Dr. David Fawcett

Florida's Amendment 2: A Matter of Life or Death

Filed By Dr. David Fawcett | October 28, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Amendment 2, Florida, gay youth, gender, LGBT youth, Marriage Protection Amendment, suicide

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.

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Great post, Dr. Fawcett!

I have long contended that these anti-LGBT initiatives and the rhetoric that goes along with them is extremely damaging to our youth. How can a young person who hears some of the hateful speech in these campaigns not be effected negatively?

Thanks for this article, Dr. Fawcett. It's one more reason we need to fight for pro-LGBT legislation!

Thanks for the plug, David!
I've also done work showing that suicide rates are higher in areas that endorse restricting marriage (particularly in young white males) more strongly. Haven't been able to get it published, although to be fair, I haven't tried too hard.

A small correction - my work doesn't differentiate between queer youth from total youth - one of the strengths of it is that it documents changes in the total suicide rate. I'm actually not sure what use there would be in trying to differentiate the sexual orientation of people who have died.
I have tried to find good datasources to look at the mental health of live people under different gay rights protection regimes, but so far not been able to find a dataset that has all the requisite factors: questions identifying subjects' sexual orientation; questions about mental health; geographically-specific identifiers; and follow-up over time. It's a tall order to find a dataset with all four of those components, but eventually it will come along, and I'll be ready to pounce on it.