CMDA's The Point

Scapegoating the Church for LGBT Suicide and Stigma

June 27, 2019
Scapegoating the Church for LGBT Suicide and Stigma

by Andrè Van Mol, MD

Health statistics for people who identify as GLBTQ+ are recognized as poor compared to the general population. Finding causation for those negative statistics in stigma and the religious groups that allegedly promote it is the ideological zeitgeist. California Assemblyman Evan Low just introduced non-binding resolution ACR-99 Civil rights: lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people, which states, “The stigma associated with being LGBT often created by groups in society, including therapists and religious groups, has caused disproportionately high rates of suicide, attempted suicide, depression, rejection, and isolation amongst LGBT and questioning individuals;” and it isn’t the only time “religious groups,” “pastors” or “religious leaders” are mentioned in the text condemning “conversion therapy.” It’s conceptual and factual error and ultimately hurts sexual minorities. Blame shifting does that.

Suicidal Behavior
If religious convictions are a major contributor to stigma and suicide, one would expect much lower rates of such in nations with relatively fewer people of orthodox faith. But a 2006 study from the Netherlands noted, “This study suggests that even in a country with a comparatively tolerant climate regarding homosexuality, homosexual men were at much higher risk for suicidality than heterosexual men.” A 2011 Danish study asserted, “The estimated age-adjusted suicide mortality risk for RDP [same-sex registered domestic partnerships] men was nearly eight times greater than for men with positive histories of heterosexual marriage and nearly twice as high for men who had never married.” GLBT-identified individuals in Canada and Northern Europe enjoy government support and subsidy, celebration from liberal (and failing) churches and a public coerced into silence by hate-speech codes, yet their suicide rates remain alarming.

Suicidality in the LGB-identified, adults or minors, has been shown to not be uniformly improving even as society becomes more affirming. Furthermore, the Wang paper from 2015 found that the high rate of attempted suicide in sexual minorities was not explained for by psychological disorders or discrimination. Stigma just wasn’t it.

Three reports in the last five years suggested that the “trans” suicide attempt rate was over 40 percent (Haas 2014, James 2015, Toomey 2018), results which were trumpeted by activists in the media. All three reports used convenience sampling.

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) epidemiology expert and former male-to-female transitioner Hacsi Horváth realized the researchers in each of these surveys sabotaged their efforts by not using appropriate methods to obtain truly representative sampling. Specifically, statistical generalizations cannot be made from convenience sampling, which is what they all used, as Horvath explains well. Horvath details that the William’s Institute, and LGBT “think tank” which also produced and promoted the Haas report in 2014, was contracted by the state of California to use appropriate survey methods and found the trans-identified suicide attempt rate was 22 percent. That is comparable to rates for people with psychological illness, bullying victims and general LGB-identification. So, bad rates, but not uniquely so.

So, what are causative factors for suicidal behavior? There is no one causative factor. Life is multi-factorial. Nonetheless, certain contributors stand out. Horvath cites a study (Nock 2013) showing about 96 percent of U.S. adolescents attempting suicide demonstrate at least one mental illness. Here I would add a 2003 study showing that 90 percent of people (adults and adolescents) who completed suicide had unresolved mental disorders. The Nock study concluded that “the core responsibility of doctors in trying to reduce suicide rates remains the identification and treatment of mental disorders.”

Returning to Horvath, he continues, “Around 5% of all youth suicide can be attributed in part to discussion and media coverage of other suicides (Kennebeck 2018).” That contagious example of publicized suicide is called the Werther effect, a copycat phenomenon; whereas, the Papageno effect is the reduction of suicide rates prompted by the public example of a suicidal individual who finds a way to live on.

Intimate Partner Violence
A major contributor to the elevated suicide statistics in sexual minority adults is literally found closer to home, namely intimate partner violence. A 2014 Australian study reported that a leading reason for suicide among “LGBTI” individuals was stress from romantic partners rather than societal rejection. The CDC’s 2010 findings from its ongoing National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) stated that sexual minorities experience intimate partner violence at rates equal to or greater than non-sexual minorities. A 2010 ScienceCodex article was titled “Gays and lesbians twice as likely to endure Intimate Partner Violence as heterosexuals….”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offered a grant in 2013 for the prevention of domestic violence in LGBTQ individuals stating, “Domestic/intimate partner violence is a significant health problem among LGBTQ populations….” This should not be news to California legislators. In 2008, with a $50,000 grant from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association launched the “LGBT Relationship Violence Project” to educate medical professionals about LGBT domestic violence.

Stigma is popularly cited as a major cause of negative health outcomes for the GLBT-identified. The attraction is easy to grasp: it’s you guys and not me, the victim, and nothing in me needs to change.

A 2014 study by Hatzenbuehler entitled “Structural stigma and all-cause mortality in sexual minority populations” claimed an average life expectancy reduction of 12 years for sexual minorities living in areas with suspected prominent anti-gay sentiment. The publication was widely reported. Mark Regnerus’s team in 2017 tried to replicate the results of Hatzenbuehler’s work, and 10 different methods of statistical computation failed to do so. Retraction Watch carried the story. Social Science & Medicine eventually retracted the study, explaining that, “Re-analysis confirmed that the original finding was erroneous and the authors wish to fully retract their original study accordingly.” But citations of Hatzenbuehler’s false conclusions persist.

Mayer and McHugh’s comprehensive review of the scientific literature on sexuality and gender concluded this about stigma reports, “[I]t is important to note that due to the cross-sectional design of these studies, causal inferences cannot be supported by the data…In particular, it is impossible to prove through these studies that stigma leads to poor mental health, as opposed to, for example, poor mental health leading people to report higher levels of stigma, or a third factor being responsible for both poor mental health and higher levels of stigma.” In the executive summary we find, “More high-quality longitudinal studies are necessary for the ‘social stress model’ to be a useful tool for understanding public health concerns.”

Faith, It’s Not the Bad Guy
Some critics charge that any wish on the part of a person to reduce their same-sex attractions and behaviors reveals self-stigma. This attitude reveals a dismissive and ill-informed view of orthodox religious and conservative moral values—a stigmatization of its own.

Research titled “Same-Sex Attracted, Not LGBQ,” published this year by a team composed of progressive (GLBT-affirming) and conservative (change allowing) researchers, examined sexual minorities among Mormons who held progressive social values—those comfortably LGBQ-identified, came out and rejected conservative religious faith—as well as conservative sexual minorities who rejected LGBTQ identification, did not come out, and retained their conservative faith. Both groups experienced equal health benefits regarding depression, anxiety, flourishing and life satisfaction. That contradicts minority-stress expectations.

A 2017 study of sexual minorities found, “Surprisingly, no significant differences are found between mainline Protestants (whose church doctrine often accepts same-sex relations) and evangelical Protestants (whose church doctrine often condemns same-sex relations).” It also found, “LGBT individuals who identify as Catholic, agnostic or atheist, or with no particular religious affiliation report lower levels of happiness compared to mainline Protestants.” They lumped Catholics (a “studied one, studied ‘em all” error) while separating out mainline and evangelical Protestants, which, in my honest opinion, misrepresents orthodox Catholic happiness.

A study of black GLB-identified young adults asserted, “Participants who reported lower religious faith scores and lower internalized homonegativity scores reported the lowest resiliency, while those reporting higher religious faith scores and higher internalized homonegativity reported the highest resiliency scores.” So higher religious faith and a non-affirming view of same-sex sexual behavior bore higher resiliency, not suicidality.

A few people, both secular and religious, claim a 2009 Pediatrics Journal study showed LGBT youth in religious-condemning families had eight times the general youth population suicide rate. Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University, the study’s lead researcher, rebutted: “We did not say that LGBT youth from religiously condemning families were at an 8 times greater likelihood of dying by suicide.” It was LGBT youth that were “highly rejected.” What counted was not the family’s religious beliefs but the behaviors the families showed LGBT-identified children.

First Amendment Concerns
A public statement appeared April 22, 2014 on titled “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both.” It contained bold chapter headings including “Free Speech Is a Value, Not Just a Law” and “Disagreement Should Not Be Punished,” and it was signed by a raft of law professors, politicians, organizational heads and activists. What happened to that set of convictions? In its 2015 Obergell v. Hodges decision regarding same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court specified, “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

Evidently, our legislators need reminding of both law and science as they rush to scapegoat people of faith—and stigmatize reasoned disagreement—as a primary cause of sexual minority suicidality and depression.

Andrè Van Mol, MD

About Andrè Van Mol, MD

André Van Mol, MD is a board-certified family physician in private practice. He serves on the boards of Bethel Church of Redding and Moral Revolution (, and is the co-chair of the American College of Pediatrician’s Committee on Adolescent Sexuality. He speaks and writes on bioethics and Christian apologetics, and is experienced in short-term medical missions. Dr. Van Mol teaches a course on Bioethics for the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. He and his wife Evelyn —both former U.S. Naval officers—have two sons and two daughters, the latter of whom were among their nine foster children.


  1. Avatar Norman Wetterau on June 27, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    What an excellent article from Dr Van Mol. It is well referenced and provides information that needs to be decimated, rather than very conservative or liberal biased approached. I also applaud CMDA for these article,they are a great improvement over some of the previously published rhetoric. When I read this I am proud to be a 55 year member of CMDA.

    I would encourage Dr Van Mol to makes some slight adjustments and submit this article to other journals, whether medical or to Christianity Today.

  2. Avatar Dr. David Thompson on June 27, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    As usual, an outstanding article, André!

  3. Avatar Dale Volquartsen on June 28, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Thank you Andrè. We also know that there is a deliberate strategy developed by LGBT groups that had been established several decades ago. The first step was to get gay individuals and characters into the daily awareness of our culture. Thus they were successful in getting gays and gay affirming characters into shows and movies. The second strategy was to target the legal system which they have done very successfully in the name of human rights. The final step is to break the influence of traditional values which are propped up by family and the church. Thus using the church as a scapegoat has no foundation in science or sociology but rather a well defined part of their overall strategy. I’m glad we have men like you who are standing against lies and for truth. Thank you.

  4. Avatar Steven Willing on June 28, 2019 at 11:30 am

    Excellent work. This needs to reach a wider audience!

  5. Avatar David R. Nicholas, M.S., Th.D. on July 26, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Dr. Andre Van Mol has done Bible-based churches an outstanding service by exposing the fallacious claims of transgender activists that a major cause of suicide among gender dysphoric, gender transitioning young people is church/religious-based. The evidence he presents from reliable research studies, both liberal and conservative, clearly substantiates both the unfounded nature of such a charge and the lack of a sound medical rationale for such a life-altering treatment and surgery. The Bible clearly teaches the reality of two genders, male and female!

    • Avatar Dawn on January 28, 2020 at 9:23 am

      You say “The Bible clearly teaches the reality of two genders, male and female!”
      Actually, it doesn’t.
      The Bilbe is a compendium of short stories, written by various authors, in various languages, over the course of many centuries, that have been translated and retranslated like a giant game of chinese whispers. The original motivation of some of those writers is — at best — open to conjecture, and even if their motives were good, their grasp of historical events and even basic science and geography were (by current standards) deeply flawed.

      According to Genesis, for instance:
      “And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.” By your logic, then, there is no twilight — no dawn or dusk.
      “And God said Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas.”
      So there are no intertidal zones, swamps, or marshes? And no landlocked seas such as the Caspian Sea and the Dead Sea?

      For primitive people living in the tropics and far from any of the major oceans, an abrupt transition from day to night might well have seemed “normal”, and the idea that “the waters” were “gathered together in one place” would have been quite believable. Neither would have been credible to the inhabitants of what is now Norway or Canada, where dusk can sometimes last for months, and sea level rises and falls by more than ten metres in the space of 12 hours.

  6. Avatar David Bosshardt, MD FACP on August 4, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Excellent article. Review of many articles with such scrutiny would break down many popular claims and positions accepted to placate people of presumption and prejudice. Unfortunately the American College of Physicians has also adopted a white paper that touts health care and health disparity among LBGQT identified individuals with support of published works that actually do not support their conclusions also. Implications that opposition to traditional societal structure and historically favorably supportive institutions are the means to bring about equality and parity in health and healthcare for sexual minorities. The data does not support this. The conclusions are calls for outlandish social experiments. Silencing those that question the methods, interpretations and conclusions is an underhanded way of proving a point, much less, not allowing the premise to be stated.

    Paul and the church at Ephesus dealt with an incited and excited mob in Acts 19. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”. Many will not let go of their presuppositions and prejudices to look at any of the data nor stand for consideration for reinterpretation or even correction.
    Thank you for your work.

  7. Avatar Bill on January 20, 2020 at 7:10 pm

    It would be easier to trust your statistics if you inserted less strident oped along the way, e.g. “celebration from liberal (and failing) churches and a public coerced into silence by hate-speech codes”.

  8. Avatar Dawn on January 28, 2020 at 8:49 am

    As the article says “life is multi-factorial”. There is no doubt that suicide and self-harm amongst the trans community can be caused by numerous factors. But that is not an excuse for religion (any religion — not just catholocism) cannot shirk its share of responsibility just because other factors may also be involved.

    It is a matter of fact — not conjecture — that religion is a major driving factor behind anti-trans activism, propaganda, and transphobia. The number of people who have actually read the Vatican document “Male and Female He Created Them” may be small, but the fact that its publication was delayed to coincide with “Pride Month” suggests that it was intended to generate maximum publicity for the concept that gender identity is “nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants.”

    Even atheist trans people find themselves exposed to the opinions of high-profile religious leaders denouncing their condition as “a sin”. They are bound by laws passed by politicians who claim that their decisions are driven by their religion. And in their everyday lives, they encounter other members of the public whose attitudes are coloured by anti-trans propaganda to which the Catholic church has been an enthusiastic contributor.
    It is hardly surprising that for some individuals who face alienation from their friends and family and antipathy, abuse, or even physical violence from strangers, suicide can seem like the easiest (or only) way out.

    I am not a Catholic: I regard all religions as lifestyle choices based on ludicrous superstitions. But I respect your right to believe whatever you like, and to lead your life however you like, right up to the point at which you start causing harm to other people.

    Catholicism should own up to its responsibilities, not try to evade or deny them

  9. Avatar J on December 12, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    Dawn I think you’re making some good points, and I think it needs to be stated very clearly that parts of the church have been extremely unwelcoming to people who are gay. Looking at this with emotional intelligence, we see that this is hurtful, unloving and at the worst condemning and criminal. So naturally those faced with this on a personal level will be hurt, feel unloved, feel condemned. These are natural responses to those preaching from the pulput, and through their church policies, to put forward an unwelcoming and rejecting message to those who are gay. If these unwelcoming attitudes are exerted in a focused and intense way towards an individual, of course they will have a marked effect on self esteem and contribute to low self worth.

  10. Avatar Peter Carlson on June 5, 2023 at 11:45 am

    As a queer person who grew up in a conservative evangelical Christian community, I can attest to the spiritual and psychological harm done by that community to me. Certainly suicidal tendencies are multi-factoral. Nonetheless, I see in this article a desperate attempt (stunningly common, by the way, in conservative evangelical theology) to dissociate from very harm that this brand of Christianity is inflicting. Instead of all y’all self-congratulating that you’re not the ONLY cause of suicidal ideation, howsabout you start repenting of the fact that you clearly are *A* cause?

    Jesus didn’t die for your sins so you wouldn’t have to take responsibility for them. Time to fess up to the spiritual (and often physical) abuse you’ve committed.

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