Suicide Rates within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Community.
The affliction of suicides within the LGBT community has long fascinated social commentators and advocates for the community. I would like to take on a slightly different tack. We know that most of the suicides are a response to homophobia where gay people find it inconceivable to continue living in a society in which they are systematically discriminated against. I want to take it a notch further and argue that suicide may be a form of protests against a generally homophobic society. Yes; everyone and anyone one who supports or tolerates such a society should feel very guilty and ashamed when another suicide happens
The hetero-centric norm is considered to be a harmless relic of old society but in reality it is a very, very harmful construct. I have just been witness to the devastation that can happen to a person when their boyfriend decides to take their own life. It is even worse when the people involved are hardly out of their teens. The parents were weeping and besides themselves with grief but my heart was cold to them. I felt that they had let down their child and ought to pay some price for making them feel unwanted. When I sounded out my feelings with one of my friends, they said that I was being harsh. How did I know that the parents tried but could not do anything?
We Inadvertently and Selfishly Support Homophobia
It is controversial to blame the bereaved but I am of the view that if enough of that was done, we would begin to dent into the alarming statistics of LGBTIQ suicides. Far too often, we accept the society as it is rather than taking positive steps to change it. Why should we immediately assume that someone is straight? You keep getting these rather intrusive questions as to whether you have a girlfriend. I am sometimes tempted to throw the question back to the person and inquire whether they are interested in me. There is so much pressure to conform to the traditional straight families that vulnerable teens automatically assume that they are not going to be accepted if and when they come out.
Some parents do a pre-homophobic outburst, almost as if to subconsciously warn their kids about the horrendous consequences should they ever come out as being gay. For example; you will have this otherwise loving parent saying something to the effect… “I would die if my kid went all sissy”. Others follow up with dire threats of being thrown out if they decide to accept their gayness. Then you have the religious nuts who say that it can all be prayed away if you try hard enough.
Homophobia is just about tolerable if it is externalized. At least you can then rationalize it as someone being ignorant or hateful. However, if homophobia is on your doorstep then you have nowhere to hide. You have to come to terms with the fact that your nearest and dearest are a bunch of ignorant haters. That can be devastating particularly when you are about to become their first and foremost victim. For some reason, the parents that express homophobic attitudes do not ever consider the possibility that one of their children might actually be LGBTIQ.
A social worker I was chatting to, told me that the parents are the first to know. They pretend and try to wish it away, but they actually know that their children are gay. Mothers in particular are very sensitive to the reactions within their children. When we are children, we are not yet socialized enough to hide our sexuality. Someone told me about how their mum caught him wearing her tights and has somehow forgotten that incident forever. Now they sit around television sharing homophobic jokes yet both of them know the reason why the son has never brought a girlfriend home. It is such a sad scene, but one that is repeated in many different households. Why do we insist on living lies when we have such a short time on earth?
Dealing with Institutionalized Homophobia
The challenges that LGBTIQ people face are not limited to thoughtless insults that they encounter on a day-to-day basis. It goes beyond that…much, much further. Their fundamental rights are continuously trampled in the quest to create that idealized hetero society. Some of the effects are very direct. For example; if your parents have thrown you out of the family home when you come out and there is no alternative, you may be tempted to end it all. The other effects are less direct but no less harmful to an LGBTIQ person. A case in point is where the stress of handling homophobia on a daily basis leads to substance abuse and depression. Society as a whole should not be surprised when the people it has been ostracizing end up committing suicide.
The wickedest amongst us claim that suicide is a singularly selfish act that should not be glorified by sympathizing with the victim. Needless to say, I vehemently disagree with such characterizations. By the time someone decides to take their own life, they will have reached the end of their tether. What we should be looking at are the circumstances that led them to that point rather than piling on the pressure by accusing them of not caring enough about their lives. We as a society are responsible for causing many LGBTIQ people to reach the point at which they can no longer go on. If we want to get rid of the suicide; then we must actively challenge homophobia wherever and whenever we see it.
Whilst we are at it; let’s also talk about the bullying. There are many horror stories of gay people who are being harassed out of the educational system by closet cases. The school administrators sound out some beatitudes to the press in order to overcome the resultant scandal, but they are not really addressing what is at the root of the problem. It is all very well saying that you have a zero tolerance policy but if Big Fool is standing at the gate every morning and making my school days a nightmare; I want to see the policy in action. Such antisocial kids are dangerous to others and there is a good case to be made for chasing them out of the school altogether.
The law enforcement agencies take very similar attitudes. Hate crime is on the statute books but it is much harder to prosecute, with the culprits turning themselves into victims of an allegedly voracious and overly sensitive LGBTIQ community. As for the transsexuals; they are completely denied the right to be who they want to be. Someone that feels like a girl is told that they are a boy and must accept it. The national politicians join the fray by trying to remove their bathroom rights as well. It is enough to drive one up the wall. We should no longer be surprised by the suicides if we are not yet prepared to take on the homophobia with gusto.
Support LGBTIQ People at Risk
It must first be acknowledged that LGBTIQ people have a higher risk of being suicidal than the rest of the population. Therefore, members of this community should be prioritized when arranging for counselling and support services. The people that are responsible for community safety should watch out for the telltale signs such as social withdrawal. Where the rescuers get there in time, support should be given to the person rather than blaming them for taking their own lives. We need to also come up with national and global strategies for preventing the homophobes from dominating societal cultural life.
On an individual basis, we need to come to the rescue of one another when we can clearly see that someone is in stress. I cannot list down the number of times someone has come to tell me that they are feeling low because someone has just made another homophobic remark to them. Those that are struggling in the closet will suffer in silence. They must keep up appearances at all costs, even if it means losing their very own identity. Our society is configured to accept hypocrisy over brutal honesty. We are able to tolerate LGBTIQ people as long as they are good, silent and do not intrude on our deeply held believes.
A Final Word
To me suicide is a defiant cry for help. It is a mixture of helplessness, despair and outrage at the way in which life is being experiences. We ought to be ashamed as a society that in this age, there are still people who are ashamed of their sexuality. I know it has been a very long time in the making, but we must have the courage to stand up to homophobia. It has no place in our private lives, let alone the public life to which the entirety of humanity contributes in one way or another. Otherwise we will continue to lose many of our LGBTIQ brothers and sisters to suicide.