Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Still Doing It Wrong

[TW: Suicide]

In more news of the How Not To Write a Gay Suicide Article, we have this gem from Gregg Easterbrook, entitled "Gay Suicides and Media Hype."

So, basically, right away you get an inkling of where this one's going.

First, Easterbrook notes that the recent suicide of gay youth Tyler Clementi "brings tears to the eyes," which of course erases anything offensive he might say later.

Easing his way in, he writes:

"Yet does his awful death mean there’s a 'trend' of suicides by young gays and lesbians."

Although he frames it as a question, he left off the quotation mark, effectively answering himself in the negative. He continues:

"The exact figure is disputed, but a good estimate is that three to four percent of the human family is homosexual. Based on the suicide rate for those 15 to 24, we’d expect somewhere around 150 gay or lesbian young people to kill themselves in a year. That’s terrible – but also shows a few instances of gay suicide do not constitute a trend. This ABC News report laments 'five suicides by gay teenagers in the last three weeks,' implying a sudden new development. Other things being equal, statistics would suggest nine suicides by gay young adults in a three-week period."

Now, a lot is going on here, the first of which is the implication that 5 suicides by gay youths in 3 weeks is actually under the American Gay Youth Suicide Quota, let alone representative of some larger "trend," so no bigs. Secondly, assuming that these statistics are accurate, how can it be ascertained as to whether a youth who was secretly gay completed suicide because of his or her sexual orientation? Yes, we have had several recent high-profile instances of kids who were bullied because of their real or apparent homosexuality, but it is not unreasonable to imagine that some kids who don't fit the gay stereotypes might have also completed suicide because of their sexualities.

Further, the increased suicidability of LGBT youth is not, actually, "a sudden new development." Although some mainstream media articles have portrayed it as such, much of the "hype" in articles about these cases actually highlights the statistical fact that LGBT youth are more likely than heterosexual youth to complete, or attempt, suicide.

Easterbrook continues, playing devil's advocate:

"Are homosexuals as a group at greater risk of suicide than others of similar backgrounds? This study found that gay young people who are rejected by their families are much more likely than their age group as a whole to attempt to kill themselves. But do heterosexual youth who are rejected by their families also have elevated suicide-attempt rates? Being rejected by your family would be traumatic regardless of the reason."

Yes, being rejected by your family is traumatic and would be even to heterosexuals, but I can play devil's advocate too. LGBT youth don't hold a monopoly on familial rejection, but how often are heterosexual youth rejected by their families compared to the LGBT youth?

Easterbrook's next great idea to minimize LGBT youth suicidality? If you want to see a trend, he'll show you a trend:

"The flip side of this coin is that another kind of suicide — military suicides — are rising at a rate that does show a clear trend.
"The Houston Chronicle reported on Monday, 'Last year suicides made up nearly 25 percent of the deaths of Texans younger than 35 who served in the military. That percentage is more than twice the rate of suicide in the comparable civilian population.'”

Okay, a conversation about military suicides is completely valid. But is an article about the suicides of gay youths that "brings tears to the eyes" really the time and place for that particular conversation?

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