When Kayden Satya Ortiz attended Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va., she began every school year by writing the same message to every one of her teachers. It went something like this, according to a January article in the Washington Post: “I am transgender. I use he/him/his pronouns. Please put this in your records now.”
Ortiz, now 22, explains that it frequently didn’t work, and that educators and classmates addressed her with her original name and female pronouns. “It hits you, every time it happens,” Ortiz said. “It’s a physical pain in the heart.” She says that because of that pain, as well as bullying, a prohibition against Ortiz using the boy’s restroom, and “insufficient support from administrators,” Ortiz tried to kill herself a dozen times in high school.
For many transgender youth, Ortiz’s story is concerningly familiar. In 2019, The Trevor Project, an LGBT suicide prevention organization, conducted the largest national survey of LGBT youth ever, with 34,000 respondents aged 13 to 24. Of the 25,896 valid respondents, 39 percent acknowledged they had considered suicide in the last year.
The percentage was highest among transgender and non-binary respondents: 29 percent claimed they’d attempted suicide. These stories gain significant traction in left-leaning mainstream media. In October 2019, NBC ran a story on a number of LGBTQ persons who were “driven” to suicide because of bullying and people unsympathetic to their new identities. Rolling Stone similarly announced: “Nearly 40% of LGBTQ Youth Have Contemplated Suicide: Report.”
Yet is Ortiz’s story, and many like hers, reducible only to harassment and bullying, or are other factors at work? Even pro-transgender organizations acknowledge that mental illness is a much greater problem among transgender persons than among the general population.
Research shows about half of trans persons in the United States suffer from depression or anxiety disorder. In 2017, 41 percent of trans adults in the United States said they had attempted suicide in their lives. It’s certainly possible that cultural stigma against transgenderism is behind these rates. Mistreatment of transgender people is obviously unacceptable and harmful. Yet it’s also possible that left-leaning media’s laser-focused attention on transgender persons, and encouraged by pro-transgender medical practioners and politicians, contribute to aggravating this problem.
More Media Attention Encourages Suicide
There is plentiful research demonstrating that increased public attention to suicide has the unintended consequence of encouraging suicidal thoughts among the most vulnerable. According to Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, “more than 50 studies on nonfictional stories reported in newspapers, on television, and more recently on the Internet, have yielded consistent findings. Suicide rates go up following an increase in the frequency of stories about suicide.”
As Federalist contributor Chad Felix Greene has argued, media narratives that implicitly tell 13- to 16-year-olds they are “supposed to be afraid, anxious, depressed, and isolated from their peers” is likely going to aggravate those feelings. Greene is right: this obsession is unintentionally “causing the very symptoms we wish to fight.”
This is compounded by medical transgender enthusiasts. One such pro-transgender psychologist, Dr. Wallace Wong, has advised parents seeking to get their child referred for his gender transition treatment to exaggerate the severity of their child’s mental health issues to local health offices.
Wong presented a suicide threat as one effective means of persuasion: “So what you need is, you know what? Pull a stunt. Suicide, every time, [then] they will give you what you need,” Wong said, adding that gender-dysphoric kids “learn that. They learn it very fast.” When medical practitioners like Wong encourage kids to either attempt or fake a suicide, we shouldn’t be quite as surprised when they take his advice.
We can also add to the mix politicians who claim that opposition to transgenderism, particularly from religious communities, presents an existential threat to the mental health of transgender persons. In June 2019, California lawmakers passed ACR-99, which claims that some religious beliefs are responsible for actually killing people, including children. The text of the bill reads:
WHEREAS, 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…
The message is clear: some religious groups and their beliefs foster a stigma that leads to high suicide rates. Strange — if religious censure of certain behaviors causes suicide, why aren’t we seeing people who engage in extramarital sexual relations also experiencing astronomical suicide rates? Moreover, as Glenn Stanton has argued, there is no scientific research to substantiate the California legislature’s claim, and the most LGBT-endorsing countries and cities in the world still have disproportionately high rates of suicides among LGBT individuals.
Kids Need to Hear that Suicide Is Never Justified
Certainly the bullying and harassment that students like Ortiz endured can compound feelings of isolation, depression, and self-hatred. But blame also lies at the feet of media, medical practitioners, politicians, and even parents who tell transgender persons, either explicitly or implicitly, that suicide, or attempting suicide, are expected reactions to those feelings.
Rather than address the more uncomfortable possibilities (such as that perhaps rejecting one’s physical anatomy is associated with mental illness), these actors try to shift responsibility to those suspicious or critical of transgender ideology. They appear to believe that if persuading vulnerable youths to contemplate suicide helps persuade the public that skepticism of transgender ideology is dangerously prejudicial and bigoted, so be it.
This does youths like Ortiz a disservice. I attended the same secondary school as Ortiz, though about 20 years before her. I knew a number of kids who, for a variety of reasons, were emotionally vulnerable like her, and targets of harassment and bullying. Tragically, there were multiple suicides in my six years there.
Mental illness is a terribly serious thing, and increasingly affects America’s youth, regardless of sexual or gender identity. Exploiting that trend as a political weapon for policy advantages and bludgeoning one’s adversaries may secure some short-term political victories. But, as more and more stories prove, such tactics create collateral damage, in this case, vulnerable American youths. And that is shameful.