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Youth Suicide and Learning Curves: The Modern LGBTQ+ Landscape

Photo credit: Philippe Ricard

By Jean-Michel Ricard and Mia Capuno

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LGBTQ+ youth attempt suicide at four times the rate of their heterosexual counterparts, with 28.5% of those polled reporting having attempted suicide within the past six months according to a 2016 study by Harvard and John Hopkins University.

Now this rate is in decline. The study, which examined the correlation between youth suicide rates and the state legalization of gay marriage, found that the attempted suicide rate dropped to 24.5% on average in states that legalized gay marriage.

This drop, DP students say, is a result of decreased stigma against homosexuality, once considered an absolute social taboo.

“The thoughts of suicide stem from feeling worthless and feeling like no one cares about you and you’re not valued as much as someone else might be, and I feel like that’s definitely reflected in a lack of right to get married” said junior Alaina Murphy, who identifies as lesbian.

“Even if you don’t necessarily want to get married, you want to be treated as equal. You want to be valued the same as everyone else and if you feel like you’re not valued and not an important part of society then that’s going to definitely make you feel worthless”

Senior Justin Ealand, who identifies as bisexual, agreed with Murphy, saying that it represented a positive change for people who struggled with their identity as he did.

“It’s representing a change. I think some people have probably seen that gay marriage is now legalized and they’ve seen that the nation is changing for the better; they’re starting to become more accepted,” said Ealand. “And I think that’s what humans really desire deep down, is to be accepted, to be part of a community.”

In spite of this symbolic victory, however, acceptance is still incomplete for many LGBTQ+ students, even at DP. This lingering stigma becomes particularly caustic for students in vulnerable environments.

“If I take a shower with [the water polo team] at the same time and all of them, like, take the top halves of their suits off just to get water and soap everywhere, I can’t follow suit” said senior Lola Macy, who is bisexual. “I have to look at my own feet, or at the wall, because otherwise they yell at me.”

This problem, according to Macy, only gets worse in club sports.

Distrust of this sort—which Macy speculates stems from a fear that she will “come on to” her teammates—has become a part of Macy’s daily routine that she has chosen to deal with herself. However not everyone is so tenacious or, if it can be called such, fortunate.

“It’s never gotten violent for me” said Macy, “but I know people where it has gotten violent and they’ve had to quit their sport or drop out of school.”

While hailing national legalization as a definite positive, junior Evan Podsiad, who is bisexual, said that there was definitely still a ways to go to reach full equality.

“I think it’s like a marathon, you know. We’ve reached the quarter mark, I guess, but we’ve still got a long ways to go before it’s completely accepted,” said Podsiad, who expressed particular concern over the state of transgender rights.

Those interviewed overwhelmingly identified greater education as a necessary next step. The problem, according to them, is that many people simply don’t know enough about the LGBTQ+ community to empathize.

“They don’t understand and what they don’t understand they’re afraid of,” said senior Ashton Melendez, Co-President of the Social Equality Club. “And I understand that completely because I’ve had that same experience where I didn’t understand it and I was scared of it.”

This lack of information is problematic even within the LGBTQ+ community, where a lack of information can lead to years of misidentification, particularly with less binary members. In Melendez’s case, it wasn’t until the 8th grade that they noticed their bisexuality, and they only discovered that they were agender within the last year.

A big part of the solution, Melendez said, is what they call internal education: Parents teaching their kids and teachers teaching their students. Murphy also advocates a different kind of internal education, one driven by the community itself.

“If you’re out and you’re willing to talk about it, talk about it,” said Murphy. “Confront people about it in a comforting way, be like: ‘This is a thing that exists and it’s okay.’”

Ultimately, through a combination of these and other methods, both Murphy and Melendez hope to reach a point where society recognizes their differences and accepts them for it. If successful, they might then enjoy a world where Macy and her girlfriend can walk down State Street without turning heads and being glared at, where Podsiad won’t have to bear lectures about phases and choosing a side, and where Melendez can finally have a boyfriend who doesn’t ask them if they’d be up for a threesome.

Until then, as they commemorate those 24.5% and more on this Day of Silence, they’ve just got to keep pushing.

 

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Youth Suicide and Learning Curves: The Modern LGBTQ+ Landscape