from Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network

Recent high-profile suicides among GLBTQI (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, and intersexed) youth are drawing attention to what we have known for years: that growing up gay can be a cold and frightening experience. But it shouldn’t have to be a fatal one.

Precise numbers on the connection between sexual orientation and suicide risk vary, but the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey, to date the most authoritative source on the subject, found that GLBTQI youth were four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Suicide is also a threat to GLBTQI adults affected by family rejection, social isolation, harassment, hate crimes, and job discrimination. The risk is especially high for transgendered persons—a recent survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) found that transgendered persons are 25 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

While the number of GLBTQI resources has increased in recent years, many mental health providers and physicians do not have accurate information about GLBTQI suicide risk; consequently their response to troubled and/or suicidal youth may be ineffective, cause further psychological damage, and/or discourage further disclosure attempts. In regards to schools, Tennessee was one of 42 states which received a grade of “F” in the 2004 State of the States report issued by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The report cited a lack of a state non-discrimination law and substandard safe-schools policies at the local level.

GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. GLBT students were also four time as likely to as their heterosexual counterparts to cut school due to safety concerns, and the reported grade point average of students who were harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were not.

Generally speaking, the suicide risk factors and warning signs for GLBT youth are largely the same for other young adults, but the GLBT adolescent is subject to several unique risk factors. An early, forced, mistimed, or forestalled coming-out process puts such an individual at increased risk. Understanding the family and school background is crucial to assessing suicide risk; depending on the support they offer and their overall safety, these environments can become major protective facts or the GLBT youth’s greatest threat. A 2009 study out of San Francisco State University found that GLBT teens who were rejected by their families were more than eight times the risk for a suicide attempt. Teens in rural communities or those with lower adult educational attainment typically experience hostile, even dangerous school climates.

To this end, the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN) is extending an open invitation to a suicide prevention training session to be held Monday, Oct. 3 at OutCentral (1709 Church St., Nashville). Participants in this session will learn how to spot the warning signs of suicide, engage severely depressed and/or actively suicidal persons, dissuade them from drastic action, and connect them with community mental health and crisis intervention services. Due to space constraints, RSVPs will be necessary and should be directed to TSPN by phone at (615) 297-1077 or by e-mail at Last year’s session filled up quickly with several people being turned away at the door, so it is recommend you register at the next possible opportunity.

The OutCentral training session is part of a series of memorial and awareness events planned for across Tennessee as part of TSPN’s annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Month observance. The highlight of these will be the Suicide Prevention Awareness Day event, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept.14, at Trevecca Community Church (335 Murfreesboro Rd., Nashville). The event will feature the Presentation of Governor Bill Haslam’s formal proclamation of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and the dedication of the "Love Never Dies" Memorial Quilts. Lunch will be provided by New Life Café and sponsored by Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital.

For additional information on Suicide Prevention Awareness Month events elsewhere in Tennessee, contact TSPN.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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