UTAH: No One Knows How Many LGBTQ Americans Die by Suicide

September 01, 2023

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News
Speaker:  Utah

The New York Times

Most death investigations in the U.S. do not collect data on sexual orientation or gender identity, making it tough to accurately estimate how many LGBTQ people die by suicide. Utah is leading efforts to change this, following the passage of a 2017 law requiring more thorough investigations of suicide deaths. After a suicide or drug overdose, the state medical examiner’s office carries out “psychological autopsies” by contacting family members to ask about the person who died, including questions about their sexuality and gender identity. Experts say such information is critical for focusing prevention efforts. Some suggest suicide rates among LGBTQ people are underestimated, leaving advocates without the evidence to obtain needed supports. Michael Staley, a sociologist who leads the data-collection effort in the Utah medical examiner’s office, said it’s important not to “normalize suicide as part of the queer experience.” “I would argue that if anything, this life experience sets us up to be resilient,” he said. “Our fate is not sealed. Our story is not written.”

Spark Extra! Learn more about gathering suicide data.