The number of gay teenagers contemplating and attempting suicide in the United States has reached tragic proportions, and it’s being fueled by discrimination, ignorance, and the gay conversion therapy industry.
Based on a nationwide survey of 35,000 young LGBTQ people, 71% reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks within the past year. Overall, 39% had contemplated suicide in the last 12 months; roughly one in five people made a suicide attempt. Of the respondents, 70% reported being directly discriminated against, including some instances of people challenging them to change their sexuality and threats of violence. Those who experienced discrimination attempted suicide at more than twice the rate of peers who didn’t.
The mental health research comes from The Trevor Project, a nonprofit suicide prevention and crisis intervention group for LGBTQ young people. For the purposes of the survey, the definition of “youth” is someone between the ages of 13 and 24 years old. The Trevor Project already runs its own 24-hour emergency counseling services for people in need to call, text, or chat online, and a “safe space” social networking site called TrevorSpace. It hopes the new national data can raise awareness and encourage more people to back its movement called 50 Bills in 50 States that’s pushing for laws that formally ban the practice of conversion therapy.
“Suicide is an ongoing public health crisis in this country, and it’s the second leading cause of death among young people—but the numbers are more striking for LGBTQ young people, who experience rejection, feel alone, or are discriminated against just for being who they are,” says Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project in an email to Fast Company.
Conversion therapy is a discredited practice, without any medical or scientific basis. Despite that being fundamentally impossible, nearly two-thirds of the recent survey respondents reported someone trying to convince them to change their gender identity or sexual orientation at some point. Among those who claim to have undergone conversion therapy, 42% reported trying to commit suicide.
Paley points out that the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics already directly oppose conversion therapy in various policy and position statements. Despite that, it’s still legal and provided by sham practitioners in many states. To change that, The Trevor Project’s 50 Bills effort maps progress state-by-state and provides ways for advocates to continue to organize online.
“We partner with mental health associations, youth organizations, LGBTQ groups, student clubs, faith communities, and educational institutions in every state by sharing stories, mobilizing volunteers, and informing policymakers to promote the submission and passage of powerful anti-conversion therapy legislation,” he says.
So far in 2019 Massachusetts, New York, Maine, and Colorado have all passed more protective measures. That follows adoption by Washington, Maryland, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Delaware in 2018. “Including these states, bills protecting youth from conversion therapy have been introduced in 39 states so far and successfully passed in 18,” says Paley. The Trevor Project is also supporting federal legislation like the Prohibition of Medicaid Funding for Conversion Therapy Act and the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act to create a broader array of protections and tools to shut down hurtful operators.