Written by: Tonya J.  Williams, B.A., J.D. 

Author’s Note: Suicide is a tragedy for anyone – adult or child.  While this article shines a spotlight on the vulnerabilities of LGBTQ youth, the content, for the most part, can be applied to any youth oadult. It is my hope that this article is merely a starting point for education regarding suicide prevention, and that if you have concerns about a child committing suicide, you will consider the resources set forth below as well as others that can be found via google or another internet search engine.  Finally, I believe finding ourselves in the stories of others may offer a life line that can save livesAccordingly, I have included a few books, along with the other resources at the bottom of this post, that I believe would be particularly helpful to the parent of a teen who may be struggling with his/her sexuality and needs a safe place to land. 

Estimates indicate that 3.8 percent of United States citizens are gay or lesbian. Teens make up a smaller percentage of that total, though both are difficult to fully quantify because discrimination and prejudice impact people’s willingness to self-report. Gay teens tend to experience more bullying and more isolation than their heterosexual peers. They also are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt to kill themselves 

Suicide is the most devastating reality for those who are living with mental health issues or are alienated in some other way. It is devastating when an adult takes their life, but, perhaps in some sense, even more so when a child does. When a child dies by suicide, we can only lament that she/he had their whole life in front of them, so much to experience and look forward to.  

It is difficult for most people to understand why anyone (young or old) would attempt to actually kill themselves.  When contemplating the issue, some resort to platitudes like, “it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I have said this myself, even though I know simple platitudes are not enough to understand the many emotions that lead a child down the path of attempting suicide.  While some people rely on platitudes, others look to religion and in the privacy of their homes generally, condemn the person to hell for taking their own life, even when that person is a child.  Still others resort to words like “crazy” to describe the person who died by suicideThis type of language is hurtful and does nothing to increase understanding and awareness about why anyone, a child included, would take such a desperate and extreme measure because of what is happening in their life. 

Of course the reasons vary depending upon the individual, but there are also some commonalities across each tragedy. Individuals, especially children, experience among other things, a sense of hopelessness, isolation, impulsivity and loneliness, all of which are interrelated.  Gay teens experience most of these emotions at some point in their lives. The reality of their experiences at home, in school, in church and in the larger society indicate why this is the case. They are completely dependent upon parents and other adults who may not approve of or support their identity. Their age, emotional and mental immaturity when they are preteens or teens often render it difficult to cope with the many forms of rejection they encounter 

Not surprisingly, gay teens may believe it is easier to kill themselves than to tell people who care about them about their identity and what is happening in their minds and lives. Let’s consider that gay teens are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peersIn addition, for those gay and lesbian teens whose families do not support them, they are 8.4 times more likely to die by suicide than those gay and lesbian teens who receive support from their families. This is especially important because the research makes it clear that where gay children are supported by those who love themthey can avoid the loneliness, isolation and many other circumstances that cause them to attempt or die by suicide. It is equally as clear that a lack of support for them can be fatal.   

The CW's Supergirl has been making history for multiple seasons now after the introduction of Nia Nal/Dreamer (Nicole Maines), the first transgender superhero in a mainstream live-action superhero adaptation. Over the past two seasons, Maines' performance - as well as her offscreen work as a trans rights activist - has helped provide an incredibly positive example of transgender representation, but it sounds like the actress would like for that representation to further evolve. In a recent interview with Variety as part of their Power of Pride list, Maines advocated for getting to a point where transgender characters are able to be depicted as imperfectly as cisgender characters often are.

“I think it’s that more and more trans characters [can] be less than perfect and be a–holes and be the villains,” Maines explained. “We can look at them, and be like, ‘They’re just people. They make poor choices. They can be bad people. They can be not nice.’ Trans-ness is not a person. A person is not identified by their trans-ness.”

While there definitely have been negative examples of transgender characters being boiled down to villains, Maines' argument about more dynamic representation definitely rings true. As the actress went on to explain, the scarcity of transgender characters in mainstream media made her approach initially playing Nia very gingerly.

“When I first started playing Nia, I was really nervous to kind of show her in any way that wasn’t favorable," Maines revealed. "I was very nervous to show her making poor choices or have her react poorly to something. I needed her to be a success. I needed Dreamer and Nia to be untouchable.“
 
"The representation is really on the shoulders of just a few," Maines continued. "So everything that happens to those characters is reflective of the rest of the trans community. If we’re anything less than perfect, that’s going to reflect poorly on the rest of us.”
Maines has spoken about that complex responsibility in the past, previously telling ComicBook.com how much that significance means to her.

"Being able to be political and to stick up for minority and marginalized people, while doing something that you love, while making entertainment, feels really, really great," Maines said in an interview with ComicBook.com last year. "Being able to go to work every day and be like, 'I am making a difference. I am adding to the conversation.' That feels really good. When you're having a bad day and you're like, 'You know, but this show means so much to so many people," Then, seeing every time something happens on TV and how people react to it on social media. That's like, 'Wow, this is a tangible difference.'"

SDSU psychologists will explore an intervention strategy that has proven successful in cancer care

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults, behind unintentional injury, with suicide attempts much higher among LGBTQ youth (23% to 45%) than their heterosexual and cisgender peers (5%).

Despite this considerable disparity, few empirically supported suicide prevention programs exist for this highly vulnerable group.

San Diego State University researchers Aaron Blashill and Kristen Wells, who received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, are working to develop interventions to prevent suicide that can eventually be widely deployed and have a significant impact on improving mental health for sexual and gender minority youth and young adults.

Blashill and Wells, both associate professors of psychology, will design and test the program over a five-year period.

Working with Family Health Centers of San Diego (FHCSD), they will recruit and train social workers to be patient navigators who work with LGBTQ youth and young adults who have attempted suicide. Their team will then counsel youth and young adults on coping strategies and connect them with support groups and mental health resources.

Patient navigation, when someone such as a social worker helps clients get access to the care they need, has traditionally been used to improve cancer care, especially among underserved populations. In recent years, patient navigation has been used to improve care for other health conditions and the SDSU research team will test its impact on suicide prevention among a vulnerable, often isolated group of individuals.

“It can be hard for anyone to connect with a mental health provider when they’re feeling intense negative emotions and have urges to harm themselves,” said Blashill, who has expertise in LGBTQ health. “Among LGBTQ youth, there’s a degree of medical mistrust which might make them even less likely to reach out for help. If you are a 15- or 16-year-old minor who is yet to ‘come out’ to your parents, who will guide you?”

One of the main risks for this group is the stress of discrimination, which can be buffered with community support. Patient navigators can help build bridges with peers in the LGBTQ community while connecting them with mental health resources and services, including therapy.

“We are both very invested in helping vulnerable populations,” said Wells, who brings expertise in patient navigation interventions. “We share several research initiatives and we’ve worked closely with Family Health Centers of San Diego, which is how this partnership happened. They have been on the frontlines in serving this population which really struggles with suicide and depression.”

FHCSD has clinics in several locations in San Diego and specializes in serving ethnic minorities, immigrant groups, LGBTQ individuals, among others.

Wells and Blashill will collaborate with co-investigators Dr. Sarah Rojas, and Dr. Christian Ramers, at FHCSD, and SDSU researchers Jerel Calzo from the School of Public Health, Robin Weersing from the department of psychology, and Chii-Dean (Joey) Lin, a statistician from the math department.

“FHCSD is committed to not only broadly supporting equity in health care, but making a tangible difference in the lives of our community members. This research gives us the opportunity to help meet the needs of our vulnerable LGBTQ youth in San Diego and hopefully lay the foundation to support young people across the country,” Rojas said.

The research team will also work with community organizations that will be part of an advisory group guiding their program.

Aiming to meet the clients where they are, the program will be tailored to individual needs. In the first, two-year phase, the researchers will hire two experienced navigators to work with up to 40 participants.

Once the program’s acceptability and feasibility have been evaluated, a second phase of the study will be implemented over a three-year span with 170 participants. One group will receive patient navigation combined with safety planning intervention, while a control group will be given safety planning alone, and the impact in reducing suicide attempts will be compared.

“This project is risky given that all of the community members who will take part in the study will have made one or more suicide attempts and have suicidal thoughts,” Wells said. Although this level of risk may explain why others have not developed interventions, the lack of existing interventions underscores the importance of the project and meeting the target population’s specific needs.

The first phase will be launched this summer. One intervention goal is to address the lack of connection that individuals with suicidal impulses have when they feel alienated, by increasing social support. The second goal is to give them coping skills when they experience such urges – restrictions such as locking up firearms in the home or handing it over to someone to keep safe, which can substantially reduce attempts, and to reach out to friends, family or counselors.

“We will also help them try to ride out the urge without acting on it, with distraction techniques,” Blashill said. “It’s ‘urge surfing’ – where you ride it out until it subsides. This can be going outside for a walk, calling a friend, watching TV, or taking a shower.”

Different techniques work for different people, so the patient navigator will help participants identify what coping strategies best serve them, while teaching them tools to navigate systemic barriers to mental health care.

Wells and Blashill noted individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts may need longer-term treatment and so their intervention is not meant to replace therapy, but rather to connect participants with coping skills, and treatment and support resources.

 

HRC PRESIDENT ALPHONSO DAVID ON THE LAUNCH OF PRIDE MONTH AND ANTI-RACISM: “Pride started with protest. LGBTQ people -- led in large part by transgender women of color -- resisted police brutality and violence at flashpoints like Stonewall, the Black Cat and Compton’s Cafeteria. We as a community refused to accept humiliation and fear as the price of living as our true selves. Our community understands what it means to rise up and push back against a culture that tells us we are less than, that our lives don't matter… So as we celebrate Pride Month, let us carry the work forward with greater intentionality to affect change for all of us, not some of us. Because while we may not be able to celebrate in person this year, there is nothing to stop us from taking action.” Watch here

  • In order to help the LGBTQ community and its allies celebrate Pride Month in this moment, HRC is today officially launching its #PrideInside toolkit, a series of resources to help HRC members, the LGBTQ community and its allies celebrate Pride. The toolkit can be found at HRC.org/pride.

HRC RESPONDS TO TRUMP ADMIN ATTACKING TRANSGENDER YOUTH: In a ruling issued May 15, 2020, but made public Thursday, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) ruled, in conflict with previous wide-spread interpretation of the law, that a Connecticut policy that allows transgender athletes to compete in sports that align with their gender identity violates Title IX. “The Trump-Pence administration’s latest decision to attack transgender athletes is unacceptable and offensive,” said HRC President Alphonso David (@AlphonsoDavid). “Transgender athletes have every right to play sports and participate in athletic activities in accordance with their gender identity.” More from HRC.

HRC MOURNS TONY MCDADE, BLACK TRANS MAN KILLED IN FLORIDA: His death is believed to be the at least 12th violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year in the U.S. McDade was allegedly killed by police -- which could make it the third officer-involved shooting in just under two months involving the Tallahassee Police Department. “The Human Rights Campaign and the entire transgender and non-binary community demand accountability and answers for Tony’s death -- and countless violent deaths of trans people, Black people and, disproportionately, Black transgender people. While these deaths are visible due to recordings and social media, we know far too many go completely ignored,” said Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. More from HRC

MUST-WATCH MONDAY -- HRC PRESIDENT ALPHONSO DAVID ON MSNBC’S “MORNING JOE”: David joined the show this morning to discuss the beginning of Pride month, the rash of racial violence against Black and transgender people and HRC’s commitment to anti-racism. Watch here

HRC MOURNS THE LOSS OF DR. RON SIMMONS, LGBTQ ACADEMIC, ADVOCATE & PUBLIC HEALTH LEADER: “Dr. Ron Simmons was a leader who showed so many in our movement that the fight for full equality does not begin or end with one aspect of our lives, but requires us to support each other fully and holistically,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Dr. Simmons made combating the HIV epidemic his life’s calling, and he was tireless in his efforts to demand justice and equity for Black and Brown communities who tragically continue to be the most impacted by HIV -- especially Black gay and bi+ men, and Black transgender women. We join Dr. Simmons’ loved ones in mourning, while we celebrate his invaluable legacy that will no doubt inspire and guide generations of activists and advocates to come.” More from HRC

HRC ENDORSES... 

U.S. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER STENY HOYER: “Leader Hoyer is a true ally that our movement would be worse off without,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “His leadership and stewardship of pro-equality legislation like the Equality Act and repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have made a true difference in the lives of LGBTQ people across America. We must work to ensure we not only maintain the pro-equality majority in the House but elect pro-equality partners in the Senate and White House to bring the change LGBTQ people need across this country.” More from HRC

U.S. HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP JIM CLYBURN: “Whip Clyburn has been a consistent ally for our community,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “As Whip, Congressman Clyburn has ensured the passage of pro-equality legislation, like the Equality Act, to provide crucial protections and rights for the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign is proud to endorse Whip Clyburn and look forward to working with him to protect and advance civil rights for all.” More from HRC

SARA STAPLETON BARRERA FOR TEXAS STATE SENATE: “Sara Stapleton Barrera is a true champion for the LGBTQ community,” said HRC Texas State Director Rebecca Marques (@RebeccaMarques). “By electing Sara, Texas-27 can turn the page and work toward giving more than 850,000 LGBTQ Texans the protections they deserve -- protections that 70% of Texans support." More from HRC

MORE THAN 100 CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS CALL ON HHS TO INCLUDE LGBTQ PEOPLE IN ITS DATA COLLECTION: More from HRC

Tony McDade, a black transgender man, was fatally shot by a white police officer in Florida this past Wednesday, the third officer-involved shooting in the Tallahassee area this past year.

Witnesses say that police shot McDade immediately after exiting their vehicle without shouting any warning at the 38-year-old, while police claim that he pointed a handgun at an officer before they even exited their vehicle and that the shooting followed “standard protocol.”

(While some witnesses and neighbors referred to McDade as a woman, some friends referred to him with “he” pronouns and, before his death, he set his pronouns to “he” on Facebook. Despite this, Tallahassee police have referred to McDade as a woman in several statements.)

At 10:45 a.m. on May 27, police responded to a fatal stabbing. They said that they saw McDade, who fit the description of the suspect, when they arrived.

In a statement, the Tallahassee Police Department said that McDade “then made a move consistent with using the firearm against the officer, who fired their issued handgun, fatally striking the adult female suspect.”

He later died at a hospital.

A neighborhood resident and witness told WFSU that he heard seven or eight shots fired.

“I walked down this way, as soon as I get around this curve, I just hear shots,” he said. “I see the [McDade] right behind the tree, but I see for him [the police officer] just jump out the car, swing the door open and just start shooting.”

The witness said that police didn’t shout a warning at McDade before opening fire: “I never heard ‘Get down, freeze, I’m an officer’ – nothing. I just heard gun shots.”

“All preliminary findings are that the officer acted in accordance with their training,” said Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell in a press conference. He said that he wouldn’t discuss the specifics of McDade’s death since it’s part of an on-going investigation, but he said that if officers believed that they were in danger they could have shot without warning.

McDade’s Facebook account is still active. He posted a video posted late on Monday night in which he talked about his life since he was released from prison after serving a 10-year term this past January. He said that he was robbed, was in a car accident, and attempted suicide in the months since he was released.

He said that on that day he had been attacked by five men. He did not name them – instead just referred to them as “pu***es” – but he showed a wound on his arm.

“It was five, against my one,” he said in the video.

He said that one of the men hit him, and he said, “You hit like a girl.” He said that the others then attacked him, pushing him to the ground and beating him while he was in the fetal position.

“But you know what? Y’all ain’t gonna look the same when them bullets touch you,” he said in the Facebook Live video, saying that the five men were “going to die if I ever see your face.”

“I will not be going back to prison,” McDade said. “Me and the law will have a standoff after I end you b****es’ lives.”

“Tony’s death brings national scrutiny and is a stark reminder of the epidemic of violence that disproportionately claims the lives of Black transgender people in America,” said Equality Florida in a statement.

The statement connected McDade’s death to other Black people killed by police officers, including George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer this past Monday who knelt on his neck for at least seven minutes while handcuffed.

Equality Florida said that they will host a virtual town hall on Wednesday, June 3, to “discuss the intersections of systemic racism and injustice against the LGBTQ community and call on supporters of LGBTQ civil rights to take action.”

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