Last week, the journal Pediatrics published a study designed to bolster the political case for pro-homosexual policies in schools.

The Associated Press described the findings this way: Suicide attempts by gay teens and even straight kids are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights.

The studys author, Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University, called his findings a call to action in providing a roadmap for how we can begin to reduce suicide in LGB youth.

Enact anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation as a protected category, adopt anti-bullying policies that give special protections to homosexuals instead of protecting everyone equally, and form pro-homosexual gay-straight alliances in the schools, and you will save lives, he appears to be saying. (Oh, and it also helps to have more homosexual couples and registered Democrats living in your county.)

Those five variables were used as a measure of the social environment. The study, based on self-reports in a survey of young people across Oregon, found:

Among LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in negative environments compared with positive environments (25.47% of LGB living in negative environments attempted suicide at least once [in the last year] versus 20.37% in positive environments).

But to focus on the results this way is to ignore the studys most significant finding. Reuters did a much better job than AP in identifying it, beginning its story this way:

Lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers - but those living in a supportive community might be a little better off, according to a new study.

Thats rightthe homosexual and bisexual teenagers were five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexualsa difference that far overwhelms any difference caused by the social environment.

In any discussion of sexual orientation, it is important to remember that this is only an umbrella term for three quite different thingsa persons sexual attractions, the sexual behavior, and their self-identification. In the survey upon which this study was based, there was only a single question on sexual orientation, which asked which of the following best describes you. The choices were heterosexual (straight), gay or lesbian, bisexual or not sure. This is essentially a measure of self-identification.

Therefore, the logical take-away from the study would be this: the most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts is not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Hatzenbuehler declares, for example, that a 5-unit increase in the social environment measure (on his 17-point scale) would lead to a 10% reduction in suicide attempts in this population. But based on his findings, reducing the number of teens who self-identify as homosexual or bisexual could lead to a much larger reduction in suicide attempts (in theory, by up to 80% in this sub-sample, in the unlikely event that they all ceased to self-identify as LGB).

Of course, such a dramatic reduction in suicide risk merely from a change in self-identification would be unlikely as well, because the basis for each respondents self-identification in this study is not clear. A student may identify as gay or lesbian because he or she has experienced same-sex attractions, has engaged in homosexual conduct, or simply identifies with gay culture or has been identified by peers or others as gay or lesbian. Declining to self-identify as homosexual or bisexual on a survey would not necessarily change any of these underlying factors. (It should be noted that in this study, 1.9% of the students said they were not sure of their sexual orientation, and an additional 3.6% refused to answer the question at all. No data is given on their suicide risks.) This study does not provide sufficient data to determine which of the three elements of sexual orientation (attractions, behavior, or self-identification) is most closely associated with the highly elevated risk of suicide attempts among gay or lesbian teens.

However, there is at least some evidence even in this study that merely self-identifying as gay, at least publicly, is in itself a risk factor. Hatzenbuehler, in reviewing previous research on suicide attempts by LGB youth, noted earlier age at disclosure as a risk factor … associated with suicidality. In other words, the younger a teen comes out of the closet and announces to the world that he or she is homosexual or bisexual, the more likely that teen is to attempt suicide. (For another description of such research, see here.)Yet encouraging teenagers to come out at younger and younger ages is exactly the effect of the policies that homosexual activists are promoting in the schools.

Instead of encouraging homosexuality in the schools, the research would seem to support an alternative approach. It would be to send the following message:

It is not uncommon for some young people to be confused or uncertain about their sexuality in adolescence. The vast majority of you will end up being exclusively heterosexual as adults. However, if you experience same-sex attractions, or are unsure about your sexual orientationwait. Do not become sexually active while in school (even if you are sure you are heterosexual). Do not adopt a sexual minority identity. Focus on developing your intellect, your character, and non-sexual friendships. When you are an adult, you will be in a much better position to make mature decisions about your sexuality.

Such an approach would be grounded in what the research shows about the well-being and best interests of children.

Will homosexual activists accept it?