Being Gay Bad for Your Health? No, but living in a bigoted society is.

A new study published in Sexual Research and Social Policy suggests that being stigmatized by a prejudiced society and enduring repeated “microaggressions” impact the health and well-being of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Not surprising, but always very disheartening.

The abstract for the article, “’We’d Be Free’: Narratives of Life Without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism” (link to HTML of article) reads:

Stigma and social inequality deprive disadvantaged social groups of a sense of social well-being. Stress researchers have focused on prejudice-related events and conditions but have not described more intangible stressors experienced by sexual minorities. We use narrative methods to examine how sexual minorities experience stigma and social inequality as we focus on the more intangible stressors that are both pervasive and difficult to measure. Three themes emerged in the narratives of our ethnically diverse sample of 57 adult sexual minority women and men: (a) stigma deprived them of access to critical possibilities and opportunities; (b) stigma deprives them of safety and acceptance; and (c) despite this, the experience of stigma is also related to the adoption of a positive and collective orientation towards their stigmatized identities. Recognizing these stressors and related resilience can direct policy makers toward interventions that go even beyond eliminating prejudice by including goals to strengthen minority communities.

Obviously the most important response to this is to continue trying to change society. But what can we do for individuals who are being stigmatized right now?

How does one counteract this, especially if you have the opportunity to work with young members of the LGBT community? Are there ways to reduce susceptibility to the negative consequences? Are there coping mechanisms that can be taught?

Thus far my approach has been:*

  • instill a sense of pride of identity (going to Pride, identifying good role models, celebrating lesbianism, buying in-your-face t-shirts, etc.)
  • impart the knowledge that familial support is 100% and unconditional
  • foster a sense of positive agency – “I can make things better”
  • immerse her (as much as possible) in visibly queer environments to reduce the sense of isolation/encourage a sense of community

Yet, I too feel the hostility. I try not to convey the creeping fear and suspicion to my daughter. I want to convey confidence and a belief in our agency. Still, we have to talk honestly about prejudice and hatred, and how to handle it when we encounter it. So hard.

*If you are reading this and think that I must be making my kid gay, realize that this is her identity; she is sure, and she has committed to being out. Way out. This is how I know . . . How Do You Know for Sure?


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