A surge in suicides among gay Mormon youth?

A surge in suicides among gay Mormon youth? July 5, 2016


Sunset at Strawberry
A Utah sunset
(Wikimedia Commons photo by Scott Catron)


Over the weekend, both the liberal Mormon blogger Jana Riess and a guest opinion column in the Salt Lake Tribune lamented the rise in suicides among gay Mormon teenagers caused by the Church’s stance on homosexual behavior.


There may well have been other such articles.  These are merely two that I happen to have seen.  The claim of such a rise has been quite common in news coverage, national and international, for a number of months.


Now, I’m aware of the futility of what I’m about to say, but I’ll say it anyway:


I’m opposed to suicide.


I disapprove of the persecution of people who experience same-sex attraction.


I think it important to treat such people charitably, and to seek to help them if they’re in crisis or in serious need.


I believe that the suicide of even one gay person — teen or otherwise — is too much.


I favor kindness.


I realize that clarifying such things will do me no good — it’s ridiculous, really, that I even have to say them, and it’s even more ridiculous that some will insist that, having said them, I’m lying — but I wanted to get them on the record before I plunge into the rest of what I intend to say.


Well, that’s done.  So here goes:


I genuinely want to know whether there has actually been a spike in suicides by gay LDS teenagers.  I also want to know whether there is solid evidence that such suicides as have occurred are attributable, solely or even significantly, to Latter-day Saint teaching — and specifically to the Church’s recent policy announcement regarding minor children of same-sex couples.


Why am I curious?


I’m curious because pseudo-statistics have often been exploited in the past to push social and ideological agendas — the supposed surge in domestic abuse on Super Bowl Sunday is a highly instructive case in point — and because this issue looks like the very sort of thing where such pseudo-statistics and such exploitation would be likely to occur.  False assertions are taken as fact and become common assumptions, upon which further false assertions are then based.  Moral indignation thereupon ensues, based upon the bogus facts, and righteous demands begin to be issued.


But this is a complicated issue, and I’m wary of efforts to turn it into a sharp-edged ideological sword.


Rocky Mountain suicide rates are above the national average.  Utah isn’t unique in that regard.  Youth suicide rates are higher just about everywhere than the rate of suicide among mature adults, and suicide rates among gay youth are higher than those for young people who are straight.  This is true inside Utah and outside Utah.  It’s true whether or not Mormonism is involved.  The causes for suicide are complex, and imperfectly understood.  (For background on these matters, see here.)


I don’t pretend to be anything remotely like an expert on psychology or social work or sociology or counseling, and I don’t claim to know whether or not suicides have recently surged among young Mormon homosexuals or whether or not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a particular problem in this regard.  But I do, in my judgment, have reasons to doubt it.  These pieces suggest some of those reasons:


“Inferences can’t be made”


“Young, gay Mormons and suicide: The Salt Lake Tribune tries to do the real numbers”


“Re-examining gay Mormon youth and suicide: What does the data say?”


[Thanks to Angela Ballentine for reminding me of this additional item:   “About that claim of suicides by LDS teens with same-sex attraction.”]


It’s very important that we get the data right on such issues.  And it’s essential that we resist the urge to weaponize tragic stories for use against our chosen enemies.


Any out there who would like to call my attention to data or analysis that I may have overlooked are welcome to do so.  I hope, though, that they’ll do it without venom and without calling me names.  (Is that an even remotely realistic hope?  We’ll see.)


Posted from Park City, Utah



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