Social institutions contribute to homosexual youth suicide
Social institutions contribute to homosexual youth suicide in various ways. According to a perspective on homosexual youth suicide by OpEdNews author Walter Barton, the family, religion, the school, social youth organizations, health professionals, and the juvenile justice system significantly contribute to homosexual youth suicide.
Studies have shown to support the premise that there is a predisposition to homosexuality and that this predisposition begins to emerge in adolescence. It should not be surprising to anyone that gay youth choose to lead a double life because of the negative, homophobic attitudes and remarks in their environment and their fear of rejection and/or abuse.The family unit is a key factor to individual development. A sense of family is inherent in the reinforcement and support brought about through the family unit. Loss of this sense of belonging is devastating to any youth. For a homosexual youth, the thought of rejection or the reality of rejection by the family unit because of sexual orientation sets that youth up for suicidal thoughts. And should that youth come from a dysfunctional or abusive family, the risk increases.
Religious beliefs are a strong motivating factor in gay youth suicide. Homosexuality is often depicted as a sin, morally wrong and evil. Families frequently turn to the place of worship for guidance and understanding; yet many religions continue to condemn this behavior as immoral based on their interpretation of religious writings. Boswell (1980) reports that intolerance for homosexuals has its Western roots in the Middle Ages and confusion of religious beliefs with popular prejudices resulted. An example cited by Boswell is that belief in Christian Scriptures to condemn homosexuality also contains condemnation of hypocrisy, yet in much stronger terms. But Western society has not segregated or oppressed hypocrites nor proclaimed hypocrisy unnatural and punished it by death. (pp. 6-7).
Dr. Jimmy R. Allen, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and whose son is gay, stated in 1993, "It complicates the issue when the element of shame or guilt can be added to justify our frozen attitudes of condemnation." He went on to state, "Suffocating beneath the load of those hostile and angry encounters, quietly in anguish and pain, are parents and children of faith who are rejected and blamed because sons and daughters are having to cope with sexual desires for their gender." For youth who maintain their faith even though they cannot alter their sexual orientation face an unsolvable internal conflict without the support of religious leaders. For the youth, suicide will appear to be a way out of the dilemma their religion has placed them into.
Another risk factor for youth suicide is the environment of school. There are two factors in play: attendance is compulsory and physical and/or verbal abuse can be unchecked. The intolerant attitudes of school children begin in elementary school and become increasingly worse as they grow into adolescence. The immaturity on this topic is directly related to the schools' failure to educate our youth on the subject of sexuality. Access to positive information is generally restricted or banned.
Those who have accepted their homosexual identity are overwhelmed in the school social atmosphere. Often isolated, alienated and withdrawn in fear that friends will find out. Their psychological and social demands to be heterosexual are directly opposed to their internal homosexual orientation. Suicide will appear to be their way out of the dilemma.
Gay youth find little comfort in social youth organizations because of the lack of programs that offer support for their orientation. Many such organizations have explicit policies forbidding the hiring of gay or lesbian staff which denies the gay youth positive role models. Myths that pedophiles are gay continue to plague the mindsets even when statistics show that the overwhelming majority of pedophiles are heterosexual. Hiding one's sexual orientation, placed in an environment in which negative attitudes and remarks go unchecked, the gay youth finds suicide a way out of the dilemma.
An insidious risk factor is one in which the health provider dealing with youth suicide attempt or sexual identity issues refuses to accept adolescent homosexuality as a valid orientation. It is not just a passing phase. Counselors have an obligation to work with the adolescent from their perspective, to open a line of communication that is essential to their ability to help. As a result of poor counseling, a weakened self-esteem and reinforcement of societal intolerance of homosexuality results in increased risk of suicide.
The gay youth who have become a ward of the court has little choice in foster home selection. Many times, the placement mirrors the one in which they left. In many states, gay and lesbian adults are prohibited from being foster parents, the myth of pedophiles again. So the youth is denied a positive role model. Group homes, like foster homes, lack the properly trained staff to deal with the discrimination and abuse of gay youth by other youth in the home.
Social institutions interweave throughout society, social intolerance to homosexuality affects the mental health of gay youth, and attitudes of, comments about and reactions to homosexual orientation reinforce suicidal behavior. Though change is slow, the society as a whole need to provide gay youth the same access to support and social activities afforded other youth in order to reduce their isolation and enhance their socialization skills to reduce the sense of despair at this age of development.
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Toronto, Ontario, Canada