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The Effects of Social Institutions on Homosexual Youth

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Society and its social institutions contribute significantly to the problem of homosexual youth suicide. They discriminate and stigmatize the homosexual population and fail to recognize the number of youth who have a gay or lesbian orientation. The environment in which these young people must survive is frequently hostile and condemning. It is difficult enough being simply an adolescent within the broader context of society; but to add to this time of transition to adulthood the antagonism of society increases self-destructive feeling and suicidal behavior. Adolescence is a time of physical, emotional, and intellectual changes as well as sexual development. Social skills are learned from the family, place of worship, schools and youth organizations.


THE FAMILY. Studies have shown to support the premise that there is a predisposition to homosexuality and that this predisposition begins to emerge in adolescence. It should not be surprising to anyone that gay youth choose to lead a double life because of the negative, homophobic attitudes and remarks in their environment and their fear of rejection and/or abuse.

The family unit is a key factor to individual development. A sense of family is inherent in the reinforcement and support brought about through the family unit. Loss of this sense of belonging is devastating to any youth. For a homosexual youth, the thought of rejection or the reality of rejection by the family unit because of sexual orientation sets that youth up for suicidal thoughts. And should that youth come from a dysfunctional or abusive family, the risk increases.

RELIGION. Religious beliefs are a strong motivating factor in gay youth suicide. Homosexuality is often depicted as a sin, morally wrong and evil. Families frequently turn to the place of worship for guidance and understanding; yet many religions continue to condemn this behavior as immoral based on their interpretation of religious writings. Boswell (1980) reports that intolerance for homosexuals has its Western roots in the Middle Ages and confusion of religious beliefs with popular prejudices resulted. An example cited by Boswell is that belief in Christian Scriptures to condemn homosexuality also contains condemnation of hypocrisy, yet in much stronger terms. But Western society has not segregated or oppressed hypocrites nor proclaimed hypocrisy unnatural and punished it by death. (pp. 6-7).

Dr. Jimmy R. Allen, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and whose son is gay, stated in 1993, "It complicates the issue when the element of shame or guilt can be added to justify our frozen attitudes of condemnation." He went on to state, "Suffocating beneath the load of those hostile and angry encounters, quietly in anguish and pain, are parents and children of faith who are rejected and blamed because sons and daughters are having to cope with sexual desires for their gender." For youth who maintain their faith even though they cannot alter their sexual orientation face an unsolvable internal conflict without the support of religious leaders. For the youth, suicide will appear to be a way out of the dilemma their religion has placed them into.

THE SCHOOL. Another risk factor for youth suicide is the environment of school. There are two factors in play: attendance is compulsory and physical and/or verbal abuse can be unchecked. The intolerant attitudes of school children begin in elementary school and become increasingly worse as they grow into adolescence. The immaturity on this topic is directly related to the schools' failure to educate our youth on the subject of sexuality. Access to positive information is generally restricted or banned.

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After 26 years retiring from the Navy, then another 14 years as a psychotherapist retiring again, I have finally found time to be more active.
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