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Study: Almost Third of Gay, Bisexual Male Teens Tried Suicide

May 31, 1991 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Nearly one-third of homosexual or bisexual teen-age boys have tried to kill themselves, driven to despair by isolation and fear, a new study says.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington said 41 of 137 gay or bisexual males interviewed, about 30 percent, said they had attempted suicide. About 20 reported multiple attempts.

Those who attempted suicide were more likely to have been sexually abused, have abused drugs or been arrested for misconduct than gay teen-age boys who had not tried to kill themselves, according to the study, published in the June issue of Pediatrics magazine.


″Young people have a great deal of difficulty coping with the stigma of homosexuality,″ said Dr. Gary Remafedi, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and director of its Youth and AIDS Project.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study in 1989 found gay and lesbian teen-agers were three times as likely as heterosexual teen-agers to try to kill themselves and that they accounted for 30 percent of all teen-age suicides.

Another researcher, however, said he has found no evidence that gay teens were especially at risk.

The new study was conducted in 1989 among gay or bisexual males ages 14 to 21 living in the Upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. About 79 percent of the subjects were white, similar to the nation’s racial composition, Remafedi said.

Researchers found those who attempted suicide tended to have more feminine characteristics and to adopt homosexual identities sooner than other gay youth.

″The majority of kids who are gay as teen-agers ‘pass’ and no one realizes it,″ said Dr. Robert W. Deisher. He and Dr. James A. Farrow, both from the adolescent medicine division of the University of Washington’s pediatrics department, were the study’s other researchers.

″The more obvious a kid is, the more easy they are to recognize, the more teasing, the more harassment, and sometimes it even goes beyond that,″ Deisher said.

Gay teen-age boys in the study most commonly cited conflicts about their sexuality or family problems as the reasons for their suicide attempts. Rejection, threats, discrimination and assaults compound their problems, researchers said.

But Remafedi cautioned: ″We found that not all young gay people attempt suicide. It’s not part and parcel with being gay. Young gay people are not lemmings ready to jump off the cliffs.″

Most of the subjects were recruited through advertisements in gay publications or through gay social groups. None was referred from mental health treatment centers.

More than half of the reported suicide attempts were potentially lethal, and 80 percent involved drug overdoses and self-laceration, Remafedi said.

He said gay teen-agers may account for a disproportionate share of unexplained suicides and called for further study.

But Dr. David Shaffer, a professor of child psychiatry at Columbia University, said his own unpublished study of 126 consecutive suicides among New York teen-agers between 1984 and 1986 found only four who were openly gay or considered effeminate.

However, Dr. Richard C. Pillard, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University’s School of Medicine, said the study deserved notice.

″If the government is serious about reducing the suicide rate among young people, there is a clearly identified at-risk group,″ he said.