Today, we received a grim report from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) detailing the astronomical rise in youth suicides in our state, which rose more than 140 percent from 2011 to 2015. After calling in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help investigate this epidemic, the UDOH published this revealing report. While there is much to fear about that rapidly ascending line in the graph of youth suicides, there are two pieces of information on which I am choosing to focus from this report because they give some hope.
1. Given that only 40 percent of the cases included information on the youths’ sexual orientation, and 15 percent of those identified as sexual minorities, I was pleased that the UDOH recognized the need to make sure that gathering this particular information is institutionalized to better understand the unique risks faced by LGBTQ youth. That gives us hope.
2. Secondly, the report names those protective factors that reduce the risk of suicide in young people, and it’s exactly what we know to be true. Inclusion. Acceptance. Love. That gives us hope.
But these changes won’t come without our attention and action.
In addition to collecting data about sexual identity, it’s paramount these agencies also focus on gender identity. At Equality Utah, we are dedicated to educating UDOH and others on the unique challenges faced by our trans* siblings and friends.
And we must work even harder to create a culture that tells all young people that they belong. When all sectors of society, including schools, churches, government and families, foster a culture of deep belonging, it truly saves lives. This is the most powerful and impactful way we can reduce suicides in our state.
We will not stop our work until we achieve this objective. And we want to thank all community, church, business, school, elected and public officials who have proactively worked to advance inclusive policies that affirm LGBTQ youth.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to shift the culture of this state. We’re not there yet. But working together we can transform a culture of exclusion to inclusion, fear to love and despair to hope.