Our Community's Lack of Internal Cohesion May Contribute to LGBTQ Suicides

The Center for Homicide Research keeps tabs on incidents of suicide. This may seem antithetical, but in the world of criminology, the two acts are linked. Homicide and suicide are both examples of lethal violence.

Linking homicide and suicide is not new. At the end of the 19th century, Emile Durkheim argued that the urge to commit either suicide or homicide comes from the same source. Some modern psychologists agree; people who take their own lives and offenders of homicide frequently display similar psychological states when they commit their acts of aggression -- both groups are generally without hope and clinically depressed. The difference? Homicide is aggression focused outward and suicide is that same aggression focused inward.

Researchers and theorists in many fields are actively debating what causes one person to commit homicide and another to commit suicide. Evidence suggests that money might have something to do with it. The richer a country or neighborhood, the more likely the people living there are to commit suicide rather than homicide. Others have argued the motive is cultural. Currently, there are no solid conclusions.

What is known is that people who are not miserable rarely commit lethal violence. That's what the It Gets Better campaign, The Trevor Project, and the push to end school bullying are all about. These efforts try to make teenage members of the LGBTQ community a little less depressed give them a little more hope.

I agree with the spirit of these initiatives and think they are a step in the right direction. However, they don't go nearly far enough. Suicide isn't only a problem for gay teenagers. Gay men, lesbians, and members of the transgender community of all ages attempt suicide at a much higher frequency than heterosexuals; it doesn't seem to magically get better after high school diplomas are handed out.

The increased rate of depression for people in our community is understandable; I don't think I'm breaking any ground by pointing out that society treats the LGBTQ population incredibly poorly. We grow up hearing that we are abominations/wrong/confused/inferior/genetic abnormalities -- none of this is easy on the ol' psyche. On top of that, as a community we're engaged in a battle to prove that old belief systems are wrong and have to change. It's a Herculean task, and some people succumb to the negativity that surrounds it.

That said, Durkheim had other ideas about suicide that are relevant to suicide among the LGBTQ community. One of them, "groups with low social status and integration who are denied society's usual privilege and rights are at risk for alienation and suicide unless protected by internal cohesion, religion or anti-suicide norms," highlights one potential, suicide-prevention area LGBTQ folk are pretty much ignoring. We're terrible at the whole "internal cohesion" thing.

I know I'm not so supposed to mention this for fear that I might be misquoted by social conservatives, but queer people are frequently and impressively mean to one another.

A few examples: the fact that racism within the LGBTQ community has been well documented; the fact that the isolation that LGBTQ people often feel in rural communities is frequently ignored or belittled ("Why don't they just move to cities?"); the volume of homeless LGBTQ youth that we leave to fend for themselves; the fact that the rights of transgender citizens have been sacrificed so that gay men and lesbians can gain their rights first; the fact that to fit a rigid and rather unrealistic body image, gay men have a higher prevalence of eating disorders than their heterosexual counterparts; and the fact, according to some, that it's the upper-middle-class, white men who dictate what is important to the LGBTQ community.

As a result, instead of coming out to a community who finally accepts them, some people find themselves still outcasts, still told that who they are isn't quite right. For them, it may never get better. Again, this is hard on the ol' psyche.

These issues get brought up on occasion, but they are rarely acted upon in a meaningful way by leaders of the LGBTQ community. I believe that by ignoring our lack of internal cohesion and constantly blaming all of our unhappiness on other people, we are missing the opportunity to decrease incidents of suicide in our community.

It's time to own up to our community's imperfections and actually change them. So, yes, it's important to let queer youth know it gets better, but it's more important to make sure that we mean it.