Like for other communities, there are special concerns for the LGBTQI community when it comes to suicide prevention. While times have certainly changed over the last few decades, discrimination against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people still exists and can cause feelings of isolation, which are a major cause of suicidal feelings. In addition, there have been some studies that have shown that gay men and lesbians face stronger feelings of suicide if not a greater number of actual suicides.
Fear of Coming Out
Many adolescents and even adults fear expressing their true sexual orientation or gender identity, mainly because of assumptions of how family, friends and religious communities will react. Hiding one’s true feelings and identity can cause feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Even for some who are mostly “out”, they still feel the need to remain closeted in other aspects of their lives like at work, or to certain family members. Whether young or old, the fear of losing familial support is ever present, especially in cultures where preserving “face” is of utmost importance or cultures where same sex relations are less accepted.
Teens in particular have additional challenges when it comes to maintaining their dignity and sexual identity. Many LGBTQI teens fear “being outed” not only in person at school or on the playground, but also being taunted, threatened and relentlessly harassed online, often known as cyber-bullying.
Recently bullying in schools has received a lot of attention in the media, and make no mistake that bullying is a form of abuse. Abuse almost always causes feelings of depression and hopelessness that can lead to suicidal feelings. And abuse comes in larger forms too, when leading political figures, media figures or world religions attack the LGBTQI community, it can lead to feelings of depression among LGBTQI individuals. The oppression these institutions inflict leads to a decline in our self-esteem and self-worth. For teens coming out or being outed, they have a real fear of being “gay bashed,” physically and sexually assaulted and becoming victims of hate crimes.
Many in the LGBTQI community face sudden rejection when they come out. Friends and family may reject them, at least at first. Some experience virtually complete loss in their life, when all their friends and family reject their identity. Of course this can leave tremendous emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Many in the community experience a sudden rejection in the work place or decline in social status when they reveal their sexual orientation, often learning first-hand what it means to be perceived as “different.”
Many in the LGBTQI community feel isolated, and for many reasons. Of course rejection during the coming out process will lead to feelings of isolation. Many people that come out and are rejected at home end up moving to new cities, where they have very limited social support and resources. And sometimes the LGBTQI community itself can feel cliquey to many, and some feel they really don’t fit-in to the community as a whole. For many, their first exposure to “gay culture” is through the gay media that often promotes youth, beauty and clubbing, and might make the person feel unaccepted, even within the community.
Same-sex domestic violence within the LGBTQI community exists. It often goes largely ignored by social service, criminal justice and medical care providers. The needs of the victim are often minimized and met with homophobic responses. These responses in turn cause survivors of LGBTQI domestic violence to live a life of isolation, often continuing to endure emotional, psychological and physical abuse in silence. For closeted and mixed-race couples, the victim of domestic violence may fear leaving the perpetrator who often targets their abuse on social dynamics; threatening to “out” the partner to family, co-workers, officials of immigration or any other institution where sexual orientation poses some kind of threat.
Health Status and HIV
In San Francisco, HIV is very prevalent in the gay and bisexual male community. Acquiring HIV/AIDS (or any disease for that matter) may lead to social isolation. For some, a downward spiral in one’s medical status is enough to cause one to retreat from previously enjoyed activities. Simply feeling worn out by the physical and mental stress of illness can cause one to consider ending one’s pain.
Rejection by family, friends, coworkers or partners can also be felt due to the stigma surrounding sero-conversion. Often times, it is this fear of rejection and lack of emotional support that prevents people from seeking the necessary services that may be available in the community.
Grief is our emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, social and spiritual response to a significant loss. We may experience grief when a close friend dies of suicide, or we learn that a close friend or partner is dying of AIDS, cancer, or a sudden accident. We may also experience grief, a profound sadness when we wonder why some of us continue to test negative when many of our friends become HIV+. Why do so many of our friends end up on such a different path? We may feel despondent and turn inward or we may turn to others to share our experiences. New aches and pains and lack of sleep may substitute the tears shed by others. We experience grief when the family we have depended on for decades turns against us after we disclose our true sexual identity. We may think we’ve gone crazy, turning everyone’s world upside down when things were going just fine as they were. Some of us turn to alcohol and other drugs to numb the feelings we are experiencing, others turn to counseling and psychotherapy in the hope of making sense out of this. Socially, we may be more confident and self-assured while others may feel frightened with this new sense of freedom. “Where is my God now?” “A loving God wouldn’t allow this to happen!” These are just some thoughts passing through the minds of LGBTQI folks when we face the stark reality that living our lives as we’d like is often met with opposition from the government, religious groups and the very people closest to us.
San Francisco offers a number of grief services. Learn more.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
The LGBTQ community does have a high number of people struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. For any depressed person, adding alcohol and drugs creates a difficult downward spiral and can lead to severe negative emotions and behaviors.
San Francisco Suicide Prevention is about gay-friendly as it gets! We were founded by a gay man, and we have always had a high number of LGBTQ staff, volunteers and Board members. We have been here for the community for nearly 50 years.
If you or a friend are feeling depressed, our staff and volunteers are here to help. Another great resource, especially for LGBTQI youth is the Trevor Project. And we always need volunteers to help on our programs.
San Francisco Suicide Prevention’s LGBTQI Outreach program is supported by Grass Roots Gay Rights West, producers of REAL BAD.
As part of that grant, SFSP conducted the attached research on San Francisco’s LGBTQI community. The research will give you a lot more information about feelings and attitudes within the LGBTQI community (February 2011).