Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2020-09-16
About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



Queer suicides: Complicate the issue
by Yasmin Nair

facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of stories about the supposed rise in queer suicides, particularly by youth and young adults. But while the deaths are undoubtedly tragic, they are by no means unusual and have not increased in number; they are simply being reported on more often. The exact reasons why the press would, at this time, take such an interest in queer suicides are the subjects of a future piece. For now, I want to complicate the narratives and stories about queer youth that are being spun in the media and in our cultural discourse.

It is necessary to pay attention, as we have been doing, to why queer youth in particular are more than four times as likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. It is even more important to pay attention to how we deploy and even, on occasion, distort their reasons for doing so. Attempts to provide both reasons and solutions for the problem are often shamelessly manipulative and display a rank ignorance of the many multiple contexts in which queer youth live and die.

Take, for instance, the short but hyperbolic video by Sarah Silverman, where she says: "Dear America, When you tell gay Americans that they can't serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you're telling that to kids, too. So don't be fucking shocked and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves … because they learned it from watching you."

Kathy Griffin takes this even further on a PSA for the Trevor Project where she says, "That's why it's so important that Prop 8 gets thrown out by the Supreme Court and 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' gets repealed. Because right now the message the government is sending our young people is that it's unacceptable and inferior to be gay."

No. Those are not the reasons why queer children and youth kill themselves. In 2009, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover killed himself in Massachusetts after being taunted, on a daily basis, for being gay. Walker-Hoover did not identify as gay. He lived in a state where gay marriage has been legal since 2004.

There are, of course, several instances of queer-identified youth killing themselves after being bullied on account of their sexuality. And, certainly, the extreme right's hostility to gay marriage or gays in the military does create a climate where there is at least a segment of society used to engaging in hateful rhetoric about queers.

But none of this justifies a logistical leap to the point of arguing that allowing gays to get married or join the army will somehow make people hate queers, or people they think of as queers, less. When a queer gets bashed, the basher isn't thinking, "I hope this person isn't the married kind because THEY would be all right." The issue facing us is not how to make the bigots love us, but the bigotry they express. Which is to say: twisting and turning gay marriage into a solution for queer suicides is an abhorrent tactic to bolster the cause of gay marriage, on which there is no consensus in the LGBTQ community. The simple truth is that people hate us and will cause us harm. They may hate us because they secretly see themselves in us and are terrified of what that means, or they may hate us simply because they see us as the evil to be wiped out. But they hate us and they will cause us harm. The fact that we might be able to marry will not make a bit of difference to such deep-seated hatred.

To say otherwise is to make a political point—and make no mistake, gay marriage is a political matter—and the Trevor Project, for which Griffin was acting as a spokesperson, has no business mixing politics into its messages about queer youth. When someone commits suicide because life as a queer or being perceived as a queer is so unbearable, it's not because they simply dream of being married someday. It's because their lives are living nightmares.

My 22-year-old friend Hans Anggraito probably put it best: "Just as anti-depression pills are being handed out like candy to people in my generation, gay marriage is offered as the magic bullet to solve all of our gay woes."

I have no doubt that, despite the problems with the Griffin PSA, the Trevor Project is doing vital and important work. But what of preventive measures before that happens? What are the conditions in which students live? For that we need to turn to local organizations staffed by local activists who understand the issues. More importantly, we need to understand that queerness is not all that defines these youth.

Chicago has the most militarized school district in the country and there is tremendous pressure on the schools' minority populations to join the army. The DREAM Act, which would give a chance at citizenship to undocumented youth brought here by their parents before the age of six, has a military option: students can enlist for two years in order to gain a path to citizenship. The districts' military schools already heavily recruit African-American and Latino/a students, building on a prevalent idea that students of color are more likely to need discipline that they supposedly lack in their families. In addition, military service is offered as an economic ladder, promising upward mobility to these students. Students also face tremendous violence in their school neighborhoods: In 2008, more than 500 schoolchildren were shot in Chicago.

When I raise these issues in relation to queer youth, I am often told that these are not queer-specific. But queer youth are also undocumented, at risk of being shot and live in a district where they are preyed upon by the aggressive recruiting tactics of the military. All of these circumstances are a result of the violence of the state, which promises liberation through the possibility of being killed but will not guarantee that students might go to school without the same possibility. Being harassed for being queer only compounds matters for these students.

There have been cases of undocumented youth committing suicide for fear of being deported. And surely it is also possible that some of the suicides we hear of come about because a combination of poverty and lack of support in schools. Yet, sociologists and cultural critics rarely acknowledge poverty as a cause of death while "sexual orientation/gender identity" is a cause that they find easy to grasp. When the undocumented are discovered to also be queer, the media focuses on the idea that they face the possibility of violence in their countries of origin, bolstering the myth that a state so violent as to refuse legitimacy to these youth can actually now provide protection from the presumed repression of another state. But students, like anyone else, do not live in vacuums where only their sexual identities define their existence. They are acted upon by multiple issues. More importantly, they are also capable of political will and agency. Would queer students want to join a military that will not allow them to serve openly? For that matter, would they even want to serve at all?

Students, queer or otherwise, participate in immigration rallies, sometimes under threat of being expelled. Youth of color enter Boystown only to be told by merchants and residents that they have no right to be there and that they make the neighborhood look too dangerous. They participate in anti-war marches. At a meeting organized by queer youth to address the ongoing problem of racism towards youth of color in Boystown, business owners spoke condescendingly about the lack of resources on the south side. One youth stood up and shot back words to this effect: "We do have places on the South Side, you just don't choose to fund them." Youth are not stupid, and they know when they're being lied to.

The point is that queer bullying cannot operate in a vacuum. A school that is hostile to queer youth is not likely to be safe for many of its other students. The logic that queer suicides have to do entirely with sexual identity erases the complicated realities of what it means to be an LGBT or queer youth, and it turns queer youth into apolitical people who just need to be rescued.

The current rise in the reports of queer youth suicides does not signify either an epidemic or a crisis. What we are witnessing is the ongoing reality of what it means to be queer in a world where we forego complicated, systemic analyses of our issues in favor of simplistic and sentimental rhetoric about love and bravery conquering all. The Trevor Project is a hotline, not a program. While it performs an important service, the long-term work of preventing these suicides in a systemic way can only happen if we consider queer youth as more than just queer. If we are to address the issue of queer suicides, we need to think long and hard about actually addressing the depth and complexity of the problem without resorting to magic pill arguments.

Yasmin Nair is a member of Gender JUST and the editorial collective Against Equality. She wrote the introduction to the first AE book, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage. Her work can be found at . Against Equality is at .

facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Suicide Prevention Month summary of data on LGBT suicide 2020-09-01
LGBs who have undergone conversion therapy more likely to attempt suicide 2020-06-15
Federal, private sectors unite in mental health, suicide prevention response 2020-05-06
Survey: One in four LGBT Colombians have attempted suicide 2020-05-06
School official dismisses trans-related suicides 2019-12-02
NATIONAL Manhattan sculpture, Pulse memorial, TrevorLIVE LA, unsolved murder 2019-11-12
Study says bias experiences affect suicides in trans adults 2019-09-10
AFSP Illinois Suicide Prevention Walk Sept. 21 2019-08-27
Reports: Man to testify about role in suicide-murder plot 2019-07-22
Trevor Project gala raises more than $2M 2019-06-26
Trevor Project survey shows link between suicide, conversion therapy 2019-06-11
NATIONAL Teen suicide, scholarship loss, discrimination cases 2019-04-23
National Black Justice Coalition Statement on Nigel Shelby Suicide: "This Must End" 2019-04-22
NATIONAL Teen PrEP bill, conversion therapy, Laverne Cox, murder-suicide 2019-04-09
THEATER REVIEW For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf 2019-03-24
Steans works to update state's suicide prevention strategy 2019-03-07
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf at Court Theater 2019-03-01
Anti-bullying laws including sexual orientation associated with fewer suicides 2019-01-15
NATIONAL Anti-Trump actions, suicide hotline, Jeff Bezos/Amazon 2018-11-06
Study Reveals Which Transgender Teens Have Highest Suicide Risk 2018-09-12
SHOWBIZ Pet Shop Boys, Oprah, 'Chicago' suicide, Idris Elba 2018-07-10
Trigger warning, mental health, suicide prevention and survivor guilt 2018-06-13
Reports: SWAT teams respond following Boystown suicide threat 2018-03-31
NATIONAL Pre-teen suicide, drag-queen situation, Truth Awards, Stormy Daniels 2018-03-20
BOOKS Jane Mersky Leder gets 'Dead Serious' about ending teen suicide 2018-02-23
Suicide-prevention organization throws fashion gala 2017-12-05
Live Out Loud Charity Fashion Show and benefit for suicide prevention 2017-11-06
World news: Sydney cops, torture victim, suicide study, Prince Harry 2017-10-18
Trans Teen Who Died By Suicide Protected By Federal Law, Federal Court Rules 2017-10-13
Providers discuss risk factors for LGBT suicides 2017-09-27
Center Chief Program Officer addresses LGBT suicide risks in current climate 2017-09-20
TEEN SPEAK Sad truth about suicide rates 2017-08-16
LGBTQ suicide hotline calls from trans youth spike since Trump tweet 2017-08-02
Suicide attempt reported at Osterman Beach 2017-07-23
Youth crisis calls to Trevor Project go up in days following election 2016-11-17
Trevor Project educates audience on youth suicide risks 2016-09-21
Trevor event Sept. 16 at Kimpton Gray 2016-09-07
Trevor Project works to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ youth 2016-09-06
Five Worth Finding: Suicide Squad, Slo Mo Jams and others 2016-08-02
Manning attempts suicide; lawyers decry privacy breach 2016-07-11

Copyright © 2020 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Submit an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.