The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Growing Up Queer and Religious: A Quantitative Study Analyzing the Relationship Between Religious Identity Conflict and Suicide in Sexual Minority Youth

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 4:30 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon F, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Jeremy Gibbs, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Jeremy Goldbach, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Purpose: Sexual minority youth (SMY) mature in contexts that espouse anti-homosexual values. For many youth these contexts are defined by religious belief. A Minority Stress framework explains that religious environments exact stress on SMY, which can lead to religious and sexual identity conflict. To date no known study has quantitatively established a link between religious identity conflict and suicide within this population. This study seeks to understand how religious identity conflict impacts suicide in SMY, and to determine if internalized homophobia mediates this relationship.

Methods: A secondary data analysis was conducted using data collected by OutProud in 2000 via an internet-survey sample recruited though in-print media and websites, which cater to SMY. Of 5,281 U.S. respondents, 18-24 years old, 2,949 were included in this analysis. Three indicators of identity conflict (religious identity conflict self report, parental anti-homosexual religious beliefs, and leaving one’s religion of origin due to conflict), an internalized homophobia (IH) scale, and two suicide variables (suicidal thoughts in the last month, and suicide attempt in the last year) were measured. Analysis included logistic regressions to establish relationships between conflict measures and suicide outcomes, and to determine the extent to which IH mediates these relationships.

Results: All three indicators are associated with higher odds of suicidal thoughts. Internalized homophobia fully mediated one indicator’s (religious identity conflict self report) relationship to suicidal thoughts and partially mediated the other two (parental anti-homosexual religious beliefs, and leaving one’s religion of origin due to conflict). Leaving one’s religion due to conflict had a dual relationship with suicidal thoughts (directly increasing the odds, and indirectly via IH decreasing the odds). Further, this direct relationship was found to be stronger than the indirect relationship. Both leaving one’s religion of origin due to conflict and parental anti-homosexual religious beliefs were associated with twice the odds of a suicide attempt in the last year. IH was not associated with suicide attempt in the last year.

Implications: SMY who mature in religious contexts, which facilitate identity conflict, are at higher odds for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempt compared to other SMY. Internalized homophobia accounts for portions of this conflict, but does not explain the whole of this phenomenon. Although leaving one’s religion due to conflict may appear to suggest an adaptive response to intolerance for SMY, it is also associated with higher odds of suicide. Not only do clinicians have the extra responsibility to assess for suicide in this population, but they also need to consider the implications of a client leaving his or her religion. Because of the increased risk for suicide, these finding suggest that clinical best practices do not involve encouraging SMY to leave their intolerant religion of origin. Further research is needed to investigate this complex relationship.