Homophobia and Suicide in GLBT Youth
Whether we like it or not, gender roles are inescapable realities of a social schema. Society forms a definition of what it is to be male and female, and in many instances this definition is unrealistically rigid. Concepts of gender in American society revolve around "maleness" as a mythical yet perpetuated norm. When someone functioning in this framework fails to meet the male heterosexual classification, they are labeled as the "other," and must then deal with a cavalcade of implications reinforced by society's expectation and demands. How does a population branded as the "other" function and cope in society? This paper will examine specifically if social constructs of homosexualityparticularly in homosexual youthhave higher risk factors for suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.
Recent statistics state that more than 5,000 American adolescents and young adults take their lives every year, and disturbingly enough, gay and lesbian adolescents and young adults were found to be two to three times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide, suggesting that 30% of completed suicides each year are gay or lesbian youth (Chauvin et. al, 2000:2). Suicide is the leading cause of death for the young homosexual population, and five out of six gay men who attempted suicide had done so by the age of 20 (Chauvin et al., 2000:2). A number of variables must be taken into consideration which have shown to affect rates of suicide in homosexual youth (youth being defined as ages 20 and under) (Chauvin, Kulkin, & Percle, 2000:2). "Coming out," at an early age, society at large, self-esteem, religion, substance abuse, and attempting suicide all affect suicide ideation in homosexual youth. In addition, it is important to take into account homophobia and empowerment in society. Coming out at an early age
"Coming out" at an early age has a number of consequences for any individual who identifies as GLBT. The development of the homosexual identity has a proposed three-stage sequence consisting of homosexual feelings in early adolescence, budding homosexuality in a "dissociation" stage of coping, and personal acceptance and disclosure, or "coming out" (Lebson, 2002:110). "The stages are fluctuating and undulating rather than uniform," and "the likelihood of depression and suicide increase
when the effort to complete each stage becomes overwhelming" (Lebson, 2002:111). "Coming out" is, disturbingly enough, generally expected to lead to a family crisis, and it "has been recognized as one of the most difficult and at the same time most important tasks gay men and lesbians might face" (Ben-Ari, 1995:90-1). It is associated with fear, anxiety, and stress, and thus it is no wonder that the process can have detrimental effects on the emotional stability of an individual. Sixty-six percent of gay men and lesbians in the study reported by Ben-Ari expressed fears about "coming out" to at least one of their parents, and fifty-two percent had fears about being rejected (Ben-Ari, 1995: 95-6). While the anticipation of "coming out" is in itself a psychologically troubling time, the ramifications of doing so at an early age are made more injurious by the newly made physical consequences. The adolescent must not only deal with the inner turmoil and instability of emotions, but also their "peers' inability to deal effectively with this information
triggered by prejudicial attitudes which have been internalized due to our heterosexist and homophobic society" (Chauvin et al., 2000:9). Adolescence is a difficult time of confusion and identity formation for all young people, but homosexual youth must also contend with their sexuality and the stigma attached to it; the trauma during this critical period of development intensifies feelings of abandonment and isolation for the gay or lesbian young person (Chauvin et al., 2000:9). Society
Society at large is the foremost...
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