As we bear down to the election on November 4 and the critical vote on Florida's Amendment 2 (constitutionally limiting marriage to a man and a woman), I was reminded of research conducted by a friend who documented that suicide rates of young gay men actually drop in states that pass laws to protect sexual minorities. In simple terms, Florida's Amendment 2 has life and death implications for the well-being of Florida's LBGT population.
My friend is Bill Jesdale, with whom I have worked on issues pertaining to gay men's health. He currently teaches at San Francisco State University. His research was published in the Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (Volume 6, Number 2, June 2002 , pp. 61-69) in an article called "Enactment of Gay Rights Laws in U.S. States and Trends in Adolescent Suicide: An Investigation of Non-Hispanic White Boys." The objective of his work was to estimate the decline in adolescent suicide rates in relation to enactment of state laws offering protection from discrimination against sexual minorities.
Although all ages of LGBT individuals are affected by discrimination, much of the research documenting its health effects has been conducted on gay youth. Here are some of the striking statistics from the Safe Schools Coalition:
• Students who have been harassed or attacked at school because of their gender are more than twice as likely as non-harassed peers to report having attempted suicide in the past year (13.4% vs. 5.2%).
• Students who have been harassed or attacked at school because of their race are more than twice as likely as their peers to report having attempted suicide in the past year (12.4% vs.5.9%).
• Almost a quarter of students who have been harassed or attacked at school because someone perceived them to be gay or lesbian report having attempted suicide in the past year - more than three times the rate their peers report (23.2% vs. 7.1%).
Laws and public policy that are anti-discriminatory can make a huge difference. With the research I mentioned earlier, my friend Bill and his colleague compared rates of suicide among non-Hispanic White boys aged 11-18 years before and after enactment of laws prohibiting discrimination on sexual orientation. Between 1990 and 1999, 9,639 such boys committed suicide in the United States. Bill found that states that enacted antidiscrimination laws had a significant reduction of suicides of gay youth relative to states that never enacted these laws. Even in the same states that enacted protective laws, there was a reduction of suicides after they took effect.
The research results are deadly serious: efforts to reduce heterosexual societal prejudice statistically affect the health and well-being of gays and lesbians.
Efforts such as Amendment 2 have a significant impact on the physical and emotional health of every member of the LGBT community. Even if you never intend to exercise your right to marry, it is important to remember that the social climate set by exclusionary laws and policies (and conversely, by anti-harassment and protective laws and policies) have a life and death impact that is reflected not only in suicide rates of gay youth but in potential physical and emotional violence against all of us, as well as increased rates of mood disorders and addiction.
We can save a life: vote no on Amendment 2.