The Right to Hope

Hope and Psychology

Psychologists have noticed how people who become hopeless, and who can no longer see a meaningful future for themselves, are prone to death by suicide or illness. This is because they have lost the will to live, which is dependent upon hope (Frankl, 1963). Some people may experience existential despair, which is a feeling of “the utter hopelessness of everything…we see no hope even in the process of trying. This existential despair is not the loss of hope for this or that project, not even the simultaneous collapse of all our ordinary hopes, but it is the comprehensive loss of hope for existence” (Park, 2006). Existential despair can feel so impossible to overcome that suicidality appears as the only solution. As such, hope is a necessary ingredient for the will to live, and hopelessness can result in death.

Hope and the Law

While no legal statutes address “the right to hope” specifically, both the United States’ and United Nations’ Bill of Rights documents declare that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  The right to life is a fundamental human right. As such, creating sociopolitical conditions that sustain the will to live is essential to ensuring that all citizens realize they have the right to live, the right to exist at all.

Hope and the Closet

Heteronormative societies with anti-LGBTQ discriminatory policies prevent queer citizens from maintaining their “right to hope”.  Laws which perpetuate the trauma of the closet can cause LGBTQ people to feel dissociated, fragmented, imprisoned, isolated, powerless, helpless, and hopeless.  These feelings can lead closeted queer people to question the point of their existence. Laws which uphold the closet also repress the awareness that LGBTQ persons exist in a society, therefore conveying the notion that gender and sexual minorities do not have the right to exist at all.  Homophobic and transphobic societies can perpetuate a sense of global injustice that seems so enormous that it appears impossible to resolve. This is especially true in countries where the criminalization of homosexuality sentences sexual minorities to life in prison, concentration camps, and death. For some oppressed LGBTQ citizens, the impossibility of resolving this enormous injustice can spur existential despair and suicidality.  In the United States alone, the suicide rates are four times greater for LGB youth and two times greater for questioning youth than their heterosexual counterparts. Moreover, 40% of transgender adults have reported making at least one suicide attempt in their lives.

Restoring the Right to Hope

LGBTQ citizens can restore their right to hope by discovering community in online and offline spaces. Befriending other queer people and joining LGBTQ communities can demonstrate that there are other queer people who are happy and loved for being themselves, and who are fighting fiercely for their collective human rights. Hope grows as LGBTQ individuals discover a sense of belonging in society, and realize they are not alone. Hope grows by transforming rage into productive dissent, by engaging in social movements, and by finding solidarity.

Society also bears a major responsibility in restoring queer citizens’ right to hope. Society must seek to resolve the suicidality epidemic among LGBTQ persons in the United States and abroad, by changing oppressive public policies which contribute to such hopelessness and communicate to queer people that they do not have the right to exist.