Saturday, April 25, 2009

Science has our backs.

In the past two years, there have been new studies published that focused on examining discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. It is evident today that prejudice, discrimination, and the fear of both these things have a direct impact on our actions and attitudes in day-to-day life. Here at UT, our students, staff, and faculty put forth a lot of effort to eliminate the need for these fears by creating safe spaces and educating allies.

While discrimination is classified as an action, we know that it stems from prejudiced attitudes. In 1978, M. D. Storms published an article in the third volume of the Journal of Homosexuality in which he studied college students’ attitudes toward feminine and masculine gay and straight men. While his experiment showed that heterosexual men were liked more than homosexual men in general, students also liked feminine gay men better than masculine ones. This leads us to believe that in 1978, gay men were accepted more if they fit the effeminate stereotype. In January of 2009, T. R. Cohen and colleagues published a study that reexamined these attitudes. They found that thirty years has changed these attitudes. Masculine gay men were preferred over feminine ones by straight men (the straight women had no preference). The study was expanded to include lesbians, and it was found that straight men and women both preferred feminine lesbians to masculine ones. So it seems that now it is more important in the eyes of society to adhere to gender roles than to fit the stereotypes of gay men and lesbians.

If a lesbian or a gay man is stereotypical, they are by the nature of those stereotypes usually also gender-nonconforming. Stereotypical gay men and lesbians are then subject to prejudice and discrimination due to general homophobia as well as gender nonconformity. Gordon and Meyer published a study in 2007 that examined just this concept. They interviewed 396 lesbian, gay, and bisexual people of different ethnicities in New York City, and found that 19% of them experienced discrimination due to their gender presentation alone, as distinguished from general homophobia. Gordon and Meyer suggest that gender-nonconformity prejudice is intertwined with antigay prejudice, and it is important that both constructs be used when investigating hate crimes.

The fear of discrimination can have serious affects on the mental and physical health of LGBTQI individuals. In their 2007 article, Burgess and colleagues found that compared to heterosexuals, LGBT people are more likely to report a major incident of discrimination each year. They are also more likely to report that their health needs are unmet, and they are shown to have much poorer mental health on average. The mental health is broken down into a number of different measures. LGBT people have higher levels of psychological distress, a greater likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety, and greater use of mental health services. They also tend to have significantly higher likelihoods of binge drinking, smoking, and they smoke more cigarettes per day on average. The most interesting part of this study was that even if they took out all of the responses from people who reported experiencing discrimination in the past year, these disparities were not eliminated. Even those LGBT people who didn’t experience discrimination had poorer mental health. Just the past experience of discrimination, or perhaps even the fear of it, can negatively affect the mental health of LGBTQI individuals.

There is hope, however. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in February of 2009 by Chae and Walters may provide a method to combat these negative consequences of discrimination and the fear of it. The degree to which racial group identity and self-identity integrate positively is called actualization. In LGBT individuals, high actualization would mean that one’s family and community accept their identity and do not exclude them for expressing it. The data from this study show that if an LGBT person has high actualization (i.e. a supportive community), his/her/hir self-rated health level is higher than someone with low actualization. They also have lower rates of physical pain and impairment. This suggests that community integration and support may provide a buffer against the negative effects of discrimination.

I know that sometimes science tends to tell us things that we really already knew. It seems obvious that a supportive community would better the mental health of those of us who feel like outsiders. Of course homophobic discrimination can be due to gender-nonconformity, just as it can be caused by ignorance, fear, and unjustified hatred. Some of us already knew these things, but the problem is that many people won’t believe any of this unless science and statistics show that it is true. Sometimes a tragic story will affect someone with the power to change things, but numbers are much harder to ignore. Without data that show percentages, it could be argued that these instances are too rare to be of concern. Data that show just how much this discrimination affects the mental and physical health of LGBTQI individuals may be what convinces legislators that something must be done to eliminate it.

1 comment:

  1. Storms, M. D. (1978). Attitudes toward homosexuality and femininity in men. Journal of Homosexuality, 3, 257-263.

    Cohen T., Hall, D., Tuttle, J. (2009). Attitudes toward stereotypical versus counterstereotypical gay men and lesbians. Journal of Sex Research, 8, 1-8.

    Gordon, A., & Meyer, I. (2007). Gender nonconformity as a target of prejudice, discrimination, and violence against LGB individuals. Journal of LGBT Health research, 3, 55-71.

    Burgess, P., Lee, R., Tran, A., & van Ryn, M. (2007). Effect of percieed discrimination on mental health and mental health services utilization among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. LGBT Health Research, 3, 1-14.

    Chae, D., & Walters, K. (2009). Racial discrimination and racial identity attitudes in relationship to self-rated health and physical pain and impairment among two-spirited American Indians/Alaskan Natives. Journal of Public Health, online publication, February 12.