Montana LGBT Youth At Increased Risk for Suicide

Today, a groundbreaking piece in the Billings Gazette:

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting through adolescence is hard enough.

There’s the agony of puberty, the mood swings and the withering self-consciousness. Then comes the clumsiness of emerging sexuality.

It can be overwhelming.

For some young people, the passage can be even more daunting. For a few Montana kids coming to terms with their attraction to the same gender — in a religious and rural culture that doesn’t always know what to make of them — the challenge can be deadly.

A 2009 survey of more than 7,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender middle and high school students aged 13 to 21 found that in the past year, at least eight of 10 students had been verbally harassed at school; four of 10 had been physically harassed; six of 10 felt unsafe at school; and one of five had been the victim of a physical assault, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

LGBT youth also are at far greater risk for suicide. A national study of adolescents in grades seven to 12 found that LGBT youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.

There is little specific research in Montana concerning how much of a role sexual orientation plays in youth suicides, said Karl Rosston, Montana’s suicide prevention coordinator. However, national studies have shown about 15 percent of youth who reported suicide attempts also reported same-sex attraction or relationships.

In Montana between 1999 and 2009, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, behind unintentional injuries like auto and farm accidents.

In the two years between 2010 and 2011, at least 57 youth ages 15 to 24 killed themselves in Montana.

It’s difficult to figure the current number of gays and lesbians in Montana. However, according to a report from the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA researching sexual orientation issues, there were 1,600 same-sex couples in Montana as of 2005, up from 1,200 in 2000. This number is almost certainly higher, especially since the study didn’t include youth. The number of male couples and female couples were nearly evenly split, with 806 men and 853 women.

About 2.6 percent of Montana’s population — around 26,000 people — is gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the report.

Teen suicide is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the state, which has had one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation for more than 30 years. Consider that during 2010, at least 227 Montanans took their own lives. Another 225 people committed suicide in 2011.

D Gregory Smith, a Bozeman-based licensed mental health counselor and executive director of AIDS Outreach, counsels LGBT high school and college students, gay men and a handful of heterosexual men and women. He also counsels parents wondering if their child’s sexual preference can be changed, although he doesn’t believe that’s possible. He counsels parents on how they can better understand their child’s sexuality.

Most of his youth and young adult clients have contemplated suicide.

“Their biggest fear is believing they cannot have a good life,” said Smith, a former Catholic priest who is gay and HIV-positive. “They believe they cannot stay in Montana, be who they are and be happy.”
There’s so much more here:

2 comments on “Montana LGBT Youth At Increased Risk for Suicide

  1. Mary Scriver says:

    Good work, Greg. I applaud you and the rest.

    Do Montana stats on these issues include Indian reservations? Whites on reservations?

    Prairie Mary
    (Mary Scriver)


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