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Youth at risk.

Researchers have long debated the proportion of gay and straight teenagers who attempt suicide, with some suicide experts arguing that gay kids are no more prone to suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. But a new study by pediatrician Gary Remafedi of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus, may have finally put the dispute to rest.

Published in the September edition of the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that gay and bisexual males ages 13 to 18 are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual males. However, the report showed that lesbian teens were only slightly more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teenage females.

The study's release was painfully timely. Seventeen-year-old Jacob Orozco of Salt Lake City took his own life in early September. Orozco had been looking forward to being a member of the gay-straight alliance at East High School, which made national headlines in early 1996 when it successfully fought the Utah legislature's attempt to ban all extracurricular school clubs. "Jacob stood out as a dynamic, funny, and seemingly confident young man," wrote filmmakers Eliza Byard and Jeff Dupre in a prepared statement. "His death reminds us how much remains to be done." Byard and Dupre had met Orozco while producing the film Out of the Past, which documents the alliance's struggle.

Remafedi based his findings on a new analysis of a 1987 survey in which teenagers were asked questions about sexual orientation and suicide. Of the 36,000 respondents, 131 teenage boys and 144 girls identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Twenty-eight percent of the homosexual boys reported that they had attempted suicide; only 4.2% of the heterosexual boys said the same thing. Twenty percent of the teenage lesbians reported attempting suicide, 6% more than heterosexual girls, which Remafedi said falls within the margin of error of the larger study.

Remafedi, author of Death by Denial: Studies of Suicide in Gay and Lesbian Teenagers, said teenage boys are more susceptible to antigay peer pressure than girls. "The issue of gender nonconformity is much more of a factor with boys," he said. "In society, sissy boys are viewed differently than tomboy girls."

Percentage of Minnesota public school students (grades 7-12) who have attempted suicide
males 28.1%

males 4.2%

females 20.5%

females 14.5%

SOURCE: Dr. Gary Remafedi, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota
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Title Annotation:statistics of suicide risks among gay teenagers
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Oct 14, 1997
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