Recently an essay was released by a blogger called Kasper Straus. The point of this essay was to “debunk” the myth that suicide rates among homosexuals and the suffering they face is due to stigma and societal influence and so on. In this essay we will go over the points brought up in his writing and explain where and why they fail to make the point the author is attempting to make.
Kasper Straud’s Misleading “Science”
First, Kasper brings up a study by Chen et al. (2015) which finds that in China romantic breakups were found to be the most prominent cause of suicide attempts among gay people. This was used by the author to attempt to prove the point that stigma, bullying, and other societal factors are not the cause of the disproportionate rates of suicide among gay people. However, even if we assume that the disproportionate rates of breakups among the LGBT community has nothing to do with stigma or alienation or any of that stuff, this study still does not make the argument the author is trying to use it for. As the study itself states, after romantic breakups the second largest cause of suicidal behavior was found to be “self objection to homosexuality” which is absolutely caused by societal stigma. Therefore, we can accept that while breakups largely contribute to homosexual suicides just as they contribute to heterosexual suicides, still the next biggest cause is directly due to stigma, a factor which doesn’t affect straight people- therefore, even given that breakups have nothing to do with stigma have a larger affect than direct stigma on gay suicides, we can still say that stigma is the cause of the disproportionate rates of suicide among gay people as compared to straight people. Furthermore, even if the romantic breakup is the trigger for these people, if stigma has a general negative impact on these people’s mental health as found by several studies including the study Kasper just cited, then when a breakup does happen its likely to have a harsher affect and more likely lead to suicide, meaning stigma still contributes to suicides which are reported for this reason. Finally, it cuts even deeper than this- these points are relevant assuming stigma has nothing to do with breakups, however, to further validate our point, we can demonstrate that this isn’t even the case. Meyer and Frost (2009) found that internalized homophobia is directly correlated with worse relationship status. Furthermore, gay people are likely to suffer mental illness (Cochran, Sullivan, and Mays 2003), which, as Mays and Cochran (2001) found, is the direct result of stigma, discrimination, etc. These increased levels of mental illness very likely have a significant negative impact on the health of relationships within the community. Therefore, even forgetting the previously mentioned points, to make the argument that suicide rates are due to breakups and not stigma is improper framing, as the rate of breakups in the community are largely because of this stigma our author is trying to shift the blame away from.
Next, Kasper claims that when you look at the causes of suicide which are related to stigma such as pressure to get married, lack of disclosure about the respondents sexuality, and lack of legislation, you find that about 34 percent of gay suicides are due to stigma. This is already a very large portion attributed to stigma from which we would expect suicide rates among gay people to be much higher than straight people as a result of stigma- however, we have no reason to trust this percentage, as our author has already demonstrated his inability to properly determine what reported reasons for suicide are and are not influenced by stigma- if we factor in the fact that many of the most prominent reasons listed by the study is affected by stigma in a way which Kasper doesn’t acknowledge, inevitably this percentage becomes much much greater than its already significant impact. Therefore, all of the evidence and data which Kasper has thus far presented merely demonstrates the fact that disproportionate rates of suicide in gay people are the result of societal stigma, alienation, rejection, etc.
In the next paragraph, the author responds to possible criticisms of his application of this study, however these criticisms are not relevant or necessary to negate the point he is trying to make, therefore his rebukes of these criticisms do not do anything to further substantiate his point- for example, he claims that though it could be argued that China has a different culture than the US so using this data from China isn’t applicable to gays in the US, China in fact stigmatizes gays more than the US, so this low percentage of gay suicides due to stigma in China would likely be even lower in the US. This, however, assumes that the percentage of suicides which are due to stigma according to this study really is low, which, as demonstrated earlier, isn’t the case, making this section of the essay completely moot. Kasper then brings up a book titled “Homosexualities: a study of diversity among men and women” to support his claim of a definitive percentage regarding to what extent stigma plays a roll in gay suicides. The problem, however, is that the pages contained within this book clearly rebuke the kind of conclusion Kasper is trying to draw. Specifically, one quote from the book asserts that “. . . given the variety of circumstances which discourage homosexuals from participating in research studies, it is unlikely that any investigator will ever be in a position to say that this or that is true of a given percentage of all homosexuals.”
Kasper then brings up a study by Saghir and Robins (1973) which confirms that breakups are a large cause of homosexual suicides to further cement his point, and says that because homosexuals are so promiscuous and have so many partners, this is why they commit suicide so much rather than stigma. The problem with this is manifold. As stated earlier, breakups by all means have to do with stigma, and even if they didn’t the results of these studies clearly show that stigma worsens homosexuals lives in general, making them more susceptible to a suicidal reaction in the event a breakup does occur. Not only this, but the high rates of promiscuity Kasper invokes to prove the prominence of the impact of breakups in the suicide rate, is also due to stigma. For example, as mentioned earlier, internalized homophobia as a result of stigma, alienation, and bullying, most certainly play a roll in the rates of promiscuity and relationship quality among the LGBT community; Confirming this point, as we wrote earlier on, “Meyer and Frost (2009) found that internalized homophobia is directly correlated with worse relationship status. Furthermore, gay people are likely to suffer mental illness (Cochran, Sullivan, and Mays 2003), which, as Mays and Cochran (2001) found, is the direct result of stigma, discrimination, etc. These increased levels of mental illness very likely have a significant negative impact on the health of relationships within the community.” Moreover, it’s very well known that for many many years gay people have been barred from one of the key institutions which places heavy disincentives on promiscuity and infidelity, that being marriage. What’s key to emphasize here, is that an essential component of culture is that it is passed on from generation to generation. Culture isn’t formed and defined in a decade or a generation, culture is the accumulative customs and experiences of a specific social group over a long period of time. Given this understanding, if gay people have been historically subject to these conditions which propagate these behaviors, these behaviors will naturally begin to be ingrained within the culture and they will persist from generation to generation within the community. So, essentially, the gay community for years have faced massive discrimination and stigma, instilling within the community mental illness, internalized homophobia, and destroying their relationships. Not only this, but for years, gay people have been denied the core institution which discourages promiscuity in modern culture, that being marriage. And now, years later, after all of this, when the LGBT community sees higher rates of promiscuity and less stable relationships, the same social conservatives who for years put gay people in this position wonder “How did these gays get so darn promiscuous?” The amount of mental gymnastics required for the right wing to maintain their belief that this behavior is the result of some inherent immorality within gay people despite all of the scientific literature not only telling us that this behavior has to be the result of environmental factors, but also pointing to the environmental factors which directly have historically lead to this behavior, is honestly astoundng. To really drive home this point, you’d think that given the fact that in recent years society has grown to be more accepting of LGBT people, given my hypothesis regarding the cause of this promiscuity is correct, rates of infidelity among LGBT people will have been dropping in recent years as well. Lucky for our hypothesis, this is the case. According to a study recent published by family process, rates of infidelity within the LGBT community have been falling in recent years.
Kasper then brings up a quote from professor Herbert Hendlin to demonstrate the poor quality of homosexual relationships- this again is largely due to stigma as explained earlier and does not prove our authors point. The author then brings up sexual compulsivity and addiction as causes of the distress of the gay community which has nothing to do with stigma. The problem with this argument, however, is that these things are both directly related to stigma. Regarding sexual compulsivity, Pachankis et al (2015) finds that emotional dysregulation and minority stressors which are both according to said study caused by distal minority stress processes and stigma and so on, cause sexual compulsivity among the LGB population, meaning sexual compulsivity is directly related to stigma. Regarding drug addiction, Ryan, Heubner, and Sanchez (2009) found that LGBT people who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs. Furthermore, the unique needs of LGBT people are often not met by addiction treatment facilities. Cochran, Peavy, and Robohm (2007) found that of the 854 treatment programs that reported to have specialized treatment services for LGBT people, only 62 confirmed these services actually existed during a telephone follow-up. This means that even out of the facilities which claim to have the specialized treatment that LGBT people need, most of them don’t. Furthermore, it’s pretty common knowledge that higher rates of drug use and addiction are correlated with mental illness; This notion has also been confirmed by a plethora of studies (for example Ross and Peselow 2012). This, when coupled with the fact that gay people have higher rates of mental illness according to the APA, as well as the fact that these higher rates of mental illness can be boiled down to the result of bullying and stigma (Mays and Cochran 2001; Meyer 2003), we find that these high rates of drug usage and addiction are yet another negative externality of the historical stigmatization and oppression of the LGBT community.
Kasper then brings up STD rates among the gay community as another cause of despair among the LGB community which is detached from stigma. This is also not the case. In fact, the totality of empirical data suggests that high rates of STD’s among gay people are due to lack of access to care (which is caused by societal neglect and stigma) and direct stigma. For evidence of the former factor, Mayer KH et al (2008) found that LGBT people face barriers as far as sex education and access to protection. Furthermore, Valdisseri et al. (1989) found that a one off program in which gay people received a lecture on safer sex and a skills training course during which men could discuss and rehearse the negotiation of safer sexual encounters increased condom use for insertive anal intercourse on average, by 44% between pre-test and second follow-up. Moreover, an analysis of just how accessible these preventative measures are and why they’re not utilized by the community (Ayala et al. 2013) resoundingly confirms our hypothesis, finding, “Condoms and lubricants were accessible to 35% and 22% of all respondents, respectively. HIV testing was accessible to 35% of HIV-negative respondents. Forty-three percent of all HIV-positive respondents reported that antiretroviral therapy was easily accessible. Homophobia, outness, and service provider stigma were significantly associated with reduced access to services. Conversely, community engagement, connection to gay community, and comfort with service providers were associated with increased access. PrEP acceptability was associated with lower PrEP-related stigma, less knowledge about PrEP, less outness, higher service provider stigma, and having experienced violence for being MSM.” To outline the extent to which gay people are not educated properly when it comes to things like safe sex, we’d like to bring up that in a survey at gay pride parades (Halkitis & Cahill, 2011) 60% of men who participated in intercourse with other men reported they had never heard of PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) a drug used to prevent STDs, but 50% of those surveyed said they would use the drug. Education, again, could improve this number as the researchers write “our study findings highlight the need for PrEP educational campaigns among gay and other MSM, and studies of individual, social, health system, and structural barriers to PrEP uptake.” So here we have a group of people who obviously want to improve and solve these issues, but don’t have the means to because of a lack of education and access to things like condoms and STD preventative drugs. Adimora and Auerbach (2010) examined STD prevention methods for the LGBT community, finding that the most effective interventions were sexual education, protection/contraception access, healthcare coverage and improved housing. The study found that “Structural interventions that address social determinants of HIV infection may be among the most cost effective methods of preventing HIV infection in the United States over the long term.” Not only is the effects of stigma on STD rates felt through lack of education and access to care, but also the effects of stigma on STD rates can be observed more directly: for example, Golub and Gamarel (2013) find that stigma is significantly associated with HIV. The CDC itself acknowledges this relationship, stating “experiences of stigma – verbal harassment, discrimination, or physical assault based on attraction to men – are associated with increased sexual risk behavior among MSM.” It’s also important to note that for years LGBT people have been extremely oppressed by the government and culture at large; The root of the sexual freedom movement is a sense of rebellion against this culture that’s systematically oppressed them for years; Without stigma, the LGBT community wouldn’t have anything to react against. Even assuming STD rates are completely due to their culture rather than any current oppression, stigma is still the root of the issue. To further drive home the link between stigma and STD’s, Ryan, Huebner and Sanchez (2009) found that gay children who are rejected by their parents are significantly more likely to have unprotected sex, confirming that the stigma and alienation which gay people have historically been subjected to is a major cause of this.
Then, our author makes one of the better arguments which is invoked in this essay, in bringing up a study by Ross (1998) which finds that two countries (Denmark and New Zealand) which are very accepting of homosexuality had similar rates of suicide to less accepting nations, showing societal pressure is not the cause of LGBT suicides and so on. There is a few problems with this argument however. For example, the study directly rebukes the kind of conclusion Kasper is trying to draw from it. The study in question, though it does find what Kasper claims, directly concludes that the high suicide rates despite the accepting culture are likely due to a mistaken homosexual impression of public hostility. Also, taking two countries which are relatively accepting is a small sample size- it’s not at all far fetched that these two countries could be outliers and not representative of a general trend- our author is drawing a very broad conclusion based on a very small snapshot of the world. There is also a flaw in using studies like this to draw the conclusion our author is trying to draw- specifically, cultures of subgroups like the LGBT community and how certain groups act develop over long periods of time as the result of the accumulative experiences and customs and such of a particular social group passed on from generation to generation. Even if the general culture of a country suddenly becomes very progressive and accepting of the LGBT community, the LGBT community will still feel the effects of the oppressive conditions which they’ve adapted to over several decades for a while even after the country has become accepting of them.Therefore, to take static snapshots of time and assume that the rates of mental illness and suicide rates among gay people should be directly proportional to the rates of acceptance at the time of this snapshot and use this assumption as the basis of your assertion of a lack of a correlation is based around an incorrect conceptualization of the development of certain behavioral patterns in subgroups such as LGBT people and is therefore inaccurate. There is a lag time between the development of the acceptance of a group in broader society and the positive effect it has on the group in questioned because of the aforementioned mechanism, and because cultures develop and regress and so on at different rates, it’s almost impossible to draw the sort of conclusion our author is trying to draw from the data he’s presented. Furthermore, this study was a considerably long time ago, and carries with it the previously explained methodological flaws- newer, more sound studies have recently came out in regards to the issue of suicide and mental illness among homosexuals and the acceptance of broader society; and it does not favor our authors conclusion. For example, Hasin et al (2009) finds that in states with more generous legislation regarding gay rights (which is a product of and encourages broader cultural support of homosexuality), gay people are considerably less mentally ill, confirming the correlation between less acceptance and more mental illness/suicide among the gay population that our author is claiming doesn’t exist. Moreover, a study by Gomillion and Giuliano (2011) found that more representation in media which is indicative of assimilation into normal culture has positive influence on gay peoples well being. For another example, Raifman et al (2017) finds that living in a state which is more legislatively supportive of gay people decreases a gay persons likelihood of suicide. Therefore, while this is one of the more reasonable sounding arguments Kasper makes, it simply falls flat under closer analysis.
Kasper then brings up a study from D’Augelli and Gressman et al (2005) to prove the point that parental rejection isn’t the main cause of suicide, but rather the fear of being rejected is more prominent- this, however, does not prove our authors point, as the fear of being rejected in itself is a product of stigma- if no stigma exists, there is no social context which gives gay kids a reason to be afraid of rejection. Therefore, all our author has done is invoke a study which indirectly proves our point- the impact of stigma on homosexual mental illness and suicide rates. Next, Kasper brings up a study by Hegna and Wichstrom (2007) which he claims finds that nonacceptance of homosexuals from family and friends isn’t a factor in suicidality. However, the abstract of this study directly states “General risk factors for attempted suicide among GLB youths were: lack of parental contact, internalizing problems (depression/anxiety), low self-esteem, regular smoking and victimization.” These things are all related to stigma, and support our hypothesis that societal factors and stigma cause the disproportionate rates of suicide and mental illness among gay people- also, the fact that this source cites lack of parental contact as a cause of suicide directly contradicts Kasper’s extrapolation that parental rejection doesn’t cause suicide. Again, our author has done our job in proving that stigma is the cause of the disproportionate rates of suicide and mental illness among gay people.
Next, Kasper brings up a study from Hershberger and D’Augelli (1995) to support the claim that family acceptance does not positively influence the mental health of gay people. However, this study too contradicts the conclusion he is trying to draw. The study for example literally states “family support moderated the effects of victimization on mental health”, directly disproving the authors claim. The study furthermore goes on to state that “increasing self acceptance” and “family support” are “part of the solution for protecting Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths against the mental health consequences of victimization.” The study also states “Although neither family support nor self acceptance alone mediated the relationship between victimisation and mental health, their combined influence did so in a structural model.” Clearly, the words of the authors directly disprove what the author is attempting to assert. The next study he brings up to prove his point is Eisenberg and Resnick (2006). However, this study directly states that “Sexual orientation alone accounts for only a small portion of variability in suicidal ideation and attempts. If protective factors were enhanced among GLB youth, suicide in this population is expected to be considerably lower. Protective factors examined here are amenable to change and should be targeted in interventions.” This study therefore directly supports our conclusion that in large part what causes these disproportionate rates of suicide is stigma, societal pressures, etc. Kasper then brings up a study by Paul and Cantani et al (2012) claiming that as societies became more progressive, homosexual suicides went up. However, there’s a few problems. For one, the study directly acknowledges that factors directly related to stigma are the cause of the disproportionate suicide rates and mental illness in the gay community. For example, the study says that homosexual suicide attempts are associated with “repeated early antigay harassment” and “recent disclosure or nondisclosure of being gay or bisexual to someone else”, both of which are obviously direct products of stigma. The former is self explanatory, the latter means that either disclosing sexuality and being rejected or being worried about being rejected and subsequently not disclosing sexuality both cause large amounts of suicides in the LGB population. The study also states “Because most (70%) first attempts occurred before age 25, we hypothesized that such attempts might be associated with developmental issues related to recognizing one’s same-sex interests and coping with subsequent social stigmatization and hostility. This association is suggested in the second logistic regression model by some of the specific correlates of suicide attempts identified for this age period compared with attempts at age 25 or older.” This means that the study directly acknowledges and proves the relationship between stigma and suicides. The study also said that it “lends strength to the suggested link between antigay harassment in childhood and suicide risk.” Finally, in a very clear statement the authors of the study use language and argue points that are identical to ours, which directly contradict the author of this essay- specifically, the study states “The increased suicidal risk in this age range appears to be not simply a mental health concern but rather a broader issue of the effect of societal discrimination and harassment. If we cannot change some of the environment in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths come to maturity, the alienation, isolation, and victimization they frequently encounter will continue to take their toll.” Now, regarding the point that “as countries become more progressive, gays see higher rates of suicide” it’s important to note that correlation does not equal causation. This study was done in the US, so not only is this a very small sample size from which to draw a very broad correlation, but it’s also important to note that suicides in general, not just LGBT suicides, have been increasing over time in the US, so to draw from increasing LGBT suicides in the US the conclusion that “progressiveness makes gay people commit suicide more” is very hasty and not well thought out. When you look more specifically and account for more variables as we did earlier in this essay, it’s found that as states have legalized things like gay marriage and such, suicide rates do go down. Next, Kasper brings up a study by Arogon et al (2009) which he claims draws the conclusion victimization does not cause suicide among gay people. This study shows nothing of the sort. In fact, the study directly states that it “adds support to findings that victimization has a significant mediating effect that explains elevated psychosocial concerns for sexual minorities”. Also, a table on page 3 of the study shows a moderate correlation between victimization and suicidal thoughts. Therefore, in envoking this study Kasper has invalidated his own argument.
Our author finally, to conclude his essay, claims that conversion therapy is affective and should be pursued and is not harmful to homosexuals. The first study he cites to prove this is Shidlo and Shroeder (2002). However, in the abstract of this study, it directly states “The results indicated that a majority failed to change sexualorientation, and many reported that they associated harm with conversion interventions. A minority reported feeling helped, although not necessarily with their original goal of changing sexual orientation.” So, to reiterate, in order to prove the effectiveness of conversion therapy, Kasper has cited a study which states that its core finding is that conversion therapy is harmful and inneffective. Next, Kasper looks at Jones and Yarhouse (2007) to prove the effectiveness of conversion therapy. While this study does seem to support his claim, it directly states “The authors urge caution in projecting success rates from these findings, as they are likely overly optimistic estimates of anticipated success.” Clearly the authors believed that using this study in the way our author is trying to use it is inaccurate. Furthermore, the study was not based on professional conversion therapy as our author implies, but rather on religious programs which had as their primary goal to reinforce traditional views of sexual morality- this is a big difference which shows that he is falsely extrapolating his argument. Moreover, this study only analyzes the respondents who completed the study- this discounts the fact that about half of the respondents of the study dropped out- these people are most likely disproportionately people who decided that they wanted to stop trying because of the ineffectiveness of the therapy or the harm it was causing them, and thus in not taking these people into account the study vastly overestimates the effectiveness of the therapy and underestimates the harm that’s caused. Also, the respondents of the study are disproportionately religious, and, based on the fact that they want to change their sexuality, have a bias against homosexuality- the bias in the respondents of the study which incentivizes them to give results which favor the right wing conclusion which our author supports cannot be overlooked. What’s also worth considering is that the study combines the results of women and men, despite the fact that women’s sexuality has been proven to be more fluid than men’s, causing inevitable distortions in the data. As professor Warren Throckmorton writes about the flaws of this type of interpretation of the study, “let’s look at how the authors described the starting point for this group of changers on average. On a seven point scale with seven being completely homosexuality, the group averaged a 5.09 rating which Jones and Yarhouse described in their book as “’largely homosexual, but more than incidental heterosexual’ attraction.” At the third assessment of sexual attraction, the authors reported that the rating had dropped to 1.55. This group rated themselves as having moved toward the heterosexual side of the continuum. On the Kinsey scale used to assess the attractions, the average score fell between the “exclusively heterosexual” and “largely heterosexual, but incidental homosexual” ratings. An alternative way of describing the outcome is that the participants went from one end of the bisexual spectrum to the other. On average, the group rating indicated both heterosexual and homosexual attractions at the beginning, middle and end of the study.” Finally, there has been a wide array of studies which directly contradict the conclusion that conversion therapy is useful and not harmful. For example, Beckstead and Morrow (2004) detail the harms and ineffective results of conversion therapy based on interviews with Mormons who underwent this conversion therapy. Moreover, an account by Borowhich (2008) finds that conversion therapy is in general unnaffective and results in conversion. Furthermore, a study with a significant sample size of over 1,600 who underwent conversion therapy finds “the overall results support the conclusion that sexual orientation is highly resistant to explicit attempts at change and that SOCE are overwhelmingly reported to be either ineffective or damaging by participants.” (Dehlin et al 2015). Finally, Cornell University compiled over 40 studies on the topic of the harms and effectiveness of conversion therapy which met their methodological criteria, and concluded that the studies which confirm that conversion therapy is harmful/ineffective massively outweigh those which claim the opposite.
In conclusion, our authors attempt to prove that societal causes and stigma are not the cause of high rates of mental illness and suicide within the LGB population, as well as his attempts to prove the effectiveness and validity of conversion therapy, falls flat on its face. In fact, our author spends most of the essay providing sources which when actually examined support the hypothesis he attempts to argue against! Therefore, this essay serves as yet another failed attack against the LGB community, which should rightly be criticized,