Re: Sin and Suicide

by Robert VerBruggen

David, I think you do a good job of demonstrating that this particular suicide isn’t attributable to religious anti-gay bias. I remain unconvinced, however, that the overall higher rate of suicide for gays is unrelated to stigma, and I’m not moved by your argument that it’s due to “sin,” “conscience,” and the de-stigmatization of homosexuality.

I think part of the problem lies here:

A University of California at San Francisco survey earlier this decade found that a full 12 percent of urban gay and bisexual men had attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime (a rate three times greater than the overall rate for males), yet in much of urban America, homosexuality is not just accepted, it’s celebrated.

It seems contradictory to follow this observation with the assertion that gay suicides are due to sin and conscience. If everyone around them is so pro-gay, why are their consciences bothered? Is gay sex simply ingrained into the human mind as a sin, so that anyone who engages in it feels guilty, no matter what the people around them say? And no matter the direction in which their natural sexual inclinations point? It’s possible that sex and guilt naturally go hand-in-hand, but I find it hard to believe that that’s more true of gay sex than straight sex.

In other words: If humans don’t naturally process a given behavior as sinful, and yet that behavior is seen as sinful, that’s due to stigma. And thus attributing gay suicide to sin and attributing it to stigma go hand-in-hand.

Also, as someone who grew up using various pejorative terms for “gay” (and using “gay” as a pejorative term) with his friends — I’m not proud of it, I’m just being honest — I can attest that there is still a fair amount of anti-gay bias and stigma in modern America. In high schools around the country, and even in urban areas (especially poor and minority urban areas), many gay men are either closeted or picked on, sometimes mercilessly. Does this cause gay suicides? I don’t know, but it certainly seems as though bullying can lead to suicide. It would be interesting to compare gay suicide rates with anti-gay sentiment in various areas of the country, though obviously it would be hard to get reliable data.

And let’s not forget that homosexuals are different than straights biologically. The evidence is simply overwhelming that something biological — perhaps genes, perhaps something having to do with the flush of testosterone that happens to males in the womb — is going on here. It is conceivable that these biological processes, not sin, stigma, or the lack of stigma, might cause higher anxiety and suicide risk among gay men.