Youth suicide and homophobia

Issue 

By Jacquie Moon

Many people were disgusted by last month's brutal murder of Matthew Shepherd, a young, gay US student. But there's also the story of Melbourne high school student James Anderson, who committed suicide after suffering continual homophobic attacks from fellow students.

James was subjected to vicious and relentless harassment, including rubbish being thrown at him in school, human faeces left on his doorstep and abusive phone calls. He was also repeatedly sexually abused by a group of students.

Yet many people still say that homophobia is not a real issue any more.

If that's so, how can they explain the horrifying statistics relating to young gays and lesbians in this country?

Homosexual youth are 2.5 to 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual young people. In rural areas it's even worse. Homophobia still infects families, schools, churches and the whole society.

Between 40,000 and 60,000 young Australians attempt suicide each year. Thirty per cent of those attempts are related to homophobia and sexuality. Despite this, only 300 out of 853 youth suicide prevention projects mention the "gay issue", and only 12 address it in their programs.

Ten young people in Australia commit suicide every week, and more than 1000 attempt it. It's a major crisis, and it'll take more to address than just band-aid programs and public relations.

It will take real solutions to such things as youth unemployment and homelessness. But it also requires recognition of the impact that racism, sexism and homophobia have on young people, the increasing harassment that young people face from police, the backward (and worsening) state of our education system, the alienation that young people feel and the lack of control over their own lives.

It's obvious that many young people can't deal with things the way they are — and that the system needs to be changed.