Recent research demonstrates something I have been pointing out for some time now. That is, that LGBT people of faith and religion experience the usual issues of resolving their sexuality or gender identity, coming out, finding their place in the community and learning what it means to live authentically in a predominately straight world. They often however, experience these things with greater intensity and also have additional issues to deal with making them potentially one of the highest risk groups in our community.
The research project Writing Themselves In 3 (WTi3) 2010 interviewed 3,134 LGBT young people aged 14-21.
When religion was mentioned the key findings were:
- More likely to feel bad about their same sex attraction.
- More likely to have experienced social exclusion or had to tolerate homophobic language from friends.
- More likely to report homophobic abuse in the home.
- More likely to report feeling unsafe at home.
- More likely to not be supported by their mother, father, brother, teacher or student welfare coordinator/counsellor, when disclosing their SSA.
- More likely to report thoughts of self harm and suicide or to carry out self harm.
Previous research has shown that LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to attempt suicide so this recent research has demonstrated that my assumptions are correct. Thoughts of and attempts to suicide are much higher for LGBT people of faith.
More detailed research about this specific group is underway.
In essence I would like to summarise with this statement.
A review of 850 research papers concluded that people with religious involvement and belief system have better mental health outcomes. They have higher levels of psychological well-being such as life satisfaction, happiness, positive effect, and higher morale and less depression and suicide. If however you are gay or lesbian (in the closet or your sexuality/belief system unresolved)…….. it is the exact opposite….it can drive you crazy or kill you (suicide). Also it should be noted that this research has shown that the very places where Christian young people should feel safest (in their churches, Christian homes, schools and with friends) are actually places of harm.
But we will never actually know the toll of those who have suicided because of an ex-gay program, the struggle with the perceived conflict of their faith and sexuality or dealing with their 'unwanted same sex attraction'.
The toll can't be counted because:
- There is no duty of care with ex-gay ministries....they don't follow up people who leave or disappear. They rarely if ever know it has happened.
- The ex-gay leaders think the person who has quit the program have given into their 'sin' and therefore have to suffer the consequences.
- When some young person commits suicide there is no box the coroner can tick that says Reason for Death = tortured by the internal conflict of my faith and sexuality. Tried to change my sexual orientation by going through the Living Waters, Liberty Ministries or other Exodus affiliated ministry and failed.
- Some people have left notes for their parents about the reason they took their lives but they have never been made public. Especially if the parents are Christians. There is already trauma and shame around the suicide and they would never add to that the revelation that their son or daughter was gay. That would make it even worse.
- Often pastors and youth leaders know the reason why the person took their life as they had talked to them in counselling sessions. The pastors and youth leaders won't talk about the reason once again because of additional shame and also fear of controversy.
- Sometimes people take their lives in ways that it is not obviously suicide.....it looks like an accident (eg head on collision, went off a road in the middle of the night)
- Sometimes people don't know the person has been through an ex-gay program. They have kept it a secret from everyone. Then we they leave they have such a sense of failure and shame that they never speak to anyone about their experience.
These tragedies have to cease.
If you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm, or otherwise in need of crisis support, please call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1 300 659 467.
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom 2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and this year was one of four finalists for the ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International ( www.gayambassador.com ) .