Higher Suicide Rates in Conservative “Values Voters” States

Values voters. That’s what those who vote their principles on gay rights and abortion are called. So long as they vote anti-gay and anti-choice. 

Really? Are those the only values? And are they good ones? 

Why is voting to deny gays and lesbians equal rights a value, while voting to defend their rights is not? Why is voting against the right of women to control their bodies not a value? Abortion rates are about the same whether legal or not, so many girls and women die when safe and legal options are not available. 

Are they called values voters because they vote their morals against their pocketbooks? Plenty of well-to-do liberals do the same thing, voting for greater equality and opportunity for women, people of color, gays and the poor against their own financial interests.  

Why are progressive ethics seemingly invisible? 

I got to thinking about this while looking over research that finds teen suicide rates are higher where values voters live. 

According to a Columbia University study, suicide attempts by both gay and straight teens are more common in politically conservative areas, even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed.  

The difference in suicide rates might have something to do with differences in conservative and progressive principles. 

Conservatives focus on tradition and authority. 

Progressives recognize the worth and dignity of each human being, whether female or male; black, white, or brown; gay, straight, bi or trans. And progressives seek to avoid inflicting harm on others. 

No wonder teens are less likely to commit suicide in communities that hold these ideals. 

Interestingly, the Bible, which is a major source of conservative morals, contains a progressive message.   

True, Leviticus 18:22 does say, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,” which many interpret as banning homosexuality. But Leviticus 20:13 deems killing the proper punishment. Yet I don’t know anyone who insists on adhering to both points, leaving them inconsistent in relying on Biblical authority. 

At the same time, Jesus declared the greatest commandments loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). 

When it’s all about love and the golden rule, good progressive values, there will surely be much less suicide. 

Georgia Platts

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on April 22, 2011, in feminism, gender, LGBTQ, psychology, race/ethnicity, reproductive rights, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I listened to the interview about the Columbia University study that you linked to in your post, and the guy specifically said he hoped that people wouldn’t turn the results into a liberal versus conservative arguing point, as he felt it would deflect to focus away from what he feels needs to be done, which is to create more supportive school environments (particularly for gay/lesbian youth). However, I’m sort of with you. It is hard not to feel that the typical American “conservative,” “value voter” environment would be a much harder place to grow up if you didn’t quite fit the less accepting “moral”mold. And, not fitting in when you are young is hard.

    But, how can it be changed so that fewer teens feel like ending their life is their only option? Changing peoples conservative principles is difficult at best. The guy interviewed about the study suggested that the focus should be on the school environment. I agree with him that this is probably the best approach. If you mandate schools to enforce anti-bulling and anti-discrimination policies, then not only will life perhaps become easier for the kids who don’t feel like they fit in, it might also make the next generation realize that it is socially unacceptable to discriminate (even if their intolerant viewpoints remain the same).

    • Hopefully changing the school environment would be enough, without changing the underlying perspective that creates hostility toward people who don’t fit conservative values. But I suspect that those underlying values do have an effect. How to change them is another matter.

  2. Tonya (Facundo) Kamaloni

    I can appreciate all the discussion on surgery options and the implications for those that desire them and those that want to abolish it. I do want to comment on the original topic of the high suicide rates in conservative constituencies. I have direct experience with being raised in an extremely conservative community. Teen issues are not discussed. Teens are expected not to engage in premarital sex so there is not other education that happens except abstinence. The result is teens that get pregnant and feel so shamed they commit suicide. The expectations are so high on children in conservative communities. Teens are not given the skills to navigate situations because more than likely they are not even discussed. While these are huge generalizations, it was my experience and that of my peers.

  3. I can understand that teenagers that are raised in more conservative communities have a more difficult with abortion as well as the issue of being gay or lesbian. I assume that the rate is so high because these conservative families are closed minded and do not accept or condone these types of behaviors or decisions. First of all abortion is a topic still argued today. Abortion is seen as exterminating a life, but who is to say that is right or wrong? In a hypothetical situation, if a woman is raped and gets pregnant is the woman supposed to keep this unwanted pregnancy? Is this automatically sense as inhuman on the woman to make a decision to not want to relive the memory of a traumatic experience? As far as the discussion about teens that are dealing with the idea of being gay or lesbian, it is a preference and to live in a community that condemns these types of individuals is hard to deal with. The feeling is probably so lonely and unbearable that suicide seems to be the only best option given to them.

  4. It really bothers me when people chose to narrow in on one aspect of something that is said whether in the Bible or other places that help validate their opinion, but in a lot of cases they don’t see the borad picture of how it could casue harm to others. We should be looking at how can we make life and right better for the human race rather then discriminating. The Bible has some good messages but times change and things need to be revaluated, espically when it is causing others to harm themselves or worse taking their own life.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience. It looks like things have been very difficult, and I’m sorry for that. I’m glad that you seem to be doing as well as you are now. I wish you my best.

    • Thank you, but I believe my previous comment should be deleted. It suddenly hit me that my comment could easily be misinterpreted, especially because I did a poor job writing it, and particularly poor job of thinking it through before I wrote it. I am deeply sorry if anyone read this and inferred something other than what I meant.

      I will clarify what I meant. In my father’s irrational state of mind, he may have believed (speculation) that he was protecting his family, so made the choice he did. He is not a “hero” nor is Robin Williams. Their death was caused by a sickness that can be prevented with proper treatment. I wrote irresponsibly and will be more careful in the future. I am sorry. Even after my clarification, I think my previous comment should be deleted and respectfully ask that you do so.

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