Conservative Anti-Gay Areas Yield Higher Gay & Straight Teen Suicide Attempts

A new study of 32,000 high school students concurs with widely held opinion that in areas where anti-gay social and religious conservatism is dominant gay teens are more likely to make an attempt at taking their own lives, especially in the absence of LGBT-inclusive school programs. Interestingly however, the study also appears to show this trend holds true for straight identifying teens as well.

The study, published online today in the journal Pediatrics, was carried out by Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University psychologist and researcher.

More from The Washington Post:

His study found a higher rate of suicide attempts even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed when they lived in counties less supportive of gays and with relatively few Democrats. A high proportion of Democrats was a measure used as a proxy for a more liberal environment.

The research focused only on the state of Oregon and created a social index to assess which outside factors might contribute to suicidal tendencies. Other teen health experts called it a powerful, novel way to evaluate a tragic social problem.

“Is it surprising? No. Is it important? Yes,” said Dr. Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study “takes our relatively superficial knowledge and provides a bit more depth. Clearly, we need lots more understanding, but this is very much a step in the right direction,” he said.


The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.

As pointed out above, there were limitations of the study and it should be noted that it also relied on teens self-reporting suicide attempts, however the rate of gay and lesbian teens self-reporting a suicide attempt (20%) verses straight teens self-reporting (4%) roughly matches the disparity that has been found in previous studies into gay teen suicide rates.

Again, anti-gay religious conservatism would appear to impact heterosexual teens as well with the number of straight teens reporting suicide attempts being almost 9% higher in low scoring (less liberal) counties.

Linking to this, the key finding of this study is that environments that are welcoming for LGBT youths would also appear beneficial for straight youths as well.

The import of this is that when we work to tackle problems like anti-LGBT bullying with specifically tailored measures, we are still also engaging with the wider climate that all teenagers deal with and in that are in fact improving conditions for all kids.

This goes some way to answer the accusation that LGBT programs in schools are only being used to further a so-called gay agenda and would, at the very least, indicate a benefit to the wider student population.

Read the full AP report on the study here.

Found more information from Pediatrics here.

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Cesar Augsto Serena Sz.


Miriam O.

Thanks so much for the article!

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Mark Alan Dellavecchia

FYI - Thursday, October 20, 2011 is International SPIRIT DAY - one of the minor holidays on the LGBT Calendar. It is asked that you wear a PURPLE SHIRT as a sign of LGBT support, and in memory of the LGBT Teens who have died because of their orientation.

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

Interesting study and very sad. What can we as society do better to help our young people?

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Marilyn J L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

An area with anti-gay and conservative religious attitudes is indicative of a restrictive, hostile atmosphere. It's not surprising that teens are not thriving in this situation.

In addition to the tragedy of suicide and attempted suicide, consider the loss of joy, of creative ideas, of a sense of worth, and so much more that comes with such a hostile atmosphere.

Posing AsMe
Posing Asme6 years ago

Anywhere kids are not allowed to be themselves, and learn in a healthy, tolerant environment, there is going to be trouble. That goes for kids of any sexual orientation or race, for that matter.

Teachers and parents have a responsibility to listen to children when they have questions or need to talk, not quiet them. You never know when one might be asking for help.

Maarja L.
Maarja L6 years ago

No surprise. More conservative areas are less tolerant.

Mary Salas
Mary Salas6 years ago

It is perfectly logical that straight kids also get higher suicide attempts rates in these areas. There are many problems-teen pregnancies, STDs, rape, petty crimes- that hese kids won't dare to discuss with such narrow-minded parents. A narrow point of view is a problem for EVERYONE.

Susanne R.
Susanne R6 years ago

RE: Conservative Anti-Gay Areas Yield Higher Gay & Straight Teen Suicide Attempts
Headline: Conservative Anti-Gay Areas Yield Higher Gay & Straight Teen Suicide Attempts

That goes without saying! These poor kids were raised to hate, bully and criticize homosexuals --so how do they go about admitting their own proclivities? Who would be sympathetic? I have a very conservative, religious friend who has two children and seven grandchildren. She once told me, in all seriousness, that if any of them told her that they were gay or lesbian, she would never speak to them again. They would cease to be her grandchildren and would cease to exist. And she meant it. That's something I'll never understand. How can you stop loving your own flesh and blood because you've been influenced by the opinions of people who hate for reasons that even they can't understand? My heart goes out to these adolescents. It's tough enough to survive those years, but to survive them with confusion about your sexuality, and no one to turn to for help, has to be unbearable! I hate that some of them resort to suicide, but I can understand why. Shame on narrow-minded parents and those who preach hatred!