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Statistics and Other Myths

Marina

So read the article posted on April 29th of this year, written by a former world champion sportswoman, on a website of a major news outlet. “Interesting”, I thought to myself. Given the large number of suicides that occur where there is no suicide note left behind, how is it known exactly what proportion of suicides is attributable to any given motive? Im sure there are many same-sex attracted teens who have not told anyone about their sexuality. And what happens when someone is say, both gay and clinically depressed, or lesbian and crushed by issues in their life that are unrelated to sexuality – which factor is determined to be the decisive one in the suicide? I decided to Google it.

The claim is more usually worded along the lines of “Almost one-third of teen suicides are committed by gay and lesbian teens”, as written in this book, and I believe that this is what was meant by the quote at the start of my post. I found that I have not been the only one to question this ‘statistic’. Someone on this webpage wrote “I researched this for several hours and didn’t find any numbers like 1/3. Could you please provide me at least one reference.” And yes, references exist … to some extent, especially if you dont need good substantiation for the claim. One webpage stated that gay people “may comprise up to 30 percent of completed youth suicides annually.” May. Or they may not, I suppose. This page seemed a little non-committal. Other webpages were even less committal. This one stated that the US “government quickly repudiated [a] report [containing this statistic] because there was no solid research to back it up, and it turned out to be the work of two gay activists.” This web page reports similarly and in greater depth. And this page offered a report proporting to be from the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine, further detailing in depth how the 1/3 myth apparently arose. Representatives of gay organisations have also apparently repudiated the ‘statistic’, as has at least one major media company.

So do one third of suicides among teenagers occur because of their sexuality? Nobody really knows, it seems. It’s possible. But its possible that the number is higher or lower. Lots of things are possible. Much more reliable statistics do suggest that same-sex attracted teenagers commit suicide more frequently than opposite-sex attracted teenagers. And of course, that is sobering and sad. So it’s a shame that false claims circulate that cloud that reality, especially since this particular claim was exposed as false almost two decades ago. According to this webpage, even news outlets that are considered reputable, continued to circulate the myth for years afterwards.

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