Sex Roles [sers] PP978-sers-472558 September 17, 2003 18:45 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 49, Nos. 9/10, November 2003 (
Attitudes and Beliefs About Suicidal Behavior When Coming
Out Is the Precipitant of the Suicidal Behavior
Jennifer Ellen Cato
and Silvia Sara Canetto
Young persons who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) have higher rates of nonfatal
suicidal behavior than their heterosexual peers. It has been suggested that suicidal behavior
may be a painful but unavoidable rite of passage for LGB youths at the coming out stage.
Could this mean that suicidal behavior is considered understandable and even permissible
behavior for LGB youths at this stage? In this study we explored reactions to a suicidal
decision when coming out was the precipitant of the suicidal act. Speciﬁcally, we compared
attitudes toward a suicidal decision after coming out and being rejected by one’s parents with
attitudes toward a suicidal decision after experiencing other stressors (i.e., a physical illness, a
relationship loss, or an academic failure). Contrary to expectation, the decision to engage in
suicidal behavior following coming out was not viewed in relatively accepting terms. Rather,
it was perceived as unsound and weak. As in previous studies, physical illness was singled
out as a relatively understandable motivation for suicidal behavior. In addition, we found that
androgynous persons viewed the suicidal decision as more unsound than other gender-identity
types, independent of precipitant. Given similar evidence from other studies, future research
might explore the role of androgyny in the protection against suicidal behavior.
KEY WORDS: attitudes; lesbian; gay; bisexual; suicidal behavior; androgyny.
Young persons who describe themselves as les-
bian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) are at least twice
as likely than their heterosexual peers to report
a history of suicidal behavior (Russell & Joyner,
2001). It has been estimated that one in three LGB
youths has engaged in suicidal behavior (D’Augelli,
Hershberger, & Pilkington, 2001; Remafedi, Farrow,
& Deisher, 1991; Safren & Heimberg, 1999).
Many factors probably contribute to the high
risk for nonfatal suicidal behavior among LGB
youths. The experiences associated with being a stig-
matized sexual minority while young and vulnerable
are likely a component of this risk (Cochran, 2001).
Coming to terms with one’s sexual minority status
can be psychologically challenging. At this vulnerable
time, LGB youths are often rejected by key persons
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
80523-1876; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
in their lives, including family, teachers, and friends.
For many LGB youths, coming out leads to isolation
and even homelessness. These experiences likely tax
LGB youths’ capacity for coping. Problems with de-
pression and substance abuse may emerge. Given this
context, it is not surprising that a frequently reported
antecedent of nonfatal suicidal behavior among les-
bian and gay youths is the personal and interpersonal
turmoil associated with coming to terms with one’s
sexual identity (see Saulnier, 1998, for a review).
At the same time, studies show that suicidal be-
havior is not simply a function of difﬁculties, stress, or
victimization. In other words, suicidal behavior is not
necessarily more prevalent among those who experi-
ence adversities (Canetto & Lester, 1995). For exam-
ple, in the United States, suicidal behavior is uncom-
mon among African American women despite their
social and economical disadvantage (Canetto, 1992).
Also, the stress related to being a member of a stig-
matized sexual minority may not be directly associ-
ated with suicidal behavior. For example, according
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation