Gay Tolerant Environments Make Life Feel Tolerable for Gays, Study Shows

an example of supportive gay people

A study conducted in Oregon, home of the world-famous Oregon Trail, Lon Mabon’s Oregon Citizens Alliance and the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, has revealed that in counties where LGB students are acknowledged and respected, LGB students feel more acknowledged and accepted and therefore less likely to want to die. 20% less likely, in fact. Furthermore, counties with a higher proportion of Democrats showed a lower suicide rate.

The study was led by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar Mark L. Hatzenbuehler at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health:

The study of nearly 32,000 11th-grade students in Oregon found that LGB youth were more than five times as likely to have attempted suicide in the previous 12 months, as their heterosexual peers (21.5 percent vs. 4.2 percent). Using a new tool designed to measure social environment, Hatzenbuehler found that LGB youth living in a social environment that was more supportive of gays and lesbians were 25 percent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in environments that were less supportive.

The five measures assessed as indicators of the social environment surrounding LGB youth include:

1) proportion of schools with anti-bullying policies specifically protecting LGB students

2) Proportion of schools with Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs)

3) proportion of schools with anti-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation

4) proportion of same-sex couples

5) proportion of Democrats in the county.

A supportive environment also resulted in a 9% lower rate of attempted suicide by heterosexual students — which makes sense. An environment which embraces or is, at the very least, tolerable of difference, benefits weirdos of all stripes, from homos to Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. Says Hatzenbuehler:

“The results of this study are pretty compelling. When communities support their gay young people, and schools adopt anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies that specifically protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempted suicide by all young people drops, especially for LGB youth.”

Although this whole thing seems terribly obvious, we’re up against formidable opponents (including “history” and “the patriarchy”) in the fight to tell kids they are not disgusting sinners and that they are all actually special snowflakes, and these kinds of statistics are what helps move public policy forward. Assumptions (as obvious as they are) doesn’t get shit done the same way that numbers do, especially when the other side makes a lot of shit up. For example, as discussed on Oregon’s Public Health website, data from the annual “Oregon Healthy Teens” survey has been used to secure grants and influence policy in a major way.

The fact that Democratic counties sported lower suicide rates is also interesting, and consistent with recent research on Suicide Rates divided by geographical area. If you compare 2004 election results with a 2005 list of state-by-state suicide rates, it’s pretty stunning — amongst the ten states with the highest suicide rates, nine voted for George W Bush. The outlier, interestingly enough, is Oregon.

P.S. What struck me about some of the media coverage of this study, however, is the number of media outlets which reported this study as assessing the suicide risk of “LGBT” students (here’s one example) (here’s another), despite the fact that Hatzenbuehler never mentioned doing any research on trans students specifically (aside from trans students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, obvs). Trans students face an overlapping but also distinct and arguably far more arduous set of challenges in school environments and there are formidable challenges to adequately studying trans students (in fact, this study was conducted in Oregon because it was the only state which tracked the qualifiers necessary to even study gay students), so their exclusion from this study isn’t necessarily alarming — but I feel like for journalists to toss the “T” in there like it’s just another letter does a disservice to the community (especially when suicide-prevention organizations like The Trevor Project don’t even have a transgender person on their board) by giving itself credit for something it didn’t do. It’s damaging to say you represent a group you’re not actually representing, like how LOGO is all like “we are GLBT TV” so like “lesbians have a teevee channel too” but we don’t because let’s be real, Logo is just G-TV at this point. Obviously that’s a less serious example but you know what I mean?


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Riese

Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, is an award-winning writer, blogger, journalist, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in the midwest, lost her mind in New York City and is currently making it work in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better, The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image and The Hazards of Being Female," "Dirty Girls," and "The Best American Erotica of 2007," magazines including Nylon, Marie Claire, GO, Curve, Interlude, and CollegeBound, and all over the web including nerve.com, Jezebel, Queerty, Emily Books and OurChart (RIP). She was the recapper for The L Word Online and host of Showtime’s Lezberado and her personal blog has earned many dubious honors including Best Personal Blog 2008. Riese has spoken about blogging, community-building, feminism, cyberculture and sexuality at places like BlogHer, Yale, New York University, The University of Chicago and The Museum of Sex. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy and The Olive Garden's week-long training intensive; she enjoys eating foods, having big ideas, reading books & talking to her stuffed dog, Tinkerbell. Also, she's Jewish. Follow her smokin’ hot adventures on twitter. Contact: riese[at]autostraddle.com

Riese has written 2896 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. I had also noticed that a few other articles had just thrown in the T. It is an example of why I love your study summaries so much more than my other sources.

    Ps. I am super curious what search term you used to find that photo wherever you find free use photos … It is amazing and probably the promo shot for a new show on Logo

  2. Pingback: Gay Tolerant Environments Make Life Feel Tolerable for Gays, Study Shows – Autostraddle

  3. This is GROUND-BREAKING. Treating gay kids with respect makes them feel more respected? Whaa? I totally realize that these studies are needed to be some sort of objective fact and science, but really, what fuckfad doesn’t realize that? I don’t think even gay-hating conservatives disagree with that, they just can’t openly agree with anything that undermines their “gay agenda taking over America” rhetoric.

  4. Pingback: Gay teen suicide risk lower with support: study – CBC.ca

  5. As cute as it is for you to identify Oregon with covered wagons and all, the absence of Oregon’s unique and complex history of *solid victories* against powerful rapidly anti-gay forces is a glaring hole. Granted, most of you were probably not following the news when Lon Mabon’s Oregon Citizens Alliance launched first Measure 9 and then Measure 13, but people fighting the good fight today need to know how it was, long before anyone considered marriage equality a real possibility, that in a largely rural state people stood up, came out for the first time ever, appealed to fair-mindedness and changed the minds of their religious conservative relatives and neighbors. (Talk about “Legalize Gay.”) It was the opposite of the campaign to defeat Prop 8, and it was very close. But it worked, and Mabon afterward abandoned his life’s work of building state-wide anti-gay campaigns. He gave up.

    I was in college in Portland at the time and it was fucking frightening to live through it. It was also inspiring and amazing and you should know about it. Among the things that stick with me: I once saw three preppy, average-looking 11 or 12-year-old boys on a city bus discussing amongst themselves what they could do to protect the rights of gay people.

    That’s the relevant history in Oregon, not O! Pioneers!. You should look into it.

  6. *rabidly anti-gay* ha!

    and

    Ballot Measure 9 was a ballot measure in the U.S. state of Oregon in 1992, concerning gay rights and public education, that drew widespread national attention.

    Measure 9 would have added the following text to the Oregon Constitution:
    “ All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided. ”

    It was defeated in the November 3, 1992 general election with 638,527 votes in favor, 828,290 votes against.[2]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Ballot_Measure_9_%281992%29

  7. Thanks for this! The proportion of Democrats in the county stat is fascinating. Anyone know of other similar studies?

    Re: the 2004 election/2005 suicide rate comparison. Is it possible that this is less related to political parties than it is to general theories of social integration (like, it sucks to be a loser, but it sucks worse to be a loser among winners)?

    There is a study from 2005 – “The Politics of Hope and Despair: The Effect of Presidential Election Outcomes on Suicide Rates,” by Dunn and Classen – that explains the comparison mentioned above in terms of social integration/isolation. Their findings predict similar increases in suicide rates in blue states in the event of the national election of a Democrat. It will be interesting to see if this played out in the 2008 Obama win/2009 suicide stats. (I kinda hope no.)

  8. Even though the results of studies like these seem really “hurrdurr” obvious to those of us in/around/involved with the queer commnunity, they’re awesome to have to site to people who don’t seem to “get” the importance of stopping school bullying, for instance.

    Yay studies seemingly written by captain obvious!

  9. Pingback: Autostraddle — Gay Tolerant Environments Make Life Feel Tolerable … | MyGaySpot

  10. I especially appreciate that last little bit of analysis. I feel like so much of the time, the “B” and “T” parts of LGBT get completely ignored (especially the “T”). It’s like LGBT has become not so much an acronym used to refer to a diverse community and more like just another way to say “homo.”

  11. RIESE, you need to know that this article is what compelled me to testify against changes to an anti-bullying bill in the NH legislature. Currently, the law does a great job of protecting students and one of the proposed (shitty) changes includes removing a list of characteristics for which students are often bullied, which includes sexual orientation (as well as gender identity and expression). THANK YOU for bringing this to my/the collective’s attention. Incredibly timely and I Give A Fuck About This.

  12. Pingback: Local attitudes in Oregon shape risk of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay youths, study shows | qPDX.com - Queer news, views and events for Portland

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