Associate Professor Rob Cover is the author of the book Queer Youth Suicide, Culture and Identity: Unliveable Lives? It is the first scholarly work in nearly a decade to examine this issue.
“Same-sex marriage can increase the distinctions between queer people, making some feel more alienated and unable to aspire to happiness,” Associate Professor Cover said. “It is not where resources for improving the lives of queer youth ought to be directed – more needs to be done around bullying and representation.”
Associate Professor Cover’s research points out that marriage and relationships are not the primary concerns of the small but important minority of gay youth struggling with intolerable emotional pain, bullying, identity issues or pressures leading to mental health concerns.
“There is no clear indication that same-sex marriage will legitimise queer people in the minds of others, even if it gives a much-needed political legitimacy,” he said. “There is greater danger in hoping that it will be a cure-all – and directing resources to this one form of legitimation falls far short of what is needed, when there are other policy and service areas that require resources.”
In the book, published recently by Ashgate, Associate Professor Cover explores how sexual identity, sexual shame and exclusion are implicated in the reasons why some young people are resilient while others are vulnerable and at risk. He also outlines some of the ways gay youth suicide is perceived in popular culture, media and research.
“In the ’80s and early ’90s there was very little media portrayal of non-heterosexual people, behaviours or relationships, and little information for queer youth,” he said. “There was also no Internet. Homophobia was in your face. Today, young people are exposed to greater media representation and there are policy protections against bullying in many schools.
“Young queer people are coming out much earlier and there is broader family and community acceptance.”
Yet while life is significantly better for many gay adults, Associate Professor Cover argues that young gay people still seek suicide as an escape from unbearable or unliveable lives.