Bullying, Homophobia, Conversion Therapy: What Is Pushing Queer People To Suicide?
On 26 August this year, a transgender person was found dead by suicide in Pune. In July, two gay men from Assam died by suicide due to their families’ opposition to their relationship. In the month of May, Anjana Harish, a queer woman from Goa died by suicide after months of conversion therapy that she was allegedly forced into after coming out as bisexual. In 2019, 19-year-old Avinshu from Chennai died by suicide. In his viral Facebook post, he talked about what people around him perceived about his sexual orientation, and how they harassed him. In 2018, two women in Gujrat committed suicide by jumping into the Sabarmati River, their suicide note read “We had distanced ourselves from the world so that we could unite, but the world did not let us live.”
On a closer look at all these cases, you notice, that all these are queer people reportedly faced bullying, harassment or abuse at the hands of family or acquaintances. Also, the developments in these cases remain largely unreported. Numerous queer people have committed suicide after harassment and abuse, so much so that even the World Health Organization classifies lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) persons to be at a higher risk of suicide. In simpler words, homophobia and transphobia kill.
Why are LGBTQ+ groups at a higher rate of risk?
No concrete Indian statistical data is present on the suicide of LGBTQ+ individuals. However, over the years multiple reports of the suicide of LGBTQ+ people due to harassment, bullying, conversion therapy and sexual abuse have come forward. In cases where no suicide note or similar documentation is found, it becomes even harder to ascertain the correlation between suicide and sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2016 study titled Suicide and Suicidal Behavior among Transgender Persons states that the suicide rate among transgender individuals in India is about 31 percent, and “50 percent of them have attempted suicide at least once before their 20th birthday.”
The Trevor Project, a US-based organisation formed in 1998 reports that queer youth are almost five times as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. Queer individuals are also linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse which act as high-risk behaviours for suicide. This does not mean, however, that LGBT identity itself is the cause of these challenges. Rather, these higher rates may be due to bias, discrimination, family rejection, and other stressors associated with how they are treated because of their sexual identity or gender identity/expression.
Familial abuse and familial rejection is a common reason for homelessness and suicide among LGBTQ+ people, according to the 2008 report titled Suicide Risk and Prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Even now, on coming out, LGBTQ+ individuals may face corrective rape (rape of queer women by male family members), conversion therapy and other such methods to “cure” someone of their homosexuality.
In an official statement issued on 21 May, the Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists (IACP) called ‘Conversion Therapy’ a ‘dangerously harmful,’ ‘discredited,’ and ‘painful and traumatising unprofessional practice.’ Even the judgement on Section 377 in 2018 states, “Counselling practices will have to focus on providing support to homosexual clients to become comfortable with who they are and get on with their lives, rather than motivating them for a change. Instead of trying to cure something that isn’t even a disease or illness, the counsellors have to adopt a more progressive view that reflects the changed medical position.” However, Anjana Harish’s suicide hints towards a larger and much subvert problem faced by multiple LGBTQ+ individuals in the country.
A Larger Institutional Problem
Commonplace institutionalised homophobia and transphobia have contributed to this issue on a large scale. For instance, how many of these cases are reported and investigated for abetment by family members and other known people? Even when suicide notes, Facebook videos and other experiential claims by the victims exist, how many times do we come across reports of conclusive legal actions being taken in such cases? Is there a follow up to these cases? Are these cases investigated beyond the first information reports and news articles? Are the people who run conversion camps ever investigated or persecuted? Abetment to the suicide of queer people is a systematic issue, which is protected by the prevalence of unscientific ‘cures for homosexuality’ and the lack of anti-discrimination laws by the state.
Queer positive legislations, for employment, adoption, in healthcare and education foster an environment where queer people are not singled out. For instance, teen suicides, particularly among LGBT teenagers, have decreased following the legalisation of gay marriage in the US, said a report published by AP in 2017.
Also, there is a need for greater resources to help LGBTQ+ teens facing mental health issues and abuse. The problem is that there is a chance that psychologists and psychiatrists, that queer people turn to with mental health issues, may be queerphobic and instead of helping queer individuals often add to their problems. Psychological help remains both expensive and inaccessible for most people. Structurally, the mental healthcare gap must be fixed and queer people need to have increased access to queer affirmative therapy. These measures could at least ensure that LGBTQ+ community isn’t on their own, to deal with the societal and the resultant mental health issues they are facing.
Protection of LGBTQIA+ individuals from harassment and abuse due to their sexuality and gender identity is of utmost importance. The lack of any legal provisions for this and complete silence from government bodies on these increasing deaths mean that LGBTQ+ individuals have nowhere to go or report to in case of any violence or abuse. Queer people still can’t reach courts against discrimination. Mere symbolic decriminalisation does nothing to help LGBTQIA+ people when there aren’t measures in place to protect their dignity and personhood.
Image Credit: Anureet Watta
The views expressed are the author’s own.
If you think you are experiencing any mental health issues you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider. You can refer to the following lists-
1. Pink List India, Queer Inclusive Mental Health practitioners
2. Varta Online locator for Queer friendly Legal, Mental Health and Sexual Health services