ITHACA, NY — Ritch Savin-Williams, professor of developmental psychology and director of Cornell University’s Sex & Gender Lab, comments on the dangerous misconception of a gay youth suicide epidemic.
“It is important to point out in these moments of grief that there is absolutely no scientific evidence of an ‘epidemic of gay youth suicide,’ or even that gay youth kill themselves more frequently than do straight youth.
“The recent tragic deaths of several youth who are gay or suspected of being gay are rendered even more tragic because they come at a time when growing up gay has never been better or easier. Today’s high school youth endorse same-sex marriage, gays in the military and gay rights. Most believe it is simply wrong to attack someone because of his or her sexuality. Never before has there been a generation more accepting and supportive of sexual diversity.
“Yet, some youth, whether closeted or out, experience difficulties, for two major reasons.
“First, middle schools can be tough places for youth who are ‘different.’ Bullies, however, seldom limit their attacks to gay youth. Research at Cornell’s Sex & Gender Lab concludes that the life satisfaction of both straight and gay youth suffers if they behave in a gender ‘inappropriate’ manner (feminine boys, masculine girls). It is gender expression, not sexual orientation per se, that is linked with decreased psychological wellbeing, and this is likely the result of bullying.
“Second, some early adolescents who believe that they might be gay lack friend and parent support. Perhaps they have not yet developed their network of friendships and have parents who approach their child’s same-sex sexuality as if it were a ‘phase’ that can and will change.
“Thus, to assert that there is an epidemic of gay youth suicide is not only speculative but also irresponsible because of the message it delivers to gay youth: ‘be prepared to kill yourself.’ Indeed, most gay youth love their life and wouldn’t change their sexuality even if they had a magic pill to do so. Is this not the better message to deliver?”