Monday, 13 November 2000
Sexuality Issues Ignored By Suicide Prevention Planners
Christchurch advocacy group Rainbow Media Action applauds recent efforts to do something about the high levels of youth
suicide in New Zealand, but condemns the failure of health authorities to acknowledge the sexuality component in New
Zealand suicide statistics.
RMA spokesperson Nick Smith says: “The best research we have from overseas and in New Zealand estimates that young gay
men are suiciding or seriously attempting suicide at 4 to 6 times the rate of their heterosexual fellows (lesbian
statistics are harder to find but the evidence suggests they too have an elevated suicide rate).
“This is not because of any inherent weakness in homosexuals, but because of the adverse effects of homophobia. More
than a decade after homosexual law reform, New Zealand society still gives very few signals to our gay and lesbian youth
that they are OK.”
Smith says that many New Zealand High Schools, in particular, are still very unsafe places for young gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgendered people. “In the playground, sometimes even the classroom, people are bombarded with negative
messages about homosexuality. Studies show young gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons are victims of
bullying in higher proportion to their numbers and that they are often socially isolated at school. Other studies show
that disproportionately high numbers of homeless youth identify as gay or lesbian. Small wonder, then, that disturbingly
high numbers of young homosexual people fall into depression and the contemplation of suicide.”
Rainbow Media Action says that groups advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues have often met with a
deaf ear when trying to draw the attention of health promotion planners to the sexuality link in youth suicide. “We are
told ‘not to muddy the issue’ with queer politics, that people won’t want to listen if they think it’s a ‘gay thing’.
Or, we find that the mass of anecdotal evidence and experience is ignored because, until very recently, there were no
research statistics on gay youth suicide specific to New Zealand.
“The result is seen in the recent publicity about the new Youth Help Card suicide prevention programme in Christchurch.
Not only has the issue of sexuality been ignored as a potential risk factor, but the only specialist gay and lesbian
telephone helpline in Christchurch “gay and lesbian line” has not been listed. Rainbow Media Action understands that the
organisers of the Youth Help Card project had neither informed Gay and Lesbian line of the project nor sought its input.
(Gay and Lesbian Line can be reached on 379-4796).
“Authoritative American, British and Australian surveys reveal appalling poor health and suicide statistics for young
non-heterosexual people as a direct result of the prejudice they receive. Emerging New Zealand studies show the
situation in this country is just as concerning.
“Suicide has, until recently, been the invisible, unspoken-about tragedy of New Zealand’s youth. Authorities are now
waking up to the fact that people need to know and feel free to talk about these issues if these statistics are to be
reduced. But this progress must not stop at the closet door. Young people struggling to come to terms with a sexuality
that is different to the majority of their peers also need to learn that they are valued and accepted, and that there
are safe places for them too.”