Re-examining gay Mormon youth and suicide: What does the data say?

salt-lake-city-downtown-2[1]Do young Latter-day Saints, and especially gay youth, commit suicide at a higher rate than other youth in the US? The short answer: with the data we have, we don’t know. So what do we know for sure?

The Mormon teen suicide problem

Some readers may have read a recent interview in the Huffington Post with Wendy Williams Montgomery, a Californian mom and LGBT advocate. In the interview, Montgomery refers to a widely recognized problem within Mormon culture: the high rate of suicides among gay youth. “Mormons,” Montgomery asserts, “have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country.”

Over the last few years, the idea that Mormons have a problem with teen suicide, especially among gay youth, has become common wisdom. In 2012, a Reuters article highlighted the issue of gay teen suicide in Utah. The Huffington Post has featured the issue multiple times, as in a 2012 post. High-profile Mormon critic John Dehlin frequently discusses gay teen suicide among Mormons, and recently referred to the phenomenon as an epidemic. His characterization seems to fit the general impression: Mormons have a special problem with suicide among gay teens.

Missing data

There is no question that gay teen suicide is a reality among Mormon youth. In many cases, we have heard their stories, either through media or personal experience. Fortunately, we are more aware of this reality than we were in the past.

Unfortunately, however, these stories seem to be accompanied, more and more frequently, by statistical claims that are not supported by data. Mrs. Montgomery’s assertion that Mormons have the highest gay teen suicide rate in the country is unsourced in the original interview, and other blogs and outlets making similar claims are also missing sources. I surveyed all the government and health data I could find on youth suicide in the United States, and was unable to find any agency that collects public data by religion or sexual orientation (data so specific would be very difficult to collect). In fact, the American Association of Suicidology’s LGBT Resource Sheet notes, “to date, there is no empirical data regarding the number of completed suicides within the LGBT community.” The claim appears to be fabricated.

Other claims to the effect that Mormons, or Utahns, have a unique or unusually acute problem with gay teen suicide, or even teen suicide, cannot be supported by any data I can find.

The data we do have

Much of the interest in Mormons and teen suicide seems to originate from a 2006 article in the Deseret News, a newspaper owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The article pointed out a few statistics about suicide that would have been surprising to most readers at the time. First, that Utah had the highest rate of suicide among males age 15-24. Second, that Utah had the 11th highest overall suicide rate in the United States. And third, that the youth suicide rate in Utah had tripled over the preceding half-century (in fact, this is true across the United States). The newspaper didn’t cite its sources, but all of the categories of statistics they refer to are available through the CDC and other federal sources and appear to be genuine.

What else do we know? The data in that report is now nine years old, so it’s worth taking stock of the current reality. I’ve collected a set of more recent figures below, from public data and representative surveys:

  • Utah’s suicide rate among people age 15-24 is 9th highest in the United States, among 47 states with reliable data (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah’s suicide rate among males age 15-24 is 7th highest, among 46 states with reliable data (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah’s suicide rate among females age 15-24 cannot be reported as the number of cases is smaller than 20 (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah’s overall suicide rate is 5th highest in the United States (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah is 29th out of 40 states with available data for the rate of high school students who have attempted suicide (not completed suicide) (CDC, 2013)
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Utahns age 10-17. (Utah Department of Health, 2012)
  • Across 9 sites surveyed (all in the Midwestern or Eastern US and California), lesbian and gay high school students had a rate of attempted suicide that was approximately 4 times higher than for straight students (CDC, 2011)
  • A representative survey of students in Grades 7-12 across the US using the Add-Health database found that Mormon gay teens reported significantly less depression and fewer suicidal thoughts than their nonreligious peers. (Add-Health, 2010)
  • The same survey found that religious gay teens had a lower attempted suicide rate than nonreligious gay teens (the number of cases did not allow for statistical significance, however).   [Update: These last two statistics came via an author and are unpublished. I have not been able to independently verify them, as I don’t have access to most of the Add-Health dataset. Take with a grain of salt! Thanks to Mike in the comments section for doing some digging!]

The following are additional relevant results from a small non-representative 2009 survey conducted by the Family Acceptance Project and affiliated researchers, included at the suggestion of commenters below.

  • Gay youth who experienced high levels of family rejection were 3.4 times as likely to attempt suicide, 2.8 times as likely to experience depression, and 1.7 times as likely to use illicit drugs than gay youth who experienced low levels of rejection. Note: Unfortunately, the researchers who wrote the original journal article misinterpreted odds ratio as relative risks, and accordingly reported higher numbers for the foregoing statistics (specifically 8, 6 and 3 times instead of the above figures). This appears to be a good faith error–misinterpretation of the odds ratio (a very unintuitive statistic) is extremely common, even among researchers. The journal article is restricted, but available here to those with institutional access. General information about misinterpreting odds ratios is here.

To the best of my knowledge, these statistics are the closest we can come to answering the statistical questions surrounding gay teen suicide among Mormons, or within Utah. Specifically targeted data on completed or attempted suicide among gay Mormon teens simply isn’t available.

The data speak well enough for themselves, but it’s worth pointing out that none of the relevant data points appear to justify an unusual suspicion about Utah (or, by extension, Mormons). This is especially true since the surprisingly strong link between high altitude and suicide rates has become well established. Among high-altitude states in the Rocky Mountain West, Utah appears to have overall rates within the average range, and youth rates slightly lower than the average. We have no empirical data specific to Utah for gay and lesbian youth, but we can assume that like other states, the rate of attempted suicide, and presumably completed suicide, is considerably higher than for straight youth.

It’s also worth noting that Utah’s overall suicide rate has increased relative to other states since 2006, while its youth suicide rate has fallen in comparison to other states. Furthermore, the Add-Health dataset mentioned above suggests that Mormon gay youth are relatively less at risk for suicide than nonreligious gay youth. [Update – I haven’t been able to independently verify this. See above.]

Conclusions

While only systematic recordkeeping and representative surveys can answer the questions we’re most interested in, we shouldn’t ignore anecdotal evidence about suicide. The sense among many concerned observers in Utah and elsewhere that the situation is bad and getting worse probably reflects an important reality. Youth suicide in the US has quickly gotten worse over the decades, and a disproportionate number of these suicides across the US, including within Utah, are among gay youth. Combined, these two trends might be giving an alarming impression to those concerned about the well-being of gay teens; an impression made locally that could be transformed into misplaced claims, such as Mrs. Montgomery’s. So her hypothesis–that Mormons in particular have an unusually severe problem with gay teen suicide—could possibly be an observer’s local interpretation of nationwide trends, but it cannot be supported or rejected by the data itself, as far as I can tell.

The hypothesis cannot be confirmed or rejected by theory, either. Many advocates who highlight the issue of suicide among Mormons do so within the framework of a particular narrative, at the center of which is the idea that Latter-day Saint sexual values are harmful. Since there is no data to support the assertion of abnormal suicide rates, the theory seems to be doing all the work. But there are other theories that could be put forth—Latter-day Saints could just as well hypothesize that robust Mormon families and supportive faith communities lead to lower rates of suicide among gay youth. But this would also be unjustified; it would be best for everyone to refrain from attempting to explain phenomena for which there isn’t evidence in the first place.

Those who believe in Latter-day Saint sexual values and those who do not should be able to agree: one youth suicide is too many, including among gay youth. Even if the Mormon problem is not unique, it is still a problem. We don’t need statistics, and certainly not unsourced statistics, to tell us this.

101 thoughts on “Re-examining gay Mormon youth and suicide: What does the data say?

  1. Data is highly important tool to gauge the severity of problems. However, there are secondary purposes to this article, which establishes a set of implications based on an underlying political/social orientation. This article creates an association between Mrs. Montgomery and John Dehlin who will most likely be shortly excommunicated. In short, this is boundary maintenance by North Star to clarify among its members which individuals within the Mormon LGBT/SSA community are acceptable to follow or not. This piece is more of a response to a recent gay Mormon suicide that occurred within the last week and Mrs. Montgomery’s subsequent advocacy of that event, as much it is about her remarks in the Huffington Post Interview.

    • This isn’t a fair comment. I don’t have any connection to North Star, and I was unaware of the recent suicide you referred to when I began writing this article (although a friend from Utah did tell me about it while I was in the process). I did not consciously connect Wendy Williams Montgomery with the idea of excommunication. In fact, I made a specific effort to write this article in a sensitive, low-intensity way, in the hope of not creating some sort of battle between two ideological sides. My intentions are transparent.

      You should have asked me if I had secondary motives if you were genuinely curious; I don’t mind being challenged when I’m challenged respectfully. But by confidently making speculative claims about me–false claims–you’ve made it a little difficult for us to have a good faith discussion.

  2. What was the point of this article? Are you trying to say things are okay? That they aren’t as bad as Wendy says? I don’t see where this really furthers the conversation. Wendy mentioned that Utah had the highest gay suicide rate. Let’s assume she’s wrong and your best case scenario is right. Utah is still in the worst 20% in the country. Her point was that there is a problem. This article doesn’t dispel that notion; it shows that the problem may not be the worst in the nation. That hardly seems like compelling enough evidence to stop trying to fix things like Wendy is. This seems like a cheap shot that isn’t doing much more than trying to discredit a woman who is doing a fine job fighting for marginalized youth.

    • I made an effort not to send the message that everything was okay, or that there was not a problem with gay teen suicide among Mormons. I concluded the article: “Those who believe in Latter-day Saint sexual values and those who do not should be able to agree: one youth suicide is too many, including among gay youth. Even if the Mormon problem is not unique, it is still a problem. We don’t need statistics, and certainly not unsourced statistics, to tell us this.”

      The point of this article was not to discredit Wendy. I believe we should be highly conscious of suicides among gay teens in our communities and that we should be reaching out to them. The point was that we shouldn’t fabricate statistical claims. Non-religious gay teens in Utah could be struggling the most, and maybe we’re not reaching out to them enough–we don’t know. It’s hard to understand the issue fully, but unsupported statistics just don’t help anyone.

  3. Im interested in your perspective of youth homelessness in Utah. Particularly the proportion of those homeless who identify as LGBTIQA, and how that proportion relates to the percentage of LGBTIQA youth in the population who are not homeless.
    It seems to me that if the percentage of LGBTIQA homeless youth is higher than the percentage of LGBTIQA in the Utah population, then we have clear evidence that there is a major major problem with the way LGBTIQA kids are treated in Utah, and inferences could be drawn about the impact of Mormonism.

    • Thanks for bringing this up. I haven’t taken a close look at youth homelessness, but that might be a topic I look into in the future. From what I’ve seen, data on youth homelessness are more difficult to come by than data on suicide.

  4. I did something interesting. I clicked on the link to the Huffington Post article from which you assert Wendy Montgomery made a statement regarding suicide rates among gay LDS youth.

    Guess what? Your assertion is wrong. Oh, and when you put something in quotation mark, it looks like you are quoting someone. You said:

    “Mormons,” Montgomery asserts, “have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country.”

    When in actuality she said the following in her Huffington Post interview:

    “There’s several comments like that. From some of the LGBT centers and homeless shelters in Utah, we can track many of the suicides and the homeless rates.

    The average is one gay youth suicide a week in Utah alone. And there’s usually one kid kicked out of their home a week for being gay in Utah.

    The hospitals there treat 2–3 suicide attempts a day. It’s hard to know if all of these are LGBT-related because the parents, especially if they’re Mormon, won’t admit to it. So it’s really difficult to have accurate statistics. But the homeless shelters out there track these statistics as closely as they can, and the weeks that comments like “marriage is between a man or a woman” are made or something comes from our top leadership about traditional marriage or anything that feels anti-gay, the suicide and homeless rates dramatically jump.”

    Did you see that?
    “So it’s really difficult to have accurate statistics.” That’s what Wendy Montgomery said.

    This is pretty shoddy man. I agree with you (and apparently Wendy Montgomery does as well) that we don’t have good statistics on the issue of LDS gay teen suicide; I’ve researched this myself as well.

    But isn’t one gay teen suicide too many?

    • The quote I gave was genuine. Here it is in context: “Those are the messages that need to get out — because they don’t feel welcome at church, and there’s not really a place for them. It’s heartbreaking. Mormons have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country. That is appalling to me. We say that we are Christ’s Church, but the Christ I know would never be okay with this.”

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/26/wendy-williams-montgomery-lgbt-mormons_n_6377710.html

      As for the other quotes, I didn’t examine everything she said in the interview because my focus wasn’t her interview–it was the widespread perception that Mormons have a special problem with gay teen suicide. I didn’t include the other claims she made because I have no way of knowing if they’re true; instead I used whatever public data or survey data I could find. I did notice that she acknowledged the difficulty of having accurate statistics. I avoided including that quote because I didn’t want to appear to be proving my own point with her words or trying to highlight her inconsistency.

  5. Michael, you didn’t read the article very well. I just directly copied the following words from the Huffington Post:

    “Mormons have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country.” This is a direct quote from her. The sentence is in the 15th paragraph of the article. Tom has not been disingenuous here. Wendy has. She is repeating a lie that she has heard over and over. The fact is that there is no way to substantiate her statement, something she admits to. This makes her, like many other advocates for the gay agenda, a highly unreliable source. Her statements that the prophets of God should simply shut up about issues she disagrees with speak for themselves.

    Any suicide is one too many. As someone who has nearly committed suicide myself, I have compassion for those who make this very difficult choice. It doesn’t matter whether they are gay or not. Well do I remember the complex emotions I went through on the second darkest night of my life. Until you have held a bottle of pills in your hand and are seriously contemplating taking them all, you have no clue. It was only by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit that I am here. My bishop saved my life that night. Fortunately, I have moved beyond this chapter of my life.

    This is an issue that should never be politicized, especially by deluded activists who admit that they are not telling the truth.

    • Politicized? Do you know Wendy’s story? Take a little time to research it. She’s no “deluded activist”, she’s a mother who spoke-up. And I applaud her courage. She puts herself out there and doesn’t hide behind anonymous Internet attacks.

      • The only reason I withheld my name is because of my references to my struggles with suicide. It is still highly stigmatized in our society. And yes, I know Wendy’s story. I’ve followed her difficult journey for a long time. I’ve also seen other parents struggle with the same issues. A good question to ask yourself would be why you assumed that I had taken no time to do research.

        Speaking up does not make one courageous. Speaking up about the truth does. The fact that she admits to spreading false information says a great deal about her.

        • Calling Wendy a “deluded activist” is a pretty good indicator that you didn’t know her story. So I apologize. It was a personal attack and not ignorance on your part.

          I do not want to seem insensitive to your struggle with suicide. However, excusing your anonymity because of stigma seems interesting. Wendy battles stigma every day with a fearless courage. Or is it just delusion?

  6. If you are making that case that LDS sexual policy is not harmful, I will say flat out that you are wrong. For the Church to say that being gay (when I say “gay”, that’s inclusive of the entire LBGTQ spectrum) is not a choice and then telling people that acting upon their urges is a sin is harmful because their only option is a life of celibacy to remain in good standing with the Church. See this study, which links forced celibacy with depression: http://www.m.webmd.com/men/features/sexless-in-the-city. Let’s also acknowledge that some local leaders see holding hands with the same sex or dating with no sexual activity “acting upon” urges. Gays are held to a different standard which separates and marginalizes them.

    Perhaps you should step back from statistics and ask gay members and former members about their experience in the Church. I have spoken to many and their experience has been almost universally problematic. I know you want to bang on Wendy for using bad statistics. Even if she did, her point is still correct. Attempts to gloss that over are frankly part of the problem.

    • Your link seems to be dealing with people who have never been able to find a mate/spouse for social reasons, as opposed to people who forgo sexuality for religious reasons. I don’t think you can say whether Wendy’s point (about Mormons having the highest rate of gay teen suicide) is correct or not. Neither of us know. Sometimes our intuitions about complex realities are mistaken. Where we can agree is that there are very high rates of gay teen suicide in our society, and that we should be reaching out to these youth.

    • I’m a little concerned you didn’t even read that webmd article. It says nothing of “forced” celibacy, it talks about “involuntary” celibacy. And this involuntariness is not caused by an outside organization forcing them to do anything, it’s caused by ” people who, for one reason or another, have put their sex life on hold — maybe they were shy and plagued with social anxieties when they were young, or perhaps they were just concentrating on school and then their career — or were saddled with other responsibilities or issues that took priority in their life at the time. By the time they decide to open their life to a partner, Luloff says they can feel so far behind their peers in social skills or even sexual prowess, it drives them further away from achieving their relationship goals.”

      Furthermore, “Not having sex is really more about not having a partner — and not being connected to someone in an intimate way — so you really have to look beyond the physical act of sex to understand what might be the underlying factor that’s preventing you from connecting to another on an intimate level”

      “Sometimes not having a partner causes us to feel depressed, which then drives us further from our goal of meeting someone. But sometimes the opposite is true — the depression or the self-esteem problems come first, and celibacy is simply the end result; it’s a symptom and not the source of the problem.”

      “If you are unhappy because society makes you feel abnormal or unhealthy without a sex life, then don’t be swayed by that argument — as long as you feel good about your life, that’s all that counts.”

      “Being celibate, whether voluntary or involuntary, does not preclude you from living a happy, creative, or fulfilled life.”

      • First of all, “involuntary” and “forced” are synonyms. Secondly, your response takes the same approach as Tom’s piece- try to get hung-up on little details and ignore the bigger issue. Involuntary or forced celibacy has been linked to depression. Can some people make that policy work? Sure. Is it generally unhealthy? Yes.

        Also, sexuality isn’t just about sex. Everyone knows that. I’m not sure the point of posting that. The fact is, however, in the LDS Church any act of intimacy (even just holding hands) can be grounds for disciplinary action for gay youth. That is 100% unacceptable.

        • Synonyms are words that have the same or -nearly the same- meaning. ‘Spontaneous’ and ‘unintentional’ are also synonyms for ‘involuntary’, yet no one would think of ‘spontaneous’ and ‘forced’ as having the same meaning. ‘Forced’ and ‘involuntary’ have similar meanings but different connotations. Since ‘involuntary’ implies something that occurred without intent, and ‘forced’ implies compulsory means, the differences between these two words in the context of your quoted article is quite important.

    • Cory if you are allowed to use science and webmd articles to support your point, why isn’t Tom? Why should Tom have to step back from the statistics and rely on personal and anecdotal information when he is trying to convey his point of view. Just because Tom has a religious bias doesn’t mean it isn’t a logical conclusion, especially if the statistics validate it.

  7. Oh no… I always hate grammar nazis and today is the day I become one…
    The title should be what DO the data say (data is plural)
    I only say this because I have been corrected COUNTLESS times by my professors hahaha!
    Just a suggestion to make the title look more professional 🙂

    On a better note, thank you for this article. It’s very wise to clarify the data and make sure that unfounded claims aren’t being made. You are correct about the link between high altitude and higher than average suicide rates (happens in all mountain states). That being said, I hope we are doing everything possible to prevent teen, LGBT, and teen LGBT suicides that may stem from mormon culture, which I’m sure aren’t as inflated as some would suggest, but I’m also sure are still higher than normal.

    • You’re totally right about my grammar, haha. At this point, though, I think I’ll leave it and embrace my mistake. Thanks for your comment. I agree we should do everything we can to help these youth.

  8. I hope you realize the harm you are causing though your article. In the last paragraph you try to save yourself by claiming that one suicide is too much and you are just classifying unsupported data. Well, the evidence is all around. Your article is justifying an ambivalence toward the issue. Remember that as a church, LDS members should focus on people not numbers. Wendy Montgomery wasn’t trying to point out her brilliance for numerical data and facts, she was focusing on the disenfranchised individual. Christ didn’t support his parables with strict sources and data, he turned to the scriptures and showed care and understanding for difficult situations. I really am disgusted by the way you presented this article. By pushing the focus from away from Utah Mormons we disassociate ourselves from the problem and therefore we seek no solution. This is evidenced in the fact that you have no solution or advice to help gay youth. Our doctrine can indeed hurt people. That is just common sense. There is much more we could be doing to help the cause then personally attacking an individual’s sources to a real problem. I honestly think your post will do more harm than good in helping to save lives.

    • “Our doctrine can indeed hurt people. That is just common sense.”

      I don’t think this is common sense. Gay and lesbian youth commit suicide at very high rates even in progressive jurisdictions. I understand the appeal of the narrative that conservative sexual morality hurts people, and the claim that Mormon doctrine is causing gay teen suicide, but it’s a non-trivial claim to make, and there isn’t evidence for it. Surely you don’t think we should assume it is the case–especially when the Add-Health data suggests that gay Mormon teens have fewer suicidal thoughts than non-religious teens. There’s more to the story. I have not personally attacked Wendy, but I did point out that the claim she made is unsupported.

      Please don’t tell me I’m justifying ambivalence on suicide. I haven’t done that. I don’t know what all the answers are, but I know we should be reaching out to gay teens. And I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best thing we can offer to anyone who is facing challenges, including suicidal thoughts.

    • Faulty (or absent) evidence can backfire and eventually hurt the cause that one is trying to support.
      The kind of feedback that Tom is providing is very important and, in fact, is helpful to LDS-LGBT folks who are suffering. It can, in the long run, strengthen Wendy’s position and her cause.
      (This is true even if Tom were being bigoted, which he is not being.)
      Mormon Church leaders have, themselves, been guilty of perpetuating “evidence” to supporting their religion, evidence which turns out to be nothing of the sort and ends up discrediting the Church.
      Let us who are demanding course corrections from the Mormon Church be swift to make corrections ourselves. Let’s be swifter!

  9. Tom, we do agree there. Where we won’t agree, I’m sure, is that there is a problem in how the Church treats gay members. To me, it is completely unfair to have a different set of rules for gay youth and straight youth. A straight youth can hold hands with their boyfriend or girlfriend and not worry about their membership in the Church. They can kiss someone and not worry about the welfare of their souls.

    Why not have clear language that gay and straight youth will have the same rules with respect to their sexual morality?

    • While this is a bit of a different discussion, you’re right, I don’t agree with you there. I think the Lord’s standards of morality are ordered toward eternal marriage, and apply to everyone the same way. The structure of marriage as a union of sexually complementary spouses is integral to its purpose and meaning, so I can’t hope for that to change.

      • Very clever trying to sneak “sexually complementary” into the discussion. That implies design in God’s plan. What it conveniently denies is that the Church teaches that gay people are born the way they are. Which leads to the question- if God made people gay, why are we trying to punish gay people for that?

        • I wasn’t being sneaky. Marriage is what it is. Sexuality is for marriage and not the other way around. Certainly, this is part of God’s design, and it is not a punishment. I’m going to leave this discussion here.

  10. What is your personal opinion on gay rights? Do you believe that there is anything inherently wrong with Mormon teens who identify as LBGT?

    • Thanks for the question. No, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with anyone, including gay teens. I’ve really come to appreciate MormonsandGays.org, which is an official site of the church. I’m fully supportive of the position offered there: “The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

  11. Tom,
    Gay teens commit suicide everywhere. Yes, you have that correct. If you really want to know statistics about gay suicide within the LDS population: TALK TO THOSE PARENTS WHO HAVE LGBT KIDS. You are making sweeping statements (just as you criticize Wendy for doing). Wendy is in the trenches. She KNOWS these people. She grieves with them, she supports them. She receives messages from numerous at-the-end-of-their-rope youth every day. Your article, far from helping is just as likely to be a part of the problem, possibly even another death. One of your well indoctrinated LDS readers is likely to come to the conclusion that their son or daughter is not affected by the harmful LDS rhetoric and continue on in their ill-informed way: pressuring kids to live lives they cannot bear. Raising awareness of what is REALLY going on, outside the glossy pages of the Ensign and church videos, are the only way the general LDS population will come to see and know the truth. You just joined the LDS propaganda machine. And, from a mother of a son who tried to commit suicide and a person who works suicide prevention for LGBT(MANY, MANY LDS) youth, I will tell you one thing: You are not part of the solution here today. So much for one death being too many….

    • The rate of teen suicide in the US has more than tripled since two generations ago. Gay teens across the US are roughly four times more likely to commit suicide than straight teens. Also, we are much more aware of sexual minorities than we used to be. I wonder if all these trends together could lead to an impression among people who have personal experience that gay teen suicide is only a problem, or especially a problem, within our own communities. But this impression would be misguided on its own. With respect, one parent can’t know what’s going on across the United States and within every religious (or non-religious) group from their own experiences. Personal experience carries great weight, but perhaps less scope. I do not dismiss your experience for what it is, but you cannot claim a special knowledge of population statistics in the US because of it. There are many other stories we haven’t heard–stories that can often be illuminated by looking at the data.

      Rereading my article, I really don’t think I’ve made sweeping statements. I’ve tried to avoid saying anything I couldn’t back up. I have no doubt that Wendy’s beliefs and motivations come from a place of very personal experience. I know that many gay Mormon teens have attempted or committed suicide–certainly this is too many. We should be engaged in reaching out to these youth, regardless of whether our problem is unique or not. Let’s agree on that.

      • Tom, thanks for making the edits. I think we still have plenty that we disagree about, but I appreciate your honest attempts to respond to criticism.

  12. Wow, a lot of heat in the comments but not a lot of light. If we really want to make a difference, then we need to understand what causes suicide, how to spot the signs, and what interventions (if any) are effective in reducing suicide. Just calling people names and blaming them for the deaths of people they have never even met doesn’t seem to me to advance the cause much. I don’t see how that will save many lives. I can imagine that what I have to say here will cause even more anger, but like Tom Stringham tried to do in his post, I’m going to try to ground my discussion here in data.

    I myself have examined the data that you can get, as Tom says, in the CDC’s morbidity and mortality reports. Anyone can download the Excel file and with good Excel skills you can extract a lot of data. I did this a number of years ago, and found the same thing Tom did, that Utah doesn’t have a remarkably high suicide rate for male (or female, for that matter) teens. Epidemiologists don’t really understand regional variations in suicide rate (altitude is postulated as one, access to guns another, but no one really knows). Compound this with the problem of understanding suicide at all. Can we really understand what drove a person to commit such an unfortunate act, when they are dead and we can’t ask them. Even if they leave a note, that may not be dispositive.

    Let me go straight to the punch and then do a more nuanced discussion below. The only study I am aware of that looked at suicide in the LDS Church was a cooperative study between the LDS Church and the Utah Department of Health. It did not specifically examine the sexuality of the decedents, but it did assess the impact of religious activity on suicide. The study is old, but no one has done a similar study with any similar rigor. It found that active LDS youth were 7 times less likely to commit suicide, and even less active Latter-day Saints had a lower suicide rate than their nonmember peers in Utah. Rather than being harmful, religion seems to play a protective role rather than a damaging one. This makes sense when you consider that the known correlates to suicidality are substance abuse, relationships gone bad (breakups, divorce), and clinical depression. Since religious people, and particularly LDS people, are known to have higher quality relationships, less substance abuse, and are generally happier than the general population, it makes sense that Church affiliation would be protective rather than harmful, if you can cast aside your biases and preconceptions. The study itself is not online; you can look it up if you have access through a university in the American Journal of Epidemiology 2002;155:413-419.

    And to the implicit belief of many of the commenters, that if the Church would simply embrace and encourage gay sexual expression this “epidemic” of suicide would suddenly cease, there are reasons to be skeptical of that too. In Denmark, a fairly secular society and renowned for its tolerance of homosexuals and many others, gays and lesbians in registered partnership still have a suicide rate three times higher than the general population. (See: American Journal of Psychiatry (2003, vol 160, pp. 765-772), “Suicide Risk in Relation to Socioeconomic Demographic, Psychiatric and Familial Factors: A National Register-Based Study of All Suicides in Denmark, 1981-1997”) We don’t know about single gay and lesbian people since they weren’t broken out, but it would be surprising if they fare better than the partnered ones.

    So, what DO we know about preventing or reducing suicide? Not much. But what we do know, I can tell you your commenters won’t like. There is an excellent discussion of this in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Tipping Point which works through these thorny issues. What I believe after studying the issue is that suicide is a kind of “mind computer virus” which creates faulty thinking, and it seems to spread to minds susceptible to it by talking about suicide. Gladwell cites studies showing increases in suicide after press reports of other suicides, and increases in suicides in high schools after one teen commits suicide. So it seems clear, to me at least, that talking about suicide likely causes more suicide. Everyone who is beating the drum here, there and everywhere about gay and lesbian youth suicides, they very well could be contributing to the problem they decry, planting and spreading the very idea they say they want to eliminate. (See pages 216-250 in that book to see what I’m talking about.)

    • Thanks for the comment. I wasn’t aware of most of your information. The 2002 study by the LDS Church and the Utah Department of Health was new to me. It’s probably too old to be very helpful right now, but the conclusions sound pretty stark. The same goes for the study about suicide in Denmark. I agree with you, though: we really don’t know a whole lot about suicide.

  13. jbennion check this for information on religiosity and suicide rates. The data appears rather inconclusive if you consider multiple studies. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/155/5/413.full. This is also interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_among_LGBT_youth. In that wiki page, there is this gem, “The Family Acceptance Project’s research has demonstrated that “parental acceptance, and even neutrality, with regard to a child’s sexual orientation” can bring down the attempted suicide rate.” To me, this validates the work Wendy is doing.

    As far as your point about discussing suicide maybe being a self-fulfilling prophecy- I’ve seen that data and pretty much agree with it. So we have to be responsible about discussing it. I’m not sure the best way to do that. I am sure that silence is NOT the best option.

  14. Oh my gosh! This whole conversation has left my head spinning! You are all going off subject in so many different directions that have nothing to do with a higher suicide rate in Utah or among gay Mormon youth. Now that FINALLY a few are looking at the issue but unfortunately are examining it like the blind men describing an elephant.

    I have been warning this was coming for two and a half decades. Go to the core issue and you will find exactly what “researchers” like the fellow who recently attributed suicide to high altitude (until I read this article I had missed any evidence of that theory being proven! NOT!). Since the day I brought a news crew out from San Francisco in the early 90’s to do a story on the high rate of use of antidepressants in Utah, those peddling these drugs – the drug pushers in white coats have consistently tried to place the blame for the high use upon the Mormon Church and anything else they can think of, including altitude, rather than accept the responsibility that is theirs for their wild prescribing practices. (And before anyone blasts me for simply calling them “drug pushers” perhaps you should read what Isaiah, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had to say about them.)

    Utah has long been one of the highest users of antidepressants. You can find that data anywhere. Mormons made Forbes last year as the religious group with the highest rate of use among all Christians. Naturally it is going to follow that gay Mormons also have a high use, but their rate would be even higher because the use of antidepressants among the gay population is very high. One gay psychologist I discussed this with in 2008 voiced his observance of this as well when he went to a gathering of a group of gay men. He said he was curious to know and asked them how many were on antidepressants among this group of 16 men. Out of all of them he was the only one no longer using an antidepressant. Yes, even he had taken antidepressants in the past.

    When you keep that in mind and look at the Black Box Warnings issued by the FDA in 2005 and 2007 on a doubling of suicidal compulsions (suicidal ideation) in youth under 25 using antidepressants it should be simple math to see where the increase in suicide is coming from. In fact in the late 90’s the non-member attorney filing the majority of wrongful death cases for antidepressant-induced suicides called me to ask if there was any way to do a survey among members of the Mormon Church to find out how many were on antidepressants when they died because he was absolutely shocked to see how many cases he was filing for Mormons as opposed to other religions. He also asked how a church that recommends abstaining from coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol could possibly condone using such powerful mind altering drugs as these antidepressants are. (Keep in mind he knows more about the drugs and their dangers as he reads the internal documents on the drugs in gathering evidence for court cases and hears court testimony about them that FEW ever hear.)

    In reply to his question I could only say that generally to a fault Mormons are too trusting because we believe in the goodness of people and have trouble believing others could be so deceptive and that we too have been just as deceived as everyone else about these drugs as John prophesied in Rev. 18:23-24 that all would be deceived about prescription drugs (sorcery/pharmakia) in our day.

    These antidepressants CAUSE suicide. When you impair (inhibit) serotonin metabolism (reuptake) impulsive suicide or murder, depression, mania, anxiety, etc., etc., is what you get. The research has been out there for decades to demonstrate that the hypothesis behind the drugs is backwards. (See: http://www.drugawareness.org/dr-ann-blake-tracys-september-13-2004-to-the-fda/) Dr. Candace Pert, the doctor whose discovery of receptor binding made all these drugs possible, came out in 1997 in TIME magazine to publicly state that we were not being told the truth about antidepressants. She referred to them as “monsters” which she regretted ever having contributed in any way to their development. She then served with me in our organization to educate about these drugs until her passing last year.

    Many Mormon families have received settlements in their wrongful death suits for the loss of their loved ones but along with those settlements come “gag” orders so that if these widows or widowers or childless parents or orphans say anything about receiving a settlement the payments to them will stop. Those gag orders should be made illegal because this information, as one honest judge put it, is a public safety issue. If someone sticks their hand into a fire and somehow the burn is concealed so that you see no damage from that action how do you learn that sticking your hand into a fire can hurt you? Cause and effect should not be hidden.

    One reason people continue to defend the drugs is not because of any benefit (The studies revealed in 2008 which had been done by the drug makers yet hidden from patients and even the FDA showed the drugs demonstrate no more benefit than a placebo does) but it is because of the horrible withdrawal associated with the drugs which they are often told by their doctors does not exist. Yet the FDA has warned that any abrupt change in dose, whether going up or coming down, can cause suicide, hostility, or psychosis – which is when so many are going into a manic psychosis and then told they are Bipolar. Withdrawal must be EXTREMELY SLOW to avoid these terrible withdrawal effects.

    (All backup data for anything said in this comment can be found on our websites at http://www.drugawareness.org and http://www.ssristories.NET. One article I would suggest in particular is Spirituality and Sorcery: http://www.drugawareness.org/spirituality-and-sorcery/ )

  15. This is fascinating and a perspective that I had not considered. I am the father of an autistic son and the establishment was always trying to medicate him. We refused and are glad we did.

    Do you think that the high rate of anti-depressants in Utah is due to a culture amongst the medical community, or something else?

  16. Tom,

    Thank you for doing the foot work to identify data available on this subject. It is depressing how critical commentators are of your work. You’d think advocates for suicide prevention would welcome a greater understanding of what the data suggests (and doesn’t suggest). Among discrediting popular theories on suicide that are not backed up by data, your work also identifies potential areas for continued research that may benefit those with such struggles in the future. I’m sure this took a lot of time and its sad to see you getting flack because your evaluating the data, which questions the popular narrative, instead of toeing the line.

      • Tom S. – Congratulations. This guys primary take away from your article is that you ‘discredited a popular theory on suicide’. Given the challenge of finding a definitive data set, the mountains of significant data that point to a very high rate of suicide among LGBT Mormon youth is now discredited in this commenters mind. This is why you are getting flack.

        • When Rod said “popular theory”, I assumed he meant the belief that Mormons have a particularly severe problem with gay teen suicide. My article was directed at this claim in particular–not any other theories. I hope he understood that. That particular claim does happen to be unsupported, and I suppose he’s correct in saying it is without credit at this point.

          I agree there is a very high rate of suicide among gay Mormon youth, as you say. We can infer that from the national data on gay teen suicide in the general population. However, I can’t agree that the data justify the belief that Mormons have a particularly severe problem or a higher gay teen suicide rate than others.

        • All I can say is you really need to look beyond the ‘provable’ numbers and get to know some Mormon gay youth. You need to take the time to visit the homeless shelters and hear what those that run the shelters and local hospitals are saying. As you say, there is more than enough evidence to demonstrate the problem and to justify significant warning signs. I encourage you to start focusing on being a part of the solution either using the Family Acceptance Project’s materials, getting involved with PFLAG, the Trevor Project, local homeless shelters. Advocate mormonsandgays in your wards and stakes. Write about that and see if FAIR cares to pick it up.

        • Tom S.,
          Your assumption is correct and of course I did. It would be wonderful to see more studies that helped us better understand and help those struggling in this area. “This guy” appreciates your work.

          Tom M.,
          You like blaming Mormons, you don’t like data that doesn’t agree with you, and you’re rude. We get it.

  17. Thank you for a balanced view! I wasn’t going to comment, but when I saw all the critical comments I thought I would leave you with a show of support. I think you did a great job of keeping a courteous tone throughout (but I wasn’t looking for things to attack, as it seems your critics are). I appreciate that you have actually done (rather thorough) research and stated what it shows or doesn’t as the case may be. I agree with you that asserting groundless statistics does nothing for furthering the conversation, only masks where the true problem lies and hinders the finding of a solution. And let’s find one!

  18. Pingback: Voices of Warning - Rational Faiths | Mormon Blog | Rational Faiths | Mormon Blog

  19. Tom, perhaps in the spirit of accurately representing people’s statements you would like to edit your article to clarify that in the same article you cited Wendy, she also said, “It’s hard to know if all of these are LGBT-related because the parents, especially if they’re Mormon, won’t admit to it. So it’s really difficult to have accurate statistics.” The conclusion of your whole article was actually stated by Wendy in the original article you are taking to task. Kind of makes your whole article a bit superfluous really.

    You may also want to cite that Wendy has spoken directly with nurses and doctors at local Utah hospitals and homeless shelters in Utah. I am sure your research was as thorough.

    And last, while we are at it, please note that Wendy is married and should be referred to as Mrs. Montgomery.

      • I’m confused by Tom Montgomery’s comment. In the same article Wendy said, “It’s hard to know if all of these are LGBT-related because the parents, especially if they’re Mormon, won’t admit to it. So it’s really difficult to have accurate statistics”, she also said, “Mormons have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country”. I’m not sure that asking for more attention to the first quote helps Wendy. Family privacy would seem to be a realistic factor in not always getting accurate information, but for Wendy to leap from that to a national statistic, doesn’t lend credibility to her otherwise dedicated work for youth. It may even reveal some bias as parents of different faiths and backgrounds are being worked with.

        • As has been discussed and written elsewhere, the functional difference between an interview and a written article is if you misspeak. Wendy clarified in the same interview that we do not have specific data, and as both Tom S. and my articles highlight, such data is extremely difficult to find. However, we do have data specifically outlining that LGBT youth from highly rejecting environments are 8x more likely to commit suicide. In the current Mormon culture and without the heroic efforts of both parents and local Church leaders, the Mormon church is a highly rejecting environment for LGBT Mormon youth. So if you want to parse the difference between ‘the highest rate of gay teen suicide’ and ‘one of the highest rates of gay teen suicide’, knock yourself out.

          This article offers no solutions other than to muddy up what is clear: LGBT Mormon suicide rates are high and unacceptable. The Family Acceptance Project offers clear solutions on identifying and changing highly rejecting behaviors so that parents and Church leaders can help their youth. A free LDS version of their booklet is available here:

          http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications

        • I hadn’t seen the discussion on Wendy’s misspoken quote in the Huffington Post article. I would be interested in looking at that if you’ll direct me there. In reading the article, her comments about not being able to get answers from parents didn’t seem to be a clarification of “Mormons have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country.” Also, my intention wasn’t to parse between “the highest” and “one of the highest” rates of suicide among Mormon gay teens.The second descriptor isn’t substantiated either.

  20. Tom, your Add-Health 2010 data point looks sketchy to me: “A representative survey of students in Grades 7-12 across the US using the Add-Health database found that Mormon gay teens reported significantly less depression and fewer suicidal thoughts than their nonreligious peers. (Add-Health, 2010). The link goes to an article which says, “I asked a scholar friend of mine to take a first look at the [data].” This does not inspire confidence in a claim that I, frankly, find hard to believe. Would you care to comment on (or retract) that statement?

    • Sure. I looked into Add-Health when I added the claim into my article. The dataset is a nationally representative longitudinal dataset, and it does include the variables the author referred to. While I can’t independently confirm the number itself, I can say that the only way it isn’t true is if the author’s contact lied or misread the data, or if the author herself lied. The specific nature of the source she gives and the structure of the dataset itself makes it appear credible. About the same level of credibility, to me, as a news outlet giving a number with a named source (without linking to the dataset itself). Hope that helps.

      • No, that doesn’t really help. I’ve poked around Wave III data in the Add-Health database (dataset 0012) and found the following: Only 1.3% self-identified as mostly homosexual or 100% homosexual (64 individuals out of 4882 total). Only 8 individuals identified as LDS. I don’t have the skill set to go into the data any further than that, but it would seem very difficult to come to the conclusion that gay LDS teens were less suicidal than non-religious peers based on such a tiny sampling. I am more than happy to admit that statistics is not my expertise and I’m open to being corrected on these points, but I’d like some actual numbers that can be verified — not just an article that says essentially, “My buddy looked this up and he’s totally legit so you should take his word.”

        • Hmm. You’re right, 8 is very small, and that wouldn’t be enough to draw conclusions. That number of LDS youth doesn’t totally make sense for a sample of 4882 individuals, though. Mormons make up considerably more than 0.16% of the population in the US, especially among young people. I wonder if we’re missing something the “scholar friend” was able to pick up. Maybe he was using the restricted dataset while we’re just using the public one? I was willing to post the statistic because I trust Maggie Gallagher–I’m reluctant to believe there was funny business going on, especially because she pointed out which statistics were statistically significant and which weren’t. But I’ll investigate more. Thanks for digging into this.

      • Additionally, I should have mentioned that including your last data point in spite of the fact that it was admittedly not relevant, statistically speaking, is misleading.

        Here’s why I take such exception to these data points: without them your list of statistics looks pretty bad for gay LDS teens in Utah. Or gay teens in Utah. Or gay teens in general. And it doesn’t matter that you put disclaimers at the bottom of your article — people will seize on those last two points and say, “See?? I knew it was all overblown! The gays are just fine and the bleeding hearts are trying to manipulate peoples’ emotions.” That is irresponsible.

        • Why don’t you think the Add-Health statistics are relevant? I think they’re about as relevant as the available statistics get. Thoughts of suicide are a risk factor for suicide. And attempted suicide by religiosity isn’t specific to Mormonism, but it’s still useful–if religious teens were much more likely to attempt suicide, it would be suggestive of a problem with Mormons too.

          I disagree that the rest of the statistics are suggestive of a special problem with Mormons. The fact that the Utah teen suicide rate is among the lowest for high-altitude states, and that youth suicide rankings in Utah are lower than the overall suicide rankings for Utah suggest that it has, if anything, an unusual *adult* suicide rate. I will agree that the statistics make it look bad for Utah generally speaking, and for gay teens in the United States generally speaking. To your last point, I haven’t seen people seizing on my last two bullet points and running with them. I haven’t overstated my claims here. I really don’t think I’ve written this article irresponsibly. I do appreciate your comments, however; thanks again.

      • The total of 4882 is cut down to around 1238 in the Religious Denomination question because of “No Data” or “Legitimate Skip”. So it equates to around 0.7%. Not sure if that helps.

        I will give you this much: you are unflappable under criticism. I appreciate that you are willing to look into this. I’d be happier if you would make a correction in your article that at least acknowledges some potential problems with those two data points.

        • That does help. I’ll do some digging tonight, and if I can’t sort out the discrepancy between Maggie’s claim and what you’re seeing I’ll change the article to reflect that.

        • Here’s an update. In the restricted dataset, there are just over 15,000 observations instead of around 5,000 in the public dataset. Also, there’s another variable for denomination with additional codes besides the one you were looking at that has another 45 Mormons in addition to the 8–so, 53 Mormons in the public data, unless I’m missing something. This would possibly mean ~160 Mormons in the restricted dataset the “scholar friend” might have had access to, assuming a similar rate of “legitimate skips” or “no data”. One factor I can’t comment on is sampling weights, which seem to be recorded separately and may make the data more difficult to interpret. Given all this, I think there’s a possibility the statistic is genuine. In the meantime, I’ve sent an email to Maggie Gallagher. If I hear back from her soon, I’ll let you know. If not, I’ll let you know too. I do appreciate you pointing this out. Thanks again.

      • Re: the relevance of the last data point: “…religious gay teens had a lower attempted suicide rate than nonreligious gay teens (the number of cases did not allow for statistical significance, however).” If it’s not statistically significant, then it’s not relevant to the conversation, right? Why include it here?

        • Oh, I see. No, that’s a good point. I have a habit of reporting insignificant statistics when significant statistics in the opposite direction would have been expected; it’s sort of a “fail to reject the null” situation, which is still meaningful. However, I can’t see the data here, admittedly. I’ll see if I can look at it myself. With the caveat of insignificance, I think it’s still relevant.

    • It still doesn’t add up. Let’s say that there are ~160 Mormons in the survey, as you have extrapolated. And let’s also assume that the rate of those who self-identified as mostly homosexual or 100% homosexual remains at 1.3%. 160 X 0.013 = 2.08. So, that gives you an estimated total 2 LDS gay teens. I’m sure there’s a way to get the actual number here, but I couldn’t figure it out — regardless, even if you double or triple that number, you’re left with a very small pool from which to base anything.

      We know that low family acceptance has a direct correlation to suicide from the Family Project study. (By the way, why isn’t this study in your post??) We know that many LDS families struggle mightily to provide this kind of acceptance and we know that this struggle is often a direct result of their beliefs. We know this anecdotally, if nothing else. To get from there to, “Gay LDS youth are better off than their non-religious peers” just defies reason.

      Again, I’m picking at this claim not just because it’s counter-intuitive, but because it has the potential to cause great harm. The conclusions that you’re quoting here suggest that all is well in Zion. It categorically is not. There is one point that I think you’re justified in making: We don’t have the data to support this statement: “Mormons have THE highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country.” However, given the data on Utah, I think it would still be fair to claim that, “Mormons have ONE OF THE highest rates of gay teen suicides in the country.” Is that an important distinction? Yes, probably so. It suggests that this is not a uniquely Mormon problem. Going back to the Family Project study, it’s clear that family religiousity is a clear factor, so I’d expect similar problems in other highly religious families (Evangelical Christian, Muslim, etc). But so what if we’re just ONE OF THE highest instead of THE highest? It’s still a crisis. It still needs immediate and urgent attention.

      You seem like a nice guy who’s approaching this problem honestly (if not without bias). You get points from me for that — we all have our biases. I really don’t think that you recognize the harm that you’re doing here. As I said before, people (Mormons) will seize upon the tone of your article and these conclusions that I’ve objected to and will takeaway this: “We don’t have a gay teen suicide problem in the LDS church. If anything, our kids our better off.” This attitude of complacency literally costs lives. You’re polishing up the image of the LDS church without considering this cost.

      • Rereading Maggie’s article, I think she may have used any level of same-sex attraction instead of mostly or 100% homosexual. I’m hoping to clarify that with her. In that case, and given the ambiguity, it’s possible we could get a sample of around 10, which could give statistical significance if we had a large enough difference in proportions between the subsamples. I also don’t know if she used the teens’ religion or the parents’ religion. I haven’t had much time to look through the data. If I don’t hear back from Maggie by tomorrow I’ll update my article.

        The Family Acceptance Project study (I think you’re referring to this one: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/files/FAP_Family%20Acceptance_JCAPN.pdf) isn’t in my post because it used a small nonrandom sample and subjective (“soft”) measurements and didn’t use controls. I wanted to stick to representative surveys and public data. Since you mentioned it, religiosity appears not to be a statistically significant factor in the Family Acceptance Project analysis.

        I don’t agree it would be fair to claim that Mormons have one of the highest gay teen suicide rates. The existing data doesn’t appear to say that–it just doesn’t get that specific. I totally agree that we need to give urgent and immediate attention to gay teen suicide in our communities. It’s clear that gay teens go through struggles the rest of us usually don’t. I hoped that this article would draw the attention of Latter-day Saints, including conservative ones like me, to an issue we have turned aside from too often. That said, we can’t be making claims we can’t support. That doesn’t help anyone.

        • “We can’t be making claims we can’t support.” Like this one: “Mormon gay teens reported significantly less depression and fewer suicidal thoughts than their nonreligious peers.”

        • Really! The only information that even remotely supports your conclusion is full of if this….if that….maybe its statistically significant….I haven’t had much time to look through the date. You sure had enough time to write a whole article hinging on it. Yet you reject the Family Acceptance Projects data because it is ‘nonrandom’ and ‘subjective’. Have we not established that it is virtually impossible to get this data in a random and general way? The Family Acceptance Project is the leading organization on suicide prevention for LGBT youth in the country, published in professional journals across the country, but doesn’t measure up to you. How on earth do you come up with the conclusion that religiosity appears to not be a significant factor in FAPs analysis? You are going to go with the weakest data set possible.

          It looks more and more like you will only consider data that supports the conclusion you formed before writing your article. That is called apologetics. Your article is being hungrily picked up by FAIR and Mormon apologetics as debunking the myth that there is a problem in Mormonism with LGBT youth suicide.

        • Mike, I’ve been speaking with you in good faith and openly responding to every challenge you’ve given me, including that one. Please be as generous with me. We don’t need to be adversaries on this.

          Tom, my conclusions at the end of my article are modest and well-supported. My article doesn’t hinge on the Add Health data (which I reported in good faith and am currently investigating). One sentence in the body of the article does hinge on it, yes: “Furthermore, the Add-Health dataset mentioned above suggests that Mormon gay youth are relatively less at risk for suicide than nonreligious gay youth.” I don’t reject the Family Acceptance Project data for what it is, but it isn’t representative. To answer your question, their report I linked to reports estimates from OLS and logistic models which include religiosity as a regressor. The estimate on religiosity in both is recorded as insignificant.

        • My point here (that you have not addressed) is that because you’re quoting claims that undermine the seriousness of this problem, the burden of proof should weigh heavily on you. You’ve said that you are looking into my objections, and that’s a good thing. However, don’t you think that in light of the potential for harm from these statements that this due diligence should have occurred *before* you posted here? That’s your bias showing through, and as Tom M says, that’s called apologetics.

        • What I’m guessing Tom is referring to as far as religiosity not being a statistically significant factor is this, from the study: “It is noteworthy that family religious affiliation, although linked to lower family acceptance, was positively associated
          with young adult social support. Follow-up analyses showed
          that the association between childhood religious affiliation
          and social support was not significant; thus, childhood reli-
          gious affiliation is positively linked to social support in young
          adulthood after accounting for family acceptance. Religious
          affiliationinadolescenceisknowntobeafactorthatpromotes
          well-being; these results indicate that this association is con-
          sistent for LGBT young adults only after differences between
          low and high family acceptance are taken into account.”

        • One of the most prevalent drivers of homophobic and rejecting behaviors is religious belief and a culture of shaming and excluding gay people. This is not exclusive to Mormons but is dominant in the conservative Christian culture in America today. The purpose of the Family Acceptance Project is to work within any religious framework without blaming a religion, attacking a person’s faith, or making people defensive. However, the primary source of conflict is between homosexuality and religion. So to say that their research doesn’t include religiosity as a significant factor definitely comes across as naive.

        • Also, mjones219, what exactly makes you feel that it would be Tom Stringham’s responsibility concerning how your average member might take the data he has presented here? He doesn’t control their minds or biases. You can’t fairly put that burden on him. He makes it clear in his article that gay teen suicide IS a problem and should be taken care of and addressed, and is simply making it clear that when it comes to data, we should do our best to make sure we are using it correctly. If someone can honestly come away from reading this article and still feel that suicide is not a problem among our youth, then the issue lies with them, not this article or its author.

        • Tom Montgomery, agreed. As stated in the quote, the benefits of religious affiliation and social support only seem to be helpful if there is family acceptance first and foremost.

    • Another update. To respond to your last comment, I can’t agree that my claims have undermined the seriousness of the problem. I haven’t challenged the reality or severity of gay teen suicide–only comparative claims about Mormons in particular, for which I cannot find any justification. Even the Add-Health claims are only comparative between religions, and do not diminish the scale of the problem. If anything, I hope I’ve encouraged more conversation about high suicide rates among gay youth.

      I have not been able to sort out the trouble with the Add-Health data, so I’ve changed my post to reflect that. I’ve also added in the Family Acceptance Project statistics about family rejection. Thanks again for keeping me on track.

    • Thanks for the comment. I have seen that pamphlet before. I’m rereading it and I’m not seeing any data related to the claim of unusually high gay Mormon teen suicide. Let me know if I’m still missing something.

      • In the current Mormon culture and without the heroic efforts of both parents and local Church leaders, the Mormon church is a highly rejecting environment for LGBT Mormon youth. The statistic of suicide with highly rejecting behavior by family and Church is 8x.

  21. I’ve been following the comments here and at Rational Faiths. It’s been interesting to see the different responses the two ‘Toms’ have given when challenged. Thomas Montgomery has not offered an explanation as to why his wife was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “Mormons have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country”. Tom Stringham’s responses have been direct and honest. I appreciate that.

    Tom S., you’re a great example of how to keep a discussion productive and meaningful as we try to humbly move forward with a challenging, emotional topic that doesn’t have easy answers.

    • As has been discussed and written elsewhere, the functional difference between an interview and a written article is if you misspeak. Wendy clarified in the same interview that we do not have specific data, and as both Tom S. and my articles highlight, such data is extremely difficult to find. However, we do have data specifically outlining that LGBT youth from highly rejecting environments are 8x more likely to commit suicide. In the current Mormon culture and without the heroic efforts of both parents and local Church leaders, the Mormon church is a highly rejecting environment for LGBT Mormon youth. So if you want to parse the difference between ‘the highest rate of gay teen suicide’ and ‘one of the highest rates of gay teen suicide’, knock yourself out.

      This article offers no solutions other than to muddy up what is clear: LGBT Mormon suicide rates are high and unacceptable. The Family Acceptance Project offers clear solutions on identifying and changing highly rejecting behaviors so that parents and Church leaders can help their youth. A free LDS version of their booklet is available here:

      http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications

      • As one who finds the teachings of the LDS church inclusive and loving in many respects, I would suspect that Tom M and others conflate opposition to same-sex marriage with disregard for Christian commandments to love all people, especially LGBT youth. Insisting that the church’s position on same-sex marriage in and of itself creates a suicide-inducing “highly rejecting environment” is akin to insisting that closing shopping centers on Sunday is appropriate or that teaching cohabitation is inappropriate creates such a “highly rejecting environment.”

        • Michael, I am fairly certain that neither Tom S. or I have made any assertions connecting same-sex marriage and LGBT Mormon youth suicide. However, a doctrine that teaches a 12 year old who is coming out that he or she must remain celibate the remainder of his/her life is a cause of significant strain and stress, especially given how parents could react negatively based on their beliefs about same-sex marriage. Simply put yourself in another’s shoes and empathize what that experience would be like.

          My son was 9 when Prop 8 was going on in California. At 12, when he was becoming acutely aware of his sexual feelings, he was terrified because his only knowledge was that his Church hates gay people exemplified by Prop 8. It definitely contributed to suicidal ideation.

          I highly recommend you read the Family Acceptance Project’s brochures at: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/LDS-booklet. I highly recommend these materials.

  22. I know people are claiming that empirical data on this subject is either too specific or narrow to accurately collect, these statements are false. The Church of Jesus Christ has the data (I know I have seen it), and is so embarrassed by it, they do not want it to ever see the light of day. If they acknowledge that in reality there is a systemic problem, of this magnitude, it would force them to change fundamental doctrine, which they wont. I know Mrs Montgomery and she isn’t in any danger of being ex-communicated. The church does not like anything negative that it has done or is responsible for, they only want to emphasize the good it has done and bullies others to not talk about anything wrong or negative.

    • As has been discussed and written elsewhere, the functional difference between an interview and a written article is if you misspeak. Wendy clarified in the same interview that we do not have specific data, and as both Tom S. and my articles highlight, such data is extremely difficult to find. However, we do have data specifically outlining that LGBT youth from highly rejecting environments are 8x more likely to commit suicide. In the current Mormon culture and without the heroic efforts of both parents and local Church leaders, the Mormon church is a highly rejecting environment for LGBT Mormon youth. So if you want to parse the difference between ‘the highest rate of gay teen suicide’ and ‘one of the highest rates of gay teen suicide’, knock yourself out.

      This article offers no solutions other than to muddy up what is clear: LGBT Mormon suicide rates are high and unacceptable. The Family Acceptance Project offers clear solutions on identifying and changing highly rejecting behaviors so that parents and Church leaders can help their youth. A free LDS version of their booklet is available here:

      http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications

    • Fascinating. First of all, the Church doesn’t call itself that. If you were in a position to know what the church knows, you would have called the church by its correct name.

      Second, I am in a position to know what data the Church collects, as I’ve been one of its official record keepers. I’ve logged the deaths of several members. The Church does not collect data as to whether or not individual members are gay. Furthermore, the Church does not collect data as to the cause of death of its members. If the Church has any specific information on this issue, it’s not coming from its own records. That’s impossible because that information is simply not kept.

      As for bullying, the tenor of comments made on this site is quite revealing. I understand the LGBT community and their supporters much better now.

  23. Wow I’m way impressed with your courage and diligence on relaying this issue. Thank you for sharing! Being a YSA in the church in this day and age makes it hard to understand and speak about gay rights/religious freedom but I think u did a great job. Thank you again.

  24. Here is my take on this subject both as a closeted same gender attracted Mormon and as a scientist.

    A little personal background I have considered suicide a very viable option 3 times in my life. First when I was 19, another when I looked through my car for a blade (I thought to myself that I probably have one in the back trunk, which I did…, but then I quickly drove home, where I then searched for something to hurt myself with because I just couldn’t take the pain anymore), and other time I was writing goodbye letters, I had a plan and everything. Luckily the last time I had a great stake president who met with me and was able to calm me down.

    Now do I consider myself “clinically depressed” really I DO NOT. Maybe I just don’t fit any stereotypical clinical depression, I highly doubt that my brain has an inability to make “happy” hormones. But the fact is being a SSA Mormon has caused severe depression. Not because of the doctrine but because as Mrs. Montgomery stated we don’t address it. You know you can call her statements statistically questionable, but every statement she said resonated with me, and I agreed with every statement she said.

    I can’t even hold hands with people I find attractive. I can’t flirt and I just don’t feel any want to do any of those things with women. There are times when I feel happy, but they are always when I am with other men. Then we go our separate ways, and I feel depressed again. THAT is something that I would like to talk about, but there is a good number of people in the church that still feel I choose those feelings. Another good portion (in my family even) that believe SSA people are the scum of the earth. Now there are a few statements that the church has made, but they are not nearly adequate, they don’t even start to change these feelings of animosity towards gay members. And IT DOES KILL.

    I know many other people in the same boat as me. One just feels depressed, another had a panic attack for literally no reason, (again I don’t believe these people have clinical depression). I have a cousin who died of a drug overdose, he was SSA. I have another SSA friend who converted to the church he told me he considered suicide, he has left now and is doing a lot better emotionally.

    Do I think I would consider suicide if I was attracted to members of the opposite sex, I DON’T. I really don’t think that I would. All of my suicidal thoughts and near actions have come from my same gender attraction.

    The CHURCH DOES NOT ADDRESS THIS! They don’t tell our youth that if they are feeling attracted to members of the same sex that they should calm down, know that WE LOVE YOU, and talk to someone. Don’t be isolated, know it is not your fault. Know that we will still accept you. That if you choose to live a different lifestyle we may not believe it is the right one, but we will not abandon you or TREAT YOU LIKE A LEPER. And if you want to stay with the church we will try to understand how difficult choosing to forgo any type of physical/emotional/sexual intimacy can be on the human mind. We will not ignore your existence and say mission accomplished.

    The church makes leaders read statements all the time like “vote in the elections” or “we don’t support one political party”

    Whey can’t they make a statement like “don’t treat gays or SSA people like lepers”

    While I agree Mrs. Montgomery statistical method is not flawless, but in reality I would say she knows more about this topic than even the leaders of the church does. She said she received OVER 100 MESSAGES a week. From parents wondering if they should kick their child out to children wondering why they should continue living ALL BECAUSE OF RELIGIOUS REASONS. SHE IS DOING THIS NOT THE CHURCH LEADERSHIP! That is what her main point is and that is why I have a hard time believing that there is another environment that is more harmful to LGBT youth and young adults than the Mormon Church. BUT THIS CAN CHANGE!

    I just wish the church would give one lesson to Mormon SSA members in general conference, where they will be honest about how painful this commandment is, how it is asking a lot. How we should be extremely loving of these individuals, and even if they choose another lifestyle we should STILL love them. We don’t have to abandon our believes to love one another.

  25. Scott thank you for your comment. I have never struggled with SSA so it was good to hear the perspective from some who has. I agree the Church could handle things a lot better but I also think you need to recognize that the Church is trying. Most members as well as leaders are trying to understand something they will never have to deal with, something that when acted upon goes against everything they have ever been taught. The core doctrine of the LDS Church is that we are here to procreate and that if we establish a family unit it has the chance to last eternally. We are trying to figure out how SSA fits into this core doctrine. Even in society SSA wasn’t really recognized nor talked about openly until recently. I do see the Church is trying. This in uncharted territory for a lot of people so maybe you could recognize this the next time you are frustrated with the Church and its members.

  26. Now, I am very well aware that the church is trying… It is the only reason I am still a member of the church right now.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that the current environment for SSA individuals is still quite toxic.

    You think that the church is having a hard time understanding where SSA people fit in the church imagine actually being the SSA attracted individual wondering where he fits in the church. The later is 100X worse. And I have had 14 surgeries from a bone condition, which overall I found those surgeries rather pleasant compared to being a SSA Mormon.

    The church leaders can go home to their wife and children to a wonderful support system where they can feel loved and give their love and probably not even think twice about the suffering of SSA individuals. The SSA Mormon often goes home to no one, rarely even a glimmer of hope to find another to love, and generally no friends who they can open up with and be honest about their PERSONAL pain. And the constant knowledge that at the very least 1/3 Mormons would judge them harshly for even having Same Sex Attraction.

    Yes the church is trying but it is also failing. A couple of months ago a BYU student was evicted and assaulted after he told one of his roommates he might have SSA. Instead of punishing these bullies this student was told he violated the honor code (wasn’t told which part, as he wasn’t in any homosexual relationship) and was evicted from his second home. I believe the church should have at the very least handled this event differently. They came to a quite settlement, instead of taking this opportunity to show all members of the church that such terrible acts shouldn’t be tolerated.

    As you said before you haven’t felt SSA and say a quick prayer to God to thank him that you didn’t. I am glad you are willing to try to learn about our suffering, and I am grateful.

    If you want to hear about the raw emotion that SSA individuals feel I suggest you read these articles by people who are not trying to change the churches doctrine, but are trying to reconcile their pain they have felt from church policy.
    http://www.nomorestrangers.org/the-gay-law-of-chastity/
    An exert,
    “As I left the alleyway and made my way home, I remember walking along some of the very busy streets that I live by and thinking about how simple it would be to step out into the traffic: not only could I escape a homophobic culture that forced me to choose between my faith and my love, but I might even be able to rid myself of my sexuality. After all, many Mormons—my mother included—tell me that they believe homosexuality is only a trial of this life, and that just as God takes away our defects when we die, he would take away my homosexual desires and replace them with heterosexuality. I’m sure they thought they were comforting me by assuring me that my trial was temporary. But like many gay Mormons, hearing that I could get rid of my homosexuality by killing myself only made suicide look more appealing.”
    This is common from most SSA individuals I have known,

    What needs to change another exert,
    “Something must be done about the gay law of chastity. At the least, we need more guidance from the Church—official guidance explaining how and why the gay law of chastity [complete lifelong celibacy] should be correctly and uniformly followed, so that personal worthiness no longer depends on geographical location. But how do we get this guidance?”

  27. Tom, I am wondering if you are willing to revisit your article given the presence of the CDC publishing its 2014 data? Kind of an update on whether Wendy Montgomery was telling the truth.

    Since this article, the CDC has come out with the statistics for 2014. In Utah, there were 55 suicides Age 15-19 in Utah in 2014 up from 36 in 2013. You may note that 55 is greater than 52 which would be more than one per week. That is more than twice the national average and an exponential increase over previous years.

    Now, not all of these are LGBT suicides and there is never just a single factor. But when you add the 20-24 suicides for 2014, you have over 100. If just half of those were LGBT you are looking at almost one per week.

    I have these statistics broken out in a pdf if Tom can provide me an email to send them to you. This information is tragic and while vilifying Wendy has become sport for some of you, addressing support and solutions would be a better use of your time and efforts.

    Data is also available from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention at http://cdc.gov.injury/wisqars/

    • I probably won’t write a follow-up post, partly because I’m having trouble finding the time to write at all lately. I also don’t know if the new 2014 data tells us much about the claims made last year.

      You’re correct that suicide among 15-19 year olds in Utah spiked in 2014 over the previous year (I just looked it up). This gives Utah the highest suicide rate among 15-19 year olds among 31 states with reliable data. Among 20-24 year olds, the number of suicides fell by 2 from 2013, giving Utah the 15th highest rate among 44 states with reliable data.

      Like you say, we don’t know how many of these suicides were among LGBT youth. It would be surprising, however, if the proportion were near half as you suggest. By CDC numbers, 3% of the young adult population are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Our empirical estimates on LGBT suicide are to the effect that the rate is 3-4 times the suicide rate of their peers. This would give us an estimate of 9-11 LGBT suicides in the 15-24 age group in Utah in 2014. Even under the hypothetical assumption that Utah is unusual and that the LGBT rate is 10 times that of their peers, 24 of the suicides among 15-24 year olds in Utah in 2014 would have been among LGBT youth. For 51 (half) of the 102 suicides to have been committed by a subpopulation this small, the LGBT rate of suicide would have needed to be more than 30 times higher than the rate among the rest of the population. This sort of difference would be extraordinary. The only reason we have to think it is the case are anecdotal reports from you and your wife about one-per-week suicides. Given your record, including the major discrepancy between the suicide reports you received since November 2015 and the Utah Department of Health data over the same period, I think it’s more likely that you’re mistaken.

      That said, even at the lower bound, the number of suicides is far too many. I’m only quibbling with you about numbers because I know that false data can lead to false conclusions. I agree with you that LGBT youth suicide is awful, and that we should do everything we can to understand and prevent it.

      Link for the CDC numbers on the LGBT population: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr077.pdf

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