Now we learn that when our culture demonstrates it can be inclusive, then fewer teenagers try to kill themselves.
That seems clear enough, and it ought to drive the whole nation into the welcoming arms of the Democratic Party.
Here are the details.
The scientists are Julia Raifman, ScD, Johns Hopkins; Ellen Moscoe, MA, Harvard School of Public Health; and S. Bryn Austin, ScD, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health. They published their findings in JAMA Pediatrics, February 20, 2017.
They addressed the question, “Are state same-sex marriage policies associated with a reduction in adolescent suicide attempts?” And their answer is “representative data from 47 states found that same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7% reduction in the proportion of all high school studies reporting a suicide attempt within the past year. The effect was concentrated among adolescents who were sexual minorities.” Helpfully, the authors state, “Same sex marriage policies are associated with reduced adolescent suicide attempts.”
Now, those of us who are LGBTQ have known what makes our environment hostile and dangerous, but it is gratifying to have Harvard and Johns Hopkins scientists confirm what we have known. The point to make here has to do with the importance of stigma. When I was a child in the late nineteen-forties and early nineteen fifties, “homosexuals” were not allowed to serve in the Department of State. Senator Joe McCarthy launched a witchhunt against the 91 persons supposedly serving in the the Department of State. While McCarthy and the government gave out a variety of reasons for prohibiting gays from serving, the real reason was they wanted to put a stigma on gay people. They wanted to make them wear a scarlet letter announcing to everybody that this person is not as good as everybody else. Gay people couldn’t serve in the armed forces. They weren’t allowed to marry. Psychiatrists and psychologists said they were mentally sick. These prohibitions were more than just a limiting factor. They were more than merely You will not be allowed to become an infantryman. They were much closer to You are an immoral human being and for that reason you cannot be a soldier, and you are going to be expelled from our society. The stigma lay in the inability to do what everybody else can do and in the fact that we can exile you and make you a non-person. I think it was certainly religion and the “helping” professions of psychology and psychiatry that made it clear to our whole culture that this stigma, really, underneath, meant that the red letter was F, for failure as a person. It was like being branded. It’s amazing how young a kid is when he first discovers that he bears a stigma, but it is not amazing that he understands that the stigma is permanent and absolute and inescapable and that he or she might as well understand that he or she cannot do anything which is worthy of praise. He might as well kill himself.
The scarlet letter—this brand on his forehead—indicates a disability so profound that it forever sets the stigmatized person apart. There was no way the stigmatized person could escape its effects.
One of the things we learn from this study of marriage equality and the rates of suicide among teenagers is that even teenagers understand how tight and immediate is the connection between federal government action toward American citizens and the number of kids who kill themselves. It is so close that as soon as the federal government changed its policies about marriage equality, during the next year fewer American kids killed themselves. It took less than twelve months for kids to start liking themselves better.
Why do we find this news? I’ll tell you why. During all those years, LGBTQ people were not thought to be fully human and were not thought to have human feelings and so a person could say whatever the person wanted about them to separate them from us and that separation wouldn’t have any consequences for straight people. Our culture just didn’t consider that it needed to know the effect on LGBTQ people of the stigma they placed on us. And now they know: The place they put us made some of us kill ourselves.