is the most damaging and must be combatted.


October 23rd, 2010

I pretty much agree with most of the comments on this article. In my own words, we need to treat those most at risk, because it is unacceptable to lose any LGBT children to the homophobia created my the “conservative religious” culture. I also include the homeless youth who were thrown out or forced out of their homes… they too have a much higher death rate, if not suicide then due to STDs and drug problems.
I do agree we need to show the big picture, that the vast majority of LGBT kids don’t commit suicide, but if we truely study that group I would bet that they are surviving inspite of the culture. I think “well-adjusted” is not a real medical assessment of the majority just because they haven’t attempted suicide.
Lastly, I too am suspicious of how representative the various studies are… So long as our culture (or parts thereof) stigmatize children at a very vulnerable time of their life, I don’t think we will get a true sample.


October 23rd, 2010

So what if upwards of 90% of gay youth are living healthy, happy lives? Good for them. That still leaves 10% (a not insignificant number) who are otherwise. One youth suicide for any reason, is one too many. It seems as if Savin-Williams is trying to downplay this issue. Even if his findings are correct, his attitude is wrong.


October 23rd, 2010

After reading the interview, I think Savin-Williams has rocks in his head. No one is saying gay youth are “so delicate that they can’t defend themselves.” They’re saying that antigay bullying is harmful and can even lead to suicide.

Here’s what I think is the root problem with Savin-Williams’ analysis. It confuses two issues: whether gay people are basically normal and healthy on the one hand, and whether bullying is harmful on the other. Savin-Williams fears that focusing on the consequences of bullying will make gay people as a whole seem unhealthy. I really don’t see that happening.

To the contrary, I think the anti-bullying campaigns are helping undo the right wing’s message that LGBT suicides happen because homosexuality is bad. People are even making the connection between antigay religious rhetoric and the recent suicides – about two-thirds of Americans, in a recent poll.

I would also echo Other Fred’s comments. Many of the people who aren’t suicidal are still experiencing depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and other consequences of bullying. And Savin-Williams’ emphasis on less serious suicide attempts is nothing short of bizarre. Is he saying we shouldn’t care about those attempts? They’re still a cry for help.


October 23rd, 2010

Savin-Williams appears to ignore the question of peer abuse completely, focusing instead on the LGBT kids’ LGBTness. Of course those kids are just as well-adjusted as any others, under normal or even semi-normal circumstances.

What he’s ignoring is the fact that the kids who recently committed suicide were not living under normal circumstances. They were under daily assault. Under those conditions, even a resilient, well-adjusted person can temporarily give in to hopelessness. Unfortunately, it only takes five minutes to kill yourself, provided you use a sufficiently lethal method.

The most important question the recent suicides pose has nothing to do with psychology, developmental or otherwise. It’s the question of why we find it acceptable for some kids to be abused at school, a situation they have no legal way of escaping unless their parents are willing to pull them out. The abuse goes on in full view of the adults in charge, sometimes with their encouragement, and there are no consequences for actions that would normally land an adult in serious legal trouble. It’s a recipe for PTSD, no matter who it happens to. It should be fairly obvious to Savin-Williams that it does happen to LGBT kids more often. But LGBTness in and of iself simply isn’t the issue.

Mike in Houston

October 23rd, 2010

Savin-Williams is speaking from the typical ivory-tower intellectual confines of academia… where even LGBT kids committing suicide are statistical abstracts. To say that he is advocating a “holistic” approach is a misnomer however. The attitude that came through in his interview was more of a “pareto” approach — focus on the 90% and let the 10% go.

That said, we — as a community and society — do need to take a broader view from the triage of “it gets better”. We must absolutely firm up and have support in place for the most at-risk, but it can’t end there. And it certainly can’t end with the view that LGBT kids are merely and always victims with no power to affect their own futures.

We have to devote more attention towards those that are at-risk of becoming at-risk due to the larger anti-gay societal pressures that they will inevitably encounter.

Resiliency is a somewhat over-used new buzzword, but it is key: to equip our youth (and the rest of us for that matter) with the tools to not only weather anti-gay bigotry, but to prosper, thrive and live fully.


October 23rd, 2010

Think of all the time and energy gay kids (and other targeted kids) have had to waste on being “resilient” enough to survive attacks that never should have happened in the first place, and which could have been prevented. Time and energy they could have spent on something else.

People love to say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” They rarely realize that they’re quoting Nietzsche, who also said that someone who is constantly in the position of having to defend himself eventually loses the will and the ability to do so.

Some adversity can be a “growth experience,” sure, but there’s a point of diminishing returns, not to mention negative returns.


October 23rd, 2010

If just one person in “The land of the FREE!” does not feel free enough and resorts to taking his/her own life then there is a problem!


Keep your religion but give me my country, life, liberty, and justice for ALL! yes even us homosexuals.

Priya Lynn

October 23rd, 2010

Frijondi said “Think of all the time and energy gay kids (and other targeted kids) have had to waste on being “resilient” enough to survive attacks that never should have happened in the first place, and which could have been prevented. Time and energy they could have spent on something else.”.

Excellent point.

Firjondi said “People love to say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”.”.

That saying is such a pile of crap, anyone that believes that is severely deluded.


October 23rd, 2010

To the vast majority of queer and straight teenagers who never even think about committing suicide, whether they consider themselves happy, healthy and well-adjusted or not, I am sincerely happy for them. Bravo, kudos, congrats – enter inappropriate message here. They are like the rest of the world that can manage to mumble along under their own power and I admire that.

To the slim minority of queer and straight teenagers who do find themselves on the edge and are contemplating jumping – as a survivor, stepping back is one of the hardest thing you will ever do and ever step for the rest of your life will be haunted by those moments you spent contemplating your own death.

As a repeat offender, both ‘serious’ and momentary, I think the focus should always be on standing on that edge with them, ready to help, no matter if they are gay or straight, male or female, a fraction of the population or a quarter of it.

No one should be alone, when that moment comes.


October 23rd, 2010

It matters little how many gays/lesbians attempt or succeed in suicide; what needs to be addressed is the root cause of gay suicides, and that is church and its teaching that “homosexuality is a sin,” which gay youth hear from their childhood. The idea comes from the verse Lev. 18:22 : “Man shall not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.”
Translators of the Bible have misinterpreted “abomination.” The word “abomination” is a mistranslation of the Hebrew text; the Hebrew word “toevah” means “something unclean or impure” [for Jews only, in their personal relationship with God], not “sin,” which means a transgression against God’s law.

The word that the writer of Leviticus could have used- “zimah”- was not used. Zimah was used in Lev.19:29 to denote prostitution and adultery, which is condemned as one of the Ten Commandments allegedly received by Moses from God. Note that homosexuality is NOT one of the Ten Commandments.

What needs to be done is to confront the church at large and its religious spokesmen openly in the media for its grievous preaching the lie that homosexuality is a sin, when it was merely the opinion of a rabbi of the 6th century B.C. who wrote Chapters 17-26 to the original Book of Leviticus.


October 23rd, 2010

Okay, take the set ‘LGBT YOUTH’ and sort them into those who are healthy/happy and those who are depressed/suicidal. Start looking at factors: same_sex_attaction; gender_identity_expression; assertiveness; and the ‘big five’ personality traits. Control for interactions between factors.

I’d want to test the following hypothetical questions:

Assuming a known/suspected same-sex-attracted youth, does timidity/assertiveness correlate with being singled out for bullying?

Same for a cross-gender-expressing youth.

There are many other hypothetical questions to ask/test. But my two bottom line questions:

Is it known/suspected same-sex attraction that attracts bullies, or non-standard gender presentation? and;

Given a bully-attractive factor and degree, what other factors mitigate that attractiveness to bullies. In plain language, if your same-sex-attraction or non-standard gender expression would attract bullies, does assertiveness or extroversion or some other factor mitigate that attraction and make you a less attractive target to bullies?


October 23rd, 2010

To my mind, Don is exactly right about Leviticus. Accurately interpreted, the Bible doesn’t say that homosexuality is wrong.

I would only add that it isn’t the whole church that calls homosexuality a sin. The notion that it’s wrong seems to be crumbling. A majority of Christians today consider homosexuality acceptable.


October 23rd, 2010

He lost me at “youth…who have same sex attractions”.

He may not be anti-gay but he seems to have no problem using anti-gay/”ex-gay” terminology.

Regan DuCasse

October 23rd, 2010

Doesn’t this kinda, sorta fly in the face of the research on how many gay kids are called derogatory names, experience assault and stalking and harassment?

Doesn’t the drop out rate from school speak to the fact that they are ATTACKED on a regular basis?

That such torment comes to a irreversible and final end, is kinda, sorta beside the point when the FRONT end of preventing the torment is more urgent.

As several have pointed out, systemic bigotry and homophobia are not isolated in schools.
Nor are the children involved necessarily gay.
Suicide happens to be an extreme.

All else before then, is the PROBLEM.
And, as long as THAT part of the problem gets swept from the solution, there IS no solution.

What I’m seeing, and it frustrates me no end, is the very people who will bald faced say everything negative there is about gay people, malign their character as weak, addicted and obsessed, are the same people who are claiming what THEY say has nothing to do with gay people suffering anything.

How twisted is it to have the evidence of your words betray you as much as trying to lie about those words does?

I don’t have any patience for this BS. Nobody should.
Beautiful young people are dying. Period.
Whether at their own hand, or whether by murder.
Killing their souls, if not their bodies, starts early. At least there sure are entire campaigns and commercial businesses around doing it.
They can’t deny THAT either.

Mihangel apYrs

October 23rd, 2010

Most LGBTQxyz kids survive, but there are some that don’t.

The debate is about what we do to protect this marginal group (recognising that anything we do will enhance the lives of all other LGBTQxyz kids


October 23rd, 2010

the linked article by Caitlin Ryan is that it’s the child’s family’s own HOMOPHOBIA (my word – the article says “rejecting behaviors”)

I wasn’t going to say anything, but this is exactly what made me sort-of cringe when I heard the President’s recent IGB video, it’s effortless assumption that at-risk kids have a trustworthy adult to reach out to, in their perception or in reality… His statement seemed a bit aspirational.

Savin-Williams is gob-smackingly off key.

here’s the thing:

There are at least two ways to reduce suicides (if that is the goal): 1. reduce the stressors 2. improve the coping mechanisms

Of course, those are deeply intertwined on an issue like gay bullying, where traditional coping mechanisms, like religion, parental support, even sibling support may not be there, but two or three degrees of “separation” away.

As activists, my first-pass take is that a clear and abiding focus on #1 is the right spearhead.

Savin-Williams contention that he has looked at a broad enough sample to judge the coping mechanisms successful (or even not required) seems ambitious. If anything, some _potential_ coping mechanisms, like drugs and perhaps even high-risk sex or withdrawal of various kinds, might lead some to think they are “happy”, but they are not really sound coping mechanisms, judged in a broader perspective, are they?


October 23rd, 2010

I also have this question. Two people who ought to know have said “no evidence” of an ‘epidemic’ (poor choice of words?). Are their statistics really comprehensive and current enough to judge that? I mean, if the last set of compiled stats is from, say, July of last year, that hardly seems sufficient to the claim that there might not have been an uptick in the past six months or even a more severe summer/fall 2010 than typical.


October 23rd, 2010

Committing suicide, or contemplating suicide, are two actions on one extreme end of how LGBT youth might respond to bullying. I’m glad that more than 90% of LGBT haven’t considered committing suicide, but not thinking about committing suicide does not mean they are “just as healthy, and just as resilient, and just as positive about their life” as straight youths. I’m sure Professor William’s position is more nuanced than this, but in reading just this post it almost seems like he is suggesting that because most LGBT youths are not on the negative extreme of things, most are perfectly OK. The truth is somewhere in the middle, with a small portion of LGBT youth driven to suicidal thoughts, perhaps a big middle who are “resilient” and cope with things ranging from petty teasing to cruel bullying, and then an unknown-sized (ever-growing) group of LGBT kids who are accepted and doing just fine in their home and school communities.


October 23rd, 2010

Riva, you bring up an important point that has been largely overlooked in all the discussions about the suicides. Beyond telling them that “it gets better” and recognizing that many LGBT youth do not have (or know that they have) an adult they can trust – what can we do as a community of LGBT people and allies to let them know that there are people who will stand with them if they are at the edge again, and take that step back with them? I’m grateful for the Trevor Project, but I’ve never seen anything about support for survivors of suicidal plans and attempts.

As the mother of a wonderful daughter who has seriously contemplated suicide on several occasions, I know what it feels like to deal with the aftershocks of those events. I can only imagine what dealing with the aftereffects of a serious attempt would be like. And for a young person dealing with sexuality in addition to the general suckage of school life, going forward must be an immense leap of faith.

What is out there for young people and their families once the call to the suicide hotline is over? Or the trip to the emergency room? How can we help?

And I’m glad you are here to raise the point.


October 24th, 2010

Savin-Wlliams is just plain wrong, and he’s right. Therein lies the problem.

First, he’s absolutely wrong to claim that it’s “scientifically untrue” that LGBT kids are more prone to self-harming behavior as compared to other kids. The data from clinical samples and surveys converge – even if imperfectly. We need do no further research to answer this question – we know the answer.

Clinical studies are based on small populations in which very small numbers matter. While self-harming behavior (including suicide) is very rare in the overall population, its effects are enormous and it occurs differentially – some are much more likely to self-harm than others. These differences tend to be erased in very large samples.

He’s also right. The larger the sample, the more LGBT youth tend to look like their non-LGBT peers. However, there are no random samples of LGBT youth because this is a self-selecting population that often chooses to not self-disclose. What he’s saying may be true, but it’s trivial. He’s turned a statistical molehill into a public policy mountain.

Even though no one is making such a claim, Savin-Williams seems very sensitive to the perception that LGBT youth are more disposed to psychopathology. As any public health researcher will tell him, it’s impossible to accurately describe the incidence of clinical problems in a random-sample; these are two fundamentally distinct ways of conducting research. We come up with estimates, and we’re quite aware of their imperfections.

Remember, Evelyn Hooker helped de-classify homosexuality from the DSM by demonstrating that hetero and homosexual populations were indistinguishable based on the incidence of psychopathology. In large numbers, and as assessed by tests, LGBT youth are likely indistinguishable from their hetero counterparts. But the very small numbers in clinical samples also matter, and I think that’s the message that Savin-Williams is missing.


October 24th, 2010

What is out there for young people and their families once the call to the suicide hotline is over? Or the trip to the emergency room? How can we help?

Well, that’s a lot to tackle.

I can’t answer, because I don’t know the range of crisis and support options available, broken down geographically or otherwise, other than things like PFLAG, programs to actually remove a child (public and private), or some of the ministry programs.

The broader question that Savin-Williams seems to put on the table – and perhaps I’m reconstructing – is whether by focusing on suicide we are not well calibrated in our response to helping gay youth, either because, (1) we are missing out on addressing the needs of 90% who are coping well enough or even thriving and (2) we are actually doing some positive harm.

First, we have to focus on suicides. There is no number of acceptable suicides, even if the numbers were the same for all peer groups.

On point 1, I’m not sure what today’s gay adults can do to help. I’m almost of the opinion that the generational gap in understanding/experience is so wide, at this point, that these kids are going to find and make the solutions themselves, without gay adult intervention.

The other part of it is all about gay culture, and I can’t see a movement to change that. The questions seem to be centered on “identity comparison” (following Cass’s formulations – link). One thing that jumps out at me from the articles I’ve read is countering the false appeal that “ex gay” groups have because of “identity comparison” failures, otherwise, it’s hard to see a broad movement to bring gay kids and gay adults into day-to-day activities emerging (because of the risks) or finding an easy answer to this:

“It probably sounds anti-gay, but there are very few age-appropriate gay activities for 14-, 15- year old. There’s no roller skating, no bowling or any kind of thing. … It’s internet, gay porn, gay chats.”

On point 2, positive harm, I think that’s a bridge too far. We’re still in a situation where just 1 in 10 schools have a GSA, no? Whatever it is, it’s not 9 in 10. It just seems that the risks of emboldening bullies or drawing rings that the kids themselves don’t recognize is outweighed by the prudence of doing the most to protect kids who remain at-risk, historically and otherwise (including prospectively?) and the goal of keeping the pressure on to atrophy institutionalized homophobia.


October 24th, 2010

Amicus, that’s an excellent point about the credibility disconnect between adults and youth. Believe me, I know that few teens want to hear adults ‘understand what they are going through’, even though we understand what WE may have gone through. But I think I will start looking for info on peer support, like LiveWire

But I’m curious as to what else is being offered to young people, gay or straight, who are trying to move forward after making (and changing) a decision to end their lives. Sorry if this is hijacking the thread, but I think it probably applies to many of the people in the study who claimed to be living “happy lives” because they were not ready to expose their moments of crisis to some researcher.


October 24th, 2010

@Kate. One thing that might help individual kids would be for them to have the opportunity to spend a substantial amount of time around adults, doing something positive. (In an organized setting their parents can keep track of, of course.) Taking a class, volunteering, bird-watching, playing chess, whatever. That way, they can actually get a preview of normal adult life, where most people have decent impulse control and don’t spend every minute trying to make someone else miserable.

The practice of segregating people by age all through school encourages the worst possible behavior, because there’s no one more mature but an overworked teacher — who is also a resented authority figure — for kids to model themselves on. They end up taking their social cues from other kids, who are all reverting to the lowest common denominator.


October 24th, 2010

Another thought in a similar vein — I think a lot of kids who are trying to move forward with their lives after a bout of school-induced despair would benefit from being able to fulfill at least part of their HS graduation requirements at a local community college, or a university, if they’re up to it intellectually.

That would get them out of the toxic high school environment for a few hours a day, and might make all the difference in the world. So advocating for open high school campuses, and some flexibility with enrollment, would be one thing parents could do to give kids more options for helping themselves.


October 24th, 2010

@Frijondi, maybe that’s another thing this study is missing – what might be a common factor for the the LGBT kids that are doing ok. Maybe it is access to adults that let them participate in activities where the focus is on what they can do and be, not on what their peers criticize. Which makes it even more important to recommend resources that are moderated and monitored so they can be trusted by both teens and adults. THAT’s what I see as missing from the “it gets better” videos, and even from “I’m from Driftwood”…I know I haven’t seen ALL of them, but the only resource I hear about is the Trevor Project. And again, to speak to Riva’s point, I’m thinking about youth who have thought of/attempted suicide at least once. They might be a small percentage, but they are the most fragile.

Again, BTB folks, I know this is tangential to the discussion of the study, but it seems in some way essential to the discussion about supporting efforts to help/keep LGBT youth in the “doing ok” category for real.


October 24th, 2010

Kate, what are the kids (or their psychiatrists) asking for?


October 24th, 2010

I don’t know what the psychiatrists want, but I found a forum thread on the LiveWire site called “another gay suicide” – from October 20…

At the top of the thread page was a little link called “suicide information” and it linked to this:

I thought it was a brilliant approach to discussing suicide for those who are on that “edge”…and some of the links are also exactly what I’ve been looking for. So…I called my daughter and asked if she would take a look at it, and we wound up having this amazing conversation about the issue of depression and suicide. Like the fact that in her school, coming out as gay was often no big thing, but admitting to a suicidal episode was a one-way ticket to isolation. Mental health issues are as big of an issue with teens as sexual issues – NOBODY wants to think about or admit to depression. Teens learn prejudice against people with mental illness from their families and society. Depression can be a crippling barrier to dealing with life, let alone bullies and homophobia. And physical/mental stress over time can lead to depression in otherwise healthy people – but that fact gets minimal media “space” and even less respect. So bullying can cause depression, as well as make the victim less able to defend him/herself, and more prone to suicide.

Here’s something for Savin-Williams to consider when he’s moaning about all the negative attention on that “minority” of LGBT suicides…according to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the third leading cause of death in ALL people ages 15-24. Is THAT ok with him?


October 24th, 2010

It just occurred to me that the word “holistic” is almost always code for “I’ve given up on achieving specific results.”


October 25th, 2010

I’m a fan of “sane-sex relationships.” Just wish I could get me one of those…


October 25th, 2010

Simply, Tom boys are far more accepted than boys who are not “typical boys”. The only way to stop bullying is for parents to step in and assert themselves. Today a teacher has to know more about law than he/she has to about the subject they might be teaching.


October 27th, 2010

Jason, I think you’ve hit-the-nail-on-the-head –again. I’d like to see gay activist groups put down the Obama signs, stop carrying the increasingly large pails of water for the DNC, get off the back of the Democrat’s bus and start using our own community’s $$$ and energy and talent to address the special issues of gay youth & college age gays.

We aren’t doing enough. And what we are doing is ineffective. We need to move away from a model of school-centered interdiction and make it community centered. We need to promote successful gay role models and we need to find mechanisms to embrace gay youth without thinking of it as a hook-up opportunity.

Priya Lynn

October 27th, 2010

Michigan Matt said “We need to promote successful gay role models and we need to find mechanisms to embrace gay youth without thinking of it as a hook-up opportunity.”.

Nice image you have of gay people.

Timothy Kincaid

October 27th, 2010

I think that when we consider Savin-Williams’ hypotheses that “LGB youth who participate in studies through their connection to programs at LGBT community centers or who are willing to identify as LGB on a government survey may be at higher risk for suicide than the population of LGB youth as a whole”, we need to keep in mind that he is an advocate for a “post-gay” utopia in which youth will someday barely note or notice what sex they find in general to be more attractive.

Whether or not his hypotheses are correct, those kids who sharply identify with their orientation are a threat to his pet notion and, it would seem, engender little sympathy.

Lorenzo from Oz

October 30th, 2010

If some group is more at risk, that means that some larger proportion of them endure a level of pressure they find hard to cope with than comparable groups. It still makes the elevated risk an issue without meaning that all members of the group are having the same intensity of experience.

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