Thank you to the members of the Standing Committee on Health for inviting me to provide testimony this morning.
I appreciate the opportunity to highlight for the committee the particular perspective of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and two-spirit people, which I will hereafter refer to as LGBT for brevity's sake, and our community's relationship with the ideas being discussed today, suicide and suicide prevention.
There are many factors that contribute to a person's risk of suicide ideation and attempts, and while many of these are individual factors, there are also special populations of people that research and experience have shown to be more likely to contemplate, to attempt, and, sadly, to succeed at taking their own lives.
First nations and Inuit peoples and LGBT people represent two of the communities at greatly disproportionate risk relative to the general population. I urge the committee to seek to understand the unique and important factors that affect first nations and Inuit peoples at your next session. Today, I will attempt to present to you the sad reality of the impact of suicide on my community of LGBT people.
I'll begin with a bit of background about myself. I have a master's degree in counselling psychology and I have worked in child and adolescent mental health for 12 years. I'm the executive director of the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line. We provide peer support services to youth aged 26 and under throughout the province of Ontario. We serve approximately 6,000 youth each year, providing online and telephone listening, support, information and access to local resources whenever possible. Our services are provided by highly trained youth volunteers who themselves identify as members of the LGBT community.
We do not provide crisis services per se, but the work we do is suicide prevention work at its heart. We provide relief from isolation and we provide acceptance and non-judgmental listening. We provide access to community. Even if it's communicated just by a voice on the phone or an online chat window, it offers a glimpse of hope that can have a significant impact on those who are reaching out.
I want to emphasize for you today the profound ways that the LGBT community is affected by suicide. I have drawn from a number of reliable and peer-reviewed research resources for this presentation today. I will happily share these with the clerk's office if the committee would like access to them after today's meeting.
I'll not overwhelm you with statistics, but I will put before you some of the most stark and revealing numbers. Meta-analysis studies have found that sexual minority individuals were two and a half times more likely than heterosexuals to have attempted suicide. A recent Canadian study estimated that the risk of suicide among LGB youth is 14 times higher than for their heterosexual peers. A large and statistically representative study of trans people in Ontario found that 77% had seriously considered suicide and 45% had attempted suicide. Trans youth were found to be at greatest risk of suicide, as were those who had experienced physical or sexual assault.
What can explain these staggering figures? I want to impress upon the committee that it is not the fact of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or two-spirit that imposes these risks upon a person's psychological well-being. Rather, it is being a member of a group that experiences oppression, exclusion, omission, and hate that leads to this sad reality.
LGBT people experience stigma and discrimination, and this stigma can have a variety of negative consequences throughout their life span. LGBT people are also targets of sexual and physical assault, harassment, and hate crimes. These pressures, as well as the stress of sometimes concealing one's orientation or modifying behaviour or appearance in anticipation of homophobia and violence, have a negative effect on mental and physical health. Family rejection in adolescence has been linked to increased substance use, depression, and attempted suicide.
Trans people experience even more significant social marginalization in our society. For many who cannot pass as cisgender, or non-trans, the added visibility leaves them more susceptible to harassment and abuse. The cumulative impact of erasure, pathologization, and exclusion leave trans people, and trans youth in particular, vulnerable to suicide. That is what research has been able to demonstrate.
But not all of this is a surprise to those of us in this room. In recent months and years, there have been many stories that have captured the attention of our country's media and viewers at home. There have been stories of young lives ended, just when they ought to be getting started. We have heard tell of homophobic bullying and tormenting that has taken place in schools and online among university students and pre-teens. We have seen video clips filmed by bright and talented young people full of spark whose will to go on has been broken.
As a community, we grieve each of these losses deeply and sincerely. We know that for every one of these LGBT lives lost, there are many more whose stories won't be told because they've taken their secret pain to the grave.
At the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line it is not uncommon for our callers to speak about times they had attempted but somehow, thankfully, fallen short of succeeding and ending their lives, and more common still to hear contemplations. Ending it all can seem a very real option to far too many of our kids.
This all sounds very bleak, and indeed it paints a picture of communities in crisis. It is stories like these that have brought us all here today to undertake the important work of making suicide prevention a priority for all, a matter of public health and safety.
The bill before the committee proposes many helpful elements, and I congratulate the authors on some of the following elements in particular. Paragraph 1 of the preamble specifically outlines that suicide “can be influenced by societal attitudes and conditions”, which is the very essence of what I am presenting to you today.
I put to you that you should consider naming the societal attitudes that you refer to in this paragraph more directly: homophobia, transphobia, and racism. Alternatively, naming the communities and populations that are known to be disproportionately affected by this issue could strengthen the impact of this bill.
I offer strong support for paragraphs 3 and 4 of the preamble, particularly the naming of communities as agents of action in both the prevention of suicide and after care of survivors impacted by suicide.
I stand firmly behind the use of knowledge transfer and exchange as mechanisms for change in our public attitude toward suicide, and I urge the government to utilize the research and resources that are available from sources such as Rainbow Health Ontario and Trans PULSE to inform the tools and resources that this bill will stimulate so that the concerns and realities of LGBT individuals and communities are made visible to the general population.
Finally, I urge the committee to look not only to research bodies but also to communities as sources of valuable information, healing, and prevention. Building communities of, with, and for our most vulnerable people can provide the safety net that will ensure LGBT individuals do not become statistics.