Social worker and LGBT+ activist Michael Reynolds visited the Rainbow Center Wednesday afternoon to share critical information regarding both risk and protection factors of suicide in the LGBT+ community.
Reynolds has considerable experience working with a variety of people including families, church groups and schools. He chose to address suicidality specifically because believes it is as an overarching issue in all of his fields of work.
Reynolds began his lecture by asking those in attendance to think about what they belong to, and how they feel when they know they have a place. As an audience, everyone present discussed the positive feelings of safety, fullness and empowerment resulting in a sense of belonging.
Not surprisingly, feeling a lack of support and sense of community is one of the main risk factors of suicide, and Reynolds also shared some startling statistics about LGBT+ youth who come from high rejecting families. For example, LGBT+ youth from these families are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide, and 5.4 times more likely to report high depression, Reynolds said. Also, somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT, and are homeless because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, he added.
Freshman Chris Denslow said he was surprised to learn that “the LGBTQIA+ community is at a higher risk of suicide” but recognizes that while these statistics are upsetting and extremely problematic, they reflect a need for something that can be fairly easy to provide: support.
Reynolds stressed that good support is in listening and sharing without judgment or negativity.
As a gay, Catholic man, Reynolds spoke of his struggle with finding a sense of belonging, especially in the Catholic Church community. He discussed this at length, noting that despite most religions’ ideals of love, peace and spirituality, many members of the LGBT+ community are met with spiritual teachings that make them feel alienated and unwelcome. These views, held by many churches also make it difficult for LGBT+ youths to find support in their families since familial values are often founded in religion, Reynolds said.
Ultimately Reynolds concluded his presentation with stories of people he knows from a group he belongs to, which focuses on the underlying principles of the Catholic faith rather than its teachings.
Members of similar groups have found that the sense of community gained is key to making them feel safer and more comfortable, he mentioned; and the fact that the Catholic church sponsors the groups can help make family members more accepting.
Freshman Kristen Barbaris said she “didn’t know there was going to be a religion aspect to the presentation,” and thought it was “interesting to see how the Catholic Church played a role in the LGBT+ community.”
Regardless of religion, however, the main focus of Reynolds’s presentation was the power of community. And while some may find that community in faith or spirituality, others may find it just in visiting the Rainbow Center, or any other counseling resource provided here at UConn.
Reynolds reiterated several times that everyone can make a difference if they are brave enough to reach out to those who are struggling to find a place to belong.