LGBT Suicide: Where the Conflict Really Lies

In Chapter 1 of his excellent book, Making Gay Okay, How Rationalizing Homosexuality Is Changing Everything (Ignatius Press, 2014), Robert Reilly cites the following quote from gay rights advocates Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen: "In any campaign to win over the public, gays must be portrayed as victims in need of protection so that straights will be inclined by reflex to adopt the role of protector." This has been an extremely effective strategy. But the victim status is not what some might assume it to be.

Perhaps because HIV is no longer synonymous with a short-term death sentence, LGBT suicide, particularly among teenagers, seems to have replaced AIDS as the chief marker of homosexuals as victims. This is reflected in the Loveloud Festival held in Salt Lake City each summer. Led by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, the festival drew around 35,000 people to Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah in 2018. Among Reynolds's goals for the event was raising one million dollars for LGBT youth suicide prevention.

People of all religious beliefs or lack thereof should feel the weight of this issue. No matter what one may think about the morality of homosexual behavior, suicide is an awful thing that every decent person should hope to see eradicated, and it is especially tragic among teenagers.

Why So Many?

But aside from the sheer tragedy of it, LGBT activists and sympathizers are facing a real conundrum with respect to its causes; current data show that the suicide rate of LGBT youth is significantly higher than that of straight kids (though I suspect a similar disproportion is true of adult populations as well), and this disparity hasn't changed in forty years. Despite the rainbow tsunami that has swept over the collective consciousness of the West during the past half-century, people with homosexual tendencies apparently still experience as much internal conflict as they did when the majority of people believed their behavior to be as perverse as incest or open marriage.

This situation has left some activists scratching their heads. Consider, for example, the comments of Dr. Ann Haas, senior consultant for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, about a CDC report showing LGBT youth to be disproportionately prone to suicide:

[The CDC report] paints a picture of marginalization in every aspect of LGBT high school students' lives. It's a question of being marginalized, really, both in terms of young people's inner sense of who they are and how they're treated by others. There's a psychological and emotional component that we see when looking at suicide among all other groups, and it's even more prevalent here.

Even setting aside the fact that psychological and emotional problems are the only components (and thus not actually "components") of a suicidal disposition, Dr. Haas's words betray some confusion. Though she tries, she can't really blame the psychological dissonance in LGBT people on the oppressiveness of the ambient religious culture, when that culture is neither religious nor oppressive to them, and she admits this:

For a while, [researchers] thought that the cultural climate improved and LGBT people weren't facing the same overt limitations and discrimination. We'd expect to see this sort of disturbing trend [of suicide] decline. It's striking that it hasn't—it seems just as likely to occur today as it did in the 1970s, from what we can tell—but we can't be totally sure at the moment.1

If improvement in the cultural climate means the acceptance of homosexuality, there's not a lot of room for improvement left. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2015 that same-sex "marriages" are legitimate in the eyes of the law. To celebrate this ruling, then-President Obama had the White House illuminated with rainbow lights. Rainbow flags and equality stickers can be seen everywhere, especially in June, which has been designated as "pride month" and is capped off with boisterous "pride parades" in numerous cities. In many social circles in the Western world, few things will evoke more sympathy, more applause, and more adamant affirmation than coming out as gay. Athletes, actresses, musicians, and whole sports franchises and corporations are falling over themselves in their efforts to ensure that everyone knows they think gay is okay!

And yet, the CDC tells us that in 2015, LGBT students attempted suicide at five times the rate that straight students did.

Try Again, CNN

Of course, many pundits still try to get more mileage out of the bullying explanation, especially when they can blame conservatives and religious believers for the bullying. This excerpt from a 2017 CNN article is typical:

What's driving [troubled LGBT teens to suicide] . . . is that not all teens live in a supportive culture, even with the advances in same-sex marriage, inclusive anti-bullying programs and non-discrimination protection. Many evangelical Christians, for instance, still preach that LGBTQ kids are going to hell.2

It's true that some people need to realize that they have not been endowed with foreknowledge of others' eternal destination. (There is only one Judge, and he has not made us privy to his judgments on individual people.) But those who stridently preach that hell awaits those who indulge their perverse sexual urges are typically on the fringes of Evangelical Christianity. Far from warning about damnation, many Christians are reluctant even to suggest that any sexual behavior could be immoral, out of fear of being labeled haters and bigots. As with the ritual of the "Two Minutes Hate" described in George Orwell's 1984, people risk censure not only for speaking out against homosexual behavior but even for remaining silent and failing to positively affirm the gay agenda.

Thus, labeling Evangelicals as sanctimonious nemeses of benevolent-but-victimized LGBT individuals just isn't tenable anymore. There aren't many Evangelical Christians in my neighborhood, but I did count four rainbow flags in a ten-block walk from my house last week, and I don't live anywhere near San Francisco. The religious-bullying explanation has always been based on a false premise, but in the midst of the current surge of gay affirmation, it now comes across as whiny straw-grasping.

The Real Conflict

Maybe there is another explanation. Maybe the reason why LGBT people of all ages are still so deeply conflicted and so prone to suicide despite living in an affirming culture is that, way down deep in that place where conscience is still impervious to culture, they know that they're behaving in a way that violates their essence as human beings. To find out why this is so, we first must have a clear understanding of what our essence as human beings is.

No one can develop into a morally strong, and thus truly fulfilled, person until he or she realizes that we humans are hybrid creatures—we have transcendent, rational souls as well as material, animal bodies. If our physical appetites are not governed by the will to do what is right, then indulging them, and attempting to rationalize our indulgence, can eventually cause us to lose our capacity to know the difference between right and wrong altogether. If one gets to that point, he or she is no longer a hybrid, but just an animal doing what animals do by instinct.

My neighbors have two dogs. A couple of weeks ago they were being true to their natural orientation by mating on the front porch, in full view of all who happened to walk by. I wouldn't expect dogs to be ashamed of themselves for doing this, but people are supposed to live a higher kind of life.

Most people have heard some version of the fairytale in which a human is turned into a frog and then feels disgusted at himself for eating flies and indulging in other froggy behaviors. Yet we are all frogs in the sense that we all have animal urges that another part of us finds disgusting. The part of us that finds eating flies and copulating in public repugnant goes by various names, including modesty, reason, and moral sensibility. This is the part of us that is supposed to control the purely physical appetites and urges. The process of controlling them is the process of moral development, and we cannot grow to be morally strong without it.

A virtuous and ultimately fulfilling life is one in which the rightly formed human will, or conscience, controls and governs the animal urges. To be increasingly guided by a well-formed conscience is to learn to live up to one's full humanity, and this is why one of the worst insults one person can hurl at another is to say, "You're behaving like an animal." As G. K. Chesterton said, "If you wanted to dissuade a man from drinking his tenth whisky you would slap him on the back and say, 'Be a man.' No one who wished to dissuade a crocodile from eating his tenth explorer would slap it on the back and say, 'Be a crocodile.'"3

In ironic contrast to the idea that gratifying sexual desire is the way to fulfill one's "identity," experiencing our robust identity as fully human persons requires us to subject our desires to the objective, transcendent standards of morality and virtue. According to Plato, that standard is set by

the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and this is the power upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.4

The message LGBT youth (and everyone else) need to hear is, "I know you have bad sexual urges. Many people do in one way or another. That doesn't mean you're any worse or better than anyone else. It means you're a human being. I care about you, and I want you to learn self-control so that you can grow into a well-adjusted, morally upright adult and help others do the same."

If, instead, adults encourage young people to indulge their corrupt animal urges and teach them to embrace those urges as the basis of their identity, then those youthful victims are being encouraged to live like frogs or dogs by adults who are behaving more like crocodiles.

Notes
1. vice.com/en_us/article/jmkmvd/the-scariest-part-about-americas-lgbtq-suicide-epidemic-is-what-we-dont-know-about-it.
2. cnn.com/2017/12/19/health/lgbq-teens-suicide-risk-study/index.html.
3. G. K. Chesterton, The Blatchford Controversies, ch. 2.
4. The Republic, Book 7.

Mike Mitchell holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and religion and is the author of The Life Underneath, A Story of Murder, Love and Real Life. See more from Mike at www.mutepoet.com.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #51, Winter 2019 Copyright © 2020 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo51/sexual-dissonance