For some time now we have known about the higher risk of LGBT suicide which includes ideation and attempts (See stats here) but thoughts of and attempts to suicide are much higher for LGBT people from faith backgrounds.
I am glad to see now that research is demonstrating something I have been pointing out for many years. That is, that LGBTI people of faith and religion not only experience the usual issues of resolving their sexuality or gender identity, coming out, finding their place in the community and learning what it means to live authentically in a predominately straight world but they experience these things with greater intensity and also have additional issues to deal with. This makes them potentially one of the highest risk groups in our community.
The research project Writing Themselves In 3 (WTi3) 2010 interviewed 3,134 LGBTI young people aged 14-21.
When religion was mentioned the key findings were:
- More likely to feel bad about their same-sex-attraction.
- More likely to have experienced social exclusion or had to tolerate homophobic language from friends.
- More likely to report homophobic abuse in the home.
- More likely to report feeling unsafe at home.
- More likely to not be supported by their mother, father, brother, teacher or student welfare coordinator/counsellor, when disclosing their SSA.
- More likely to report thoughts of self-harm and suicide or to carry out self-harm.
I would like to summarise with this statement.
A review of 850 research papers concluded that people with religious involvement and belief system have better mental health outcomes. They have higher levels of psychological well-being such as life satisfaction, happiness, positive effect, and higher morale and less depression and suicide. If however you are gay or lesbian (in the closet or your sexuality/belief system unresolved)…….. it is the exact opposite….it can drive you crazy or kill you (suicide). Also it should be noted that this research has shown that the very places where Christian young people should feel safest (in their churches, Christian homes, schools and with friends) are actually places of harm.
But we will never actually know the toll of those who have suicided because of the struggle with the perceived conflict of their faith and sexuality or dealing with their ‘unwanted same sex attraction’.
The toll of lives lost can never be counted because:
- People leave or are thrown out of churches and people think the person has given into their ‘sin’ and therefore have to suffer the consequences. Then when they leave they have such a sense of failure and shame that they never speak to anyone about their experience.
- When some young person commits suicide there is no box the coroner can tick that says Reason for Death = tortured by the internal conflict of my faith and sexuality. Tried to change my sexual orientation by going through a program, lots of prayer, believing and counselling …..but failed.
- Some people have left notes for their family or friends about the reason they took their lives but they have never been made public. Especially if the parents are Christians. There is already trauma and shame around the suicide and they would never add to that the revelation that their son or daughter was gay. That would make it even worse.
- Often pastors and youth leaders know the reason why the person took their life as they had talked to them in counselling sessions. The pastors and youth leaders won’t talk about the reason once again because of additional shame and also fear of controversy.
- Sometimes people take their lives in ways that it is not obviously suicide…..it looks like an accident (eg head on collision, went off a road in the middle of the night, a drowning)
These tragedies have to cease. You can help make that happen by supporting the work of ABBI.
If you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm, or otherwise in need of crisis support, please call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1 300 659 467.
Thank you for writing this article. It is interesting about the subject and how it applied to myself in many ways. I do not live in Australia, I live in California, USA. I am not a young person, I’m 63. Yet when I was younger, growing up in the Midwestern part of the United States, in the 1960’s & 70’s, being gay, you were given five choices. 1. Runaway, 2. Closet, 3. Institution, 4. Incarceration, 5. Dead. We have an area that spans the United States, called “The Bible Belt.” Very conservative, very religious in the religions of Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Amish, Mennonite, with a spattering of Catholics. This area was not very nice to the Mormon’s and helped to drive them out to Utah, USA. I grew up in a Methodist/Pentecostal home. My twin sister and I were adopted into the family we grew up in. Yet, I knew at an early age I was attracted to my own gender. I would hear people, including my parents (who were Christians) condemn people who were different, and if you were gay, you were a spawn of the devil.
I had to hide the fact I was gay. In 1964, after a particularly difficult day at school where I got beat up numerous times, I knew when I got home, I was going to get beat up again by my mother. After a severe beating from my mother, I ran to our barn and attempted suicide by hanging myself. The amount of guilt I felt, from my parents and their position about gays. The condemnation from the religions my parents were and including relatives. I am really surprised I never attempted it again.
My mother discovered from my private journals that I was gay when I was 16. She read my journals, then she burned them in front of me. As I watched in horror as my writing was going up in smoke, that is when the first contact of the belt and buckle came across my back. My mother was wielding that belt like a bullwhip. Every swing found it’s mark. By the time she was finished, my clothes were shreads, my back, butt and legs were bloody welts, cuts and gouges. She damn near beat me to death. I still have permanent nerve damage from that beating. I closeted for 45 years.
During that 45 years, I married, to hide being gay. My wife and I became devout Mormon. We would remain Mormon for 37 of the 40 years of our marriage. My wife knew I was gay, yet I was faithful to her. Our marriage did not end in divorce. It ended when my wife died in 2015. I openly came out afterwards. I can relate to how young people feel. All of our friends, told me afterwards they had suspected I was gay. Yet, when I openly came out, all of that changed. Those who had suspected it, stabbed me in the back. Family abandoned me, except for my twin sister and my daughter. Even my son turned his back on me. I was forced to self-excommunicate from the Mormon Church. I was suddenly 60 years old, I’m legally blind, I raise a grandson who is deaf and autistic, and I am alone. No friends, no faith, nothing. No one gave a damn. They didn’t care that I was torn up inside with the death of my wife. I could never understand, these so called friends had suspected I was gay for years, yet when they find out it was true, it was suddenly a major issue.
Contemplate suicide? Again? Yes, I did. My wife died at home, in our bed and in my arms. She died from complications of diabetes. She was on some serious pain medication, opiods to be exact. I contemplated taking the rest of those pills and dying with her. It has now been over 2 years since she died and I have been out that long. I met a wonderful and awesome man, who had also lost a long-term partner of 30 years. He is now my husband. Yet, he and I must live apart because he is a full-time caregiver to his mother and her home is too small for my grandson and I to live with them. We live 45 miles apart (don’t know the kilometers). We are married, yet apart. I sleep alone most nights. Have the thoughts come racing back of suicide? I would be lying if I said they didn’t. Would I attempt it again? Probably not.
I know how it feels to be unwanted and alone, when you have been rejected by your family, friends and your faith. Do I still believe in God? Yes, I do. Another story, but I have survived three near-death experiences and I stood in his light. I know he exists and I believe in him. That cannot be broken or shaken. I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t like the hurting. Sorry, this is so long. I have never been known to write short emails or posts. Thank you for letting me share this with you.
William. thank you for taking the time to tell your moving story. Anyone who would not be deeply moved by it would have a very hard and cruel heart. I trust that the love of your husband takes away some of the hurt and pain that you have experienced over so much of your life.
Thanks Anthony and William for telling your stories. If we are to believe that Jesus “wept”, as it is recorded in John 11.35, and whether or not we believe that Jesus is alive and well (with God) “today”, then we must believe that Jesus the man has had cause to weep many times since his crucifixion.
What man or woman would not weep, when we consider what cruel (so-called) Christians and others (Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Theists and Atheists etc etc) have done with “malice of forethought” ?
Malice of forethought is the devil in the detail. Good intention is everything. Bad intention, or malice of forethought is nothing but the pit. It is the precursor to an evil deed, since there is no love in it.
According to Wikipedia (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_wept ), Jesus did weep. And why would he not, when he could see and did experience the malice and evil in some people’s hearts ? Yes:
“ Jesus wept (Greek: ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, edákrysen o Iesoús lit. “Jesus shed tears”) is a phrase famous for being the shortest verse in the King James Version of the Bible, as well as many other versions. It is not the shortest in the original languages. It is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35.
And it does us good to remember that verse breaks – or versification – were only introduced into the Greek text by Robert Estienne in 1551 in order to make the texts easier to reference and compare. And our understanding of Biblical texts has blossomed since then. Other religious texts have become available to us also, which help to ground us. For instance, from the Book of Mormon*, if we are to speak of leaders and their position among us:
“The tree of life is a representation of the love of God” (1 Nephi 11.25),
“All things must needs be a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2.11).
“I, even I, who you call your leader, am no better than you yourselves are. I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; for I am also of the dust. I have been suffered to spend my days in your service. I have not done these things that I might boast; I tell you these things that you may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God, this day. For when you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God. All God requires of you is to keep the commandments of love. So render all your thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess: live in peace, one with another” (Mosiah 2.11-26).
“Render to God all that you have and are”…. (Mosiah 2.34).
“I have spoken plainly to you that you might understand: consider the blessed and happy state of those that keep Love’s imperatives, for they are blessed in all things”…. (Mosiah 3.40,1).
* I think that I have changed only a couple of words to make these texts “good” (plain, simple and pure), since “Things both plain and pure are most precious and easy” (1 Nephi 14.23)..
Donald, thank you for your comment. I was a bit surprised by the quoting from the Book of Mormon, which many do not accept as scripture, let alone accepting of Joseph Smith. However, be that as it may, I was Mormon for 37 years. Even though, I was forced to leave the Mormon faith, I still hold much of it in my heart. I still have a testimony of it, of which no one can break. I want to thank you for quoting them.
It brought me to remember my favorite scripture in the Book of Mormon, (3 Nephi 18:15) “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him.” Until you wrote your post, and chose to look back on this simple verse. How does it apply to today? How does it apply towards those who are so persecuted by guilt and condemnation, simply because they are who they are?
“Ye must watch and pray always.” Look at the world around you. Your prayers should be to understand the world as it is. To see people for who they are. A wise woman, here in America, her name is Jane Elliott. You can find her video’s on YouTube. She speaks about racism. Yet, can’t racism be applied to those who are different? One thing she pointed out, there is no such thing as race. There is only one race. HUMAN. There are different cultures, and it is those cultures we should seek to understand. Our prayers are for that understanding.
“Lest ye be tempted by the devil.” Who is the devil? Someone who teaches everything against that which Jesus Christ taught. No wonder he wept. Society, narrow-mindedness, bigotry, racism, intolerance, hatred of another, those are all characteristics of “The Devil.”
“Lest ye be led away captive by him.” When people harden their hearts, stop reading and understanding that our creator made all of us exactly the way we were supposed to be made. I have read in the scriptures, that man should turn away from the “natural man” and become a new man. Man, meaning mankind, are not inheritantly bad people. Are there some, whose wires in their head got crossed? Yes, because they are letting their desires to be more than they are, control them.
It is the condemnation of religious leaders, who feel they are above the people, that drive either people away or for the youth to commit suicide. I love the story of King Mosiah, he was a humble king, and he toiled alongside his people. He was a goodly king. He exemplified the teachings of Christ.
Like I said in my post. I grew up in the Bible Belt of the Midwestern part of the United States. I cannot begin to tell you the torture it felt to grow up in the 1960’s & 70’s and to be gay. There is a paper written: “Abomination–Life as a Bible Belt Gay.” The abstract reads: Drawing on observation, autoethnography, and audio-taped interviews, this article explores the religious backgrounds and experiences of Bible Belt gays. In the Bible Belt, Christianity is not confined to Sunday worship. Christian crosses, messages, paraphernalia, music, news, and attitudes permeate everyday settings. Consequently, Christian fundamentalist dogma about homosexuality-that homosexuals are bad, diseased, perverse, sinful, other, and inferior-is cumulatively bolstered within a variety of other social institutions and environments in the Bible Belt. Of the 46 lesbians and gay men interviewed for this study (age 18-74 years), most describe living through spirit-crushing experiences of isolation, abuse, and self-loathing. This article argues that the geographic region of the Bible Belt intersects with religious-based homophobia. Informants explained that negative social attitudes about homosexuality caused a range of harmful consequences in their lives including the fear of going to hell, depression, low self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness.
Isn’t this the reasons so many young people in the gay community commit suicide? If they are not being condemns by their parents, it is their churchs and the geographical region in which they lived. I lived with all of those. I came out only 2 years ago. I recently confronted many of those who condemned me, which they tried to do again, except it did not work this time. I watch and pray always. Sure I may cuss like a sailor, but those are just words. It is where my heart is, that matters. If I can take my surviving experiences and help someone else to see beyond the condemnation, then hopefully I can help change a little part of the world.