Respect Equality

Rates of attempted suicide sink where hate crime laws protect LGBTQ+ people: study

Fewer high school students attempt suicide when they live in states that have enacted LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections.
In this Oct. 8, 2019, file photo, supporters of LGBTQ rights hold placards in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Story at a glance


  • High school students — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity — are less likely to attempt suicide when they live in states with LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections in place, new research has found.

  • No notable declines were found in states with hate crime laws that do not include sexual orientation as a protected class, according to a study published Thursday by researchers at the University of Indianapolis and the Ohio State University.

  • Most states in the U.S. lack explicit LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections.

Fewer young people attempt suicide in states where nondiscrimination laws protect the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ people, new research has found.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, researchers at the University of Indianapolis and the Ohio State University found that high school students — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — are less likely to attempt suicide when they live in states that have enacted laws protecting LGBTQ+ populations.

Researchers analyzed the responses of high school students that participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey between 1991 and 2018, representing more than 697,000 14- to 18-year-olds.

In 2015, the first year the CDC began asking students about sexual orientation, suicide attempt rates were markedly higher among students identifying as gay or lesbian (25.7 percent), bisexual (27.1 percent) or questioning (18.5 percent) compared with their heterosexual peers (6.3 percent).


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But when rates of attempted suicide were grouped by state, they were lowest in ones that had enacted hate crime laws protecting sexual minorities, researchers found, translating into a 16 percent decline in the yearly number of attempted suicides among high schoolers in those states.

No notable declines were found in states that had enacted hate crime laws that excluded sexual minorities as a protected class, according to the study.

“[Hate crime laws] are associated with reductions in the proportion of adolescents who attempt suicide, but this potential appears to be contingent on naming sexual minorities as a protected group,” researchers wrote.

According to the study, LGBTQ+ youth did not experience larger reductions in suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers after hate crime laws designed to protect them were passed. 

“This essentially says that just as factors that contribute to health disparities are ultimately disadvantageous for all, factors that remedy health disparities are frequently beneficial for all,” Aaron Kivisto, a professor at the University of Indianapolis and one of the study’s authors, said Thursday.

But researchers did observe differences in suicide attempt rates among different sexual minority groups, and bisexual and questioning students saw much larger declines compared with gay and lesbian students, for instance.

A Human Rights Campaign analysis in February found that, in most of the nation, LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections are severely lacking.

In 29 states, LGBTQ+ people may still be denied housing, medical care and service at public accommodations like restaurants because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the group found.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also fallen short of passing federal protections for LGBTQ+ people, which 80 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans believe is necessary. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would build on existing civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in all 50 states.

The measure has languished for more than a year in the Senate, where its fate is still uncertain.