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Suicide Prevention Month: The Marginalized

This month has been full of information, stories of those whose hearts are hurting, and opportunities for further growth. We've discussed basic education, our kids and youth in detail, and we've reached another vulnerable demographic group yet to be discussed: those who are socially, racially, and economically marginalized. They, along with many others, are impacted by suicide, suicide attempts, and suicide ideations. While this topic is heavy, it's imperative to keep communication flowing. That is how we save people. That is how we love people.

 

If you've read my post, My Pride After Pride | My HERstory, you're aware of the painful rejection I experienced as a result of coming out to my cheerleading squad about my then bisexual identity. I personally understand disappointment and narrow-mindedness from peers since growing up in a southern, smallish town. I also recognize that not everyone has the same story, and my hope is to shed light on their hurts as it relates to the possibility of suicide. Since my pride post explains that component of my story in further detail, I won't dwell there, but I want to begin to set the pace for where this story will lead us.

A bitter truth: rejection hurts. We're all aware of that on one level or another. Unfortunately, I have experienced this trauma from multiple groups of people in my life - friends, parents, a step-parent, and society in general. In one painful instance, I received a call from a blocked number while on vacation with my family. Regretfully, I made the decision to answer that call, and I was shockingly mocked by my peers for my sexuality. The caller had an audience, as I could hear them laughing in the background as he said to me, "this is 'such and such' sex toy shop. We were wondering if you needed a dildo." That call and the hysterical snickering on the other end of the phone are forever burned into my brain and heart. I've kept that story secretly tucked within me since I was fifteen, and I've learned that ridicule and invalidation have a way of staying with us.

I've encountered abrupt and senseless comments from others, including society in general. I've heard statements like, "you're too pretty to be gay," and I've been dismissed as a seemingly straight girl and woman my entire life. Invisibility stings and often leaves an impressionable wound our people's hearts. I know, because I'm one of them. Most of the events in my adolescence happened within a short span of one another, and I firmly believe that this, accompanied by other unresolved hurts, led to my suicidal tendencies and ideations.

So now, since being aware of this, how can we move toward a space of safety, security, and solace for our marginalized LGBTQ+ people? We have to face the staggering truth:

  • An article from the Williams Institute School of Law at UCLA recorded research in 2016 stating that 17% of LGBTQ+ adults had attempted suicide in their lifetimes, compared to 2.4% of the general U.S. population.

  • The same article indicates that LGBTQ+ individuals who underwent conversion therapy are at a higher risk of suicide than those who did not experience this outdated and horrendous version of therapy.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conclude that gay and bisexual men have a higher chance for developing Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Bipolar Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

  • The CDC also states that gay and bisexual men are also at a greater risk for substance abuse and suicide.

  • The Williams Institute and the U.S. Transgender Survey concluded that 51% of responders in 2019 who had experienced four instances of anti-transgender discrimination and violence - losing a job, eviction, homelessness, and physical attacks - reported attempting suicide. Nearly all (98%) had seriously considered suicide.

The last statistic is what stopped me dead in my tracks during my research. I'm confronted by my own experiences, and I know them intimately. I don't, however, know the deep pain of those who identify as transgender, and I don't want you to miss that data for the sake of simply being data: 98% of transgender individuals (people, humans) who reported discrimination had seriously considered suicide. That is heart-wrenching and worrisome. The conclusion with this serious information is that this group of people, my people, are bombarded with discriminatory acts, which leads to an increased suicide rate.

 

As my research progressed, I discovered information and data surrounding another marginalized group: people of color, including people of American Indian, and Hispanic ethnicities. These statistics, like those involving LGBTQ+ individuals, project their own heartbreaking truth that must be confronted:

  • According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), American Indian/Alaskan Natives were the highest ethnic group in 2019 to have serious thoughts of suicide, followed by Hispanic and White adults.

  • The SPRC also concludes that Black adults are at the highest risk for suicide attempts.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (OMH) states that in 2019 black females, grades 9-12, were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than non-Hispanic white females of the same age group.

  • OMH also reports that poverty levels drastically affect mental health status. Black or African Americans living below poverty level are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress.


I don't pretend to know what being a person of color feels like, but I am receptive of their stories and hurt. It's a blessing that I find my passion in speaking for those who are less fortunate and under privileged, and that will be my stance long after this month's topic has come to an end. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to feature a young man's story written in the book Just Keep Breathing: A Shocking Expose of Letters You Never Imagined a Generation Would Write:


"Dear Reggie,

My name is Carlos, and you came to X High School today! I was one of the people that had to stand up. I wanted to write to you and tell you how much your story and your presentation impacted me today. I was trying to hold back the tears because that was me. I was the one being bullied. Here's my story, and I hope you share this one day.

When I was younger, I was constantly harassed and bullied as a child, and the constant torture led me to make a life-altering desicion. When I turned 12 years old, I was initiated into a gang. A powerful notorious gang called the Latin Kings. I only joined to feel accepted and to stop my tormentors. I'm 18 now and did and seen things people can't imagine. I don't know if you're religious, but I recently started going to church and learned about the message you were trying to get across, and that's love!

Bullying destroyed my life beyond repair. I decided I don't want to be a gang member anymore. I quit about 2 weeks ago, but if you know anything about gangs, it's blood in blood out! They are looking for me and want to kill me, but I guess it's what I deserve, right? People look at me like I'm the scum of society, but even a cold hard gang member has a story of hurt and a dark past! Not all of us are lost causes. I'm sad I couldn't make my short breath of life count for something because that's what life is, a short breath, a vapor that disappears!

I know I don't have long to live because I can't walk out my house without fear, but I accepted my fate today. I just wish someone like you could have talked to me when I was younger. God bless you. Reggie, I want you to tell my story, and maybe you could prevent a kid from joining a gang and ruining his life like I did! I never wanted this life, and I wish I could change it all! I'm sad but not for myself. I caused this. But I'm sad for the child that me and my girlfriend are expecting. I probably won't be around for his or her birth, and it kills me inside. Another child growing up without a father. I don't want my child to know me as "Carlos the gang member," but I guess I can't help that!

I hope God loves me enough to save my soul because I belong in hell...but I saw how love can change a person and change the world. You proved to me that there is love. There is forgiveness. There is love in times of need, and when life is cold, there is a promise! Love is changing my life. I just wish I could be around longer and see my child grow up!

Don't quit on any child, Reggie, even a cold hearted gang member because even they are people with a lot of hurt! Thank you for what you do and thank you for visiting. You're a blessing. I wish I could see you again!

Carlos"


It is very probable that I'll never be able to read this story without getting teary-eyed. Carlos's recount of bullying, harassment, gang activity, and his despair over not raising his child are enough to make you feel helpless and full of passion toward justice. It is our duty as the loving people that we are to stand in the gap for those who are facing abominable treatment from societal pressure and acquired "norms". It's time that we break free from limiting and stigmatizing beliefs we assign to those who live, love, and look different than us. Acceptance is suicide prevention. Inclusion is suicide prevention.


You likely know and love someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community and/or a person of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences. Here are my best pieces of loving advise to those who are not:

  • Get to know them; not their identity or the hats they wear. THEM - their hearts and souls.

  • Inquire about their struggles without prying your way in. They will open up when they're ready.

  • If a person you love identifies as a gender and pronouns (she/he/they) that you aren't familiar with, don't misgender them out of ignorance or arrogance. Use their preferred gender and pronouns. They will thank you later.

  • Specific cultures have celebrations and traditions that belong to them. Let them have that space. Celebrate with them, but don't adopt it as your own.

  • This should go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway: do away with racial slurs and accents that are not part of your daily language, even in good fun.


The goal is to save people from suicide and help them live abundant lives. We can't do that adequately if we can't love them adequately. People are worth investing in, and they're worthy of beautiful, fulfilled lives. We have a responsibility to our marginalized people to hold space for them and stand with them regardless of our individual political and religious views. Love starts with selflessness, humility, and acceptance. This is how we save people. This is how we love people.


*If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services offer 24/7 support, are free, and confidential.*


 

Sources:

[1] Loyal, thisisloyal.com. “Suicide Prevention Month: A Summary of Data on LGBT Suicide.” Williams Institute, 22 Sept. 2020, williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/suicide-prevention-media-alert.

[2] “Mental Health for Gay and Bisexual Men | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/mental-health.htm. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.

[3] “Racial and Ethnic Disparities | Suicide Prevention Resource Center.” Suicide Prevention Resource Center, sprc.org/scope/racial-ethnic-disparities. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.

[4] “Mental and Behavioral Health - African Americans - The Office of Minority Health.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=24. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.

[5] Dabbs, Reggie, and John Driver. Just Keep Breathing: A Shocking Expose’ of Letters You Never Imagined a Generation Would Write. 1st ed., vol. 1, Thomas Nelson, 2016

pages 77-79

[6] “Home.” National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Accessed 10 Sept. 2021.

[7] “Crisis Text Line | Text HOME to 741741 Free, 24/7 Crisis Counseling.” Crisis Text Line, Wide Eye, 2013, www.crisistextline.org.

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