Suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth is an endemic public health issue: LGBTQ youth face more bullying and report higher levels of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts than their straight peers, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Trevor Project.
But a new study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has found a connection between LGBTQ-inclusive state bullying laws and lower rates of teen suicide attempts.
"Anti-bullying laws that explicitly protect youth based on sexual orientation are associated with fewer suicide attempts among all youth, regardless of sexual orientation," the report states.
The study, published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed medical journal LGBT Health, found that while all states and the District of Columbia have anti-bullying laws, just 20 states explicitly name sexual and/or gender minorities. These are the states, according to the study, that reported fewer youth suicide attempts and fewer cases of forced sexual intercourse, regardless of sexual orientation.
In an interview with NBC News, Ilan H. Meyer, the study’s lead author and a public policy scholar at the Williams Institute, said researchers were surprised that “the impact was the same on both the sexual minority and the straight, or nonsexual minority, youth.”
Explicitly naming LGBTQ people in these laws, Meyer said, “seems to help all students, but it doesn't necessarily reduce the disparity that was the original impetus for including sexual orientation.”
While one in six high school kids contemplated suicide over the past year, according to The Trevor Project, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are nearly five times more likely than their straight counterparts to have attempted suicide. The organization, which works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth, also found that 40 percent of all transgender adults have attempted suicide — with 92 percent of them having done so before age 25.
“Additional interventions, such as training teachers, instituting school-based support groups, and promoting social connectedness between youth and their communities may help reduce disparities in exposure to bullying and its ill effects for sexual minority youth,” Meyer said.
Jane Clementi, whose gay son, Tyler, killed himself after being cyberbullied by his college roommate, co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which works to end bullying. She hailed the Williams Institute study as confirming “something that we have known all along.”
“All marginalized or vulnerable groups need to be identified,” Clementi told NBC News. “It’s really important for someone to set criteria and boundaries for the very first day a group meets together.”
She added that starting off on the right foot can have a big impact.
“If you had a teacher or principal state at the beginning of a school year, ‘We will not tolerate anyone being bullied or harassed because of …,’ and then state it in a way kids can understand, kids get it,” she said.
If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal or in need of a safe place to talk, call the 24/7 TrevorLifeline: 1-866-488-7386.