BY AJ TRAGER
MOUNT PLEASANT – A recent analysis conducted by a Central Michigan University professor has indicated that prejudice and discrimination can lead to health issues for LGBT young adults.
CMU associate professor of sociology Elbert Almazan’s research indicates suicide risk is more prevalent among LGBT youth than their heterosexual counterparts. Almazan and fellow researchers investigated whether same-sex romantic attraction, same-sex sexual identity, lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and recent same-sex sexual behavior (within the last 12 months) were associated with suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in the past 12 months among men and women in the U.S. ages 24 to 34.
“Because sexual minorities are diverse in their attractions, behaviors and identities, we wanted to evaluate whether all sexual minorities could have a greater risk for suicide than heterosexuals,” Almazan said.
Almazan and his team analyzed 2008-2009 survey result data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and discovered that multiple sexual minority status measures had significant associations with increased suicidal thoughts among men and women; increased suicidal attempts by women but not among men; and diverse sexual minority populations are at risk for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
“Our findings show that for every one heterosexual young adult who experienced a suicidal thought or suicide attempt, there are two sexual minority young adults who experienced a suicidal thought or suicide attempt,” Almazan said. “Results suggest that the higher suicide risk among sexual minority young adults shows that stigma in society continues to exist toward LGB persons, and that it can lead to negative health consequences.”
Over 14,000 youth were polled in data used for Almazan’s research. The primary study was conducted in 1996 and recreated using the same database in 2008-2009 and again in 2014-2015, accessing the data to look at drinking and drug use habits, depression, relationships with friends and family and to gauge what contributes to the higher suicide rate in young adults.
Almazan said it was hard to get the LGBT specific data since much of the data was collected before sexual orientation was polled in surveys. He has been a long time advocate for the LGBT community and much of his research deals with LGBT studies.
“Some sexual minorities may not self-identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual because they are struggling with the stigma associated with having a same-sex attraction,” Almazan said. “Most previous research on suicide risk has relied on one dimension or measure of sexual orientation, but using only one measure includes some sexual minorities, but excludes others.”
After over 100 hours of analyzing the data, Almazan and his team submitted the paper. A year later it was published. Almazan hopes the research builds awareness and guides health and social service professionals in helping sexual minority young people.
“As a society and as a culture, we need to find ways to eliminate prejudice and discrimination toward sexual minorities,” he said. “For professionals who work with young people, asking confidential questions about sexual orientation can be informative in helping sexual minorities cope with issues of prejudice and discrimination.”
Almazan’s research team included Michael Roettger of Pennsylvania State University and Pauline Acosta of Cerritos College. The study was published in the journal Archives of Suicide Research.
“If I could have research that people could use to help policy, then that provides gratitude for me,” Almazan said.