Every individual lost to suicide is a tragedy, and there should be no room for excluding or ostracizing anyone because of their sexual orientation, including and especially within families. As of 2015, Utah ranks 6th in the nation in suicides of people ages 10 to 24 (at a rate of 16.66 per 100,000), so clearly there is a problem in our state that needs to be addressed. (Full data here in Excel format.)
And yet I’m concerned about statements that continue to push the unproven claim that gay youth commit suicide in Utah at rates higher than other states because of Utah’s religious culture. To the best of my knowledge, there is no data on the reasons for suicides, so claiming that there’s something unique about gay youth in Utah is an assertion without evidence.
If it’s true that Mormonism is driving youth suicides in Utah, then we should see a similar suicide rate among youth in other states dominated by religions that are similarly opposed to gay identity, gay lifestyle, and gay marriage. But we don’t: The suicide rates for ages 10 to 24 in Georgia (9.18, #33), South Carolina (9.91, #29), West Virginia (8.88, #37), Alabama (9.56, #32), and all other Southern states as well, are all lower than Utah’s rate. Religious acceptance of homosexuality is at least as low in those states as it is in Utah; why the dramatic difference in youth suicide?
And the reverse must also be true: States with broad acceptance of gay identity, gay lifestyle, and gay marriage must have lower rates of teenage/young adult suicides than Utah; right? Then why does fairly liberal Colorado (16.69, #5) rank just barely ahead of Utah? And why does South Dakota (25.22, #2) differ so much from North Dakota (7.81, #42), when the two states have nearly identical cultures? And why has Utah seen teen/young adult suicides increase by 66% between 2001 and 2015, but Oregon (+78%) and Washington state (+68%), where gays are supposedly warmly embraced, have had higher rates of increase in youth suicide in the same time period?
And, most telling of all, why has the national suicide rate for teens/young adults gone from 6.95 in 2001 to 9.15 in 2015 (an increase of 32%), when acceptance of the gay identity, gay lifestyle, and gay marriage have increased dramatically throughout the United States during the same period? Wouldn’t we expect to see a decrease in the nationwide suicide rate of youths, including gay youths?
The problem here is that suicide is complex, and rarely boils down to a single issue. The narrative that Utah culture and religion are a significant cause of teen suicides in the state isn’t backed up by the evidence, does a disservice to the people of the State of Utah, and does a disservice to people of faith.