Everyday Stigma May Take Toll on Lesbians, Gays

Stress results from daily exposure to inequality, not just traumatic crimes or abuse, study shows

MONDAY, Oct. 10 (HealthDay News) -- The stigma and inequalities that lesbian, gay and bisexual people face on a daily basis can increase their stress level and affect their well-being, according to a new study.

"Imagine living life anticipating exclusion from your friends, family and professional circles simply because of who you are and who you love -- that resulting stress takes a toll on one's life and health," said the study's co-author, Ilan Meyer, of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

The researchers set out to determine how stress resulting from daily, non-traumatic events, such as isolation at work and estrangement from families, affected 57 lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) people. The researchers were interested in everyday occurrences, rather than overt abuse or hate crimes.

Black and Hispanic study participants reported the stress from homophobia, racism and sexism led to certain missed life opportunities, including educational advancement, and less self-confidence.

"For members of minority groups, day-to-day life experiences that may seem minor to others can and do have significant and lasting impact on one's well-being," said Meyer. "The idea that simply walking out your door will expose you to societal rejection and stigma creates a climate of stress that can lead to detrimental, long-term consequences."

The study was recently published online in Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

If a silver lining is to be found, some of the participants reported that being stigmatized helped to define them as individuals and forced them to explore new and more positive avenues they might not have considered otherwise.

The researchers concluded the findings could help shape public policy by shedding light on the less obvious effects of social inequality on lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

"The study's results show policymakers need to think more broadly than simply reducing extreme forms of abuse through measures like anti-bullying policies," said Meyer in a journal news release.

"Although reducing abuse and violence should be a primary focus, policy measures that enhance positive aspects of gay identity, like interventions that connect LGB persons to their communities, could help reduce the stress caused by social exclusion," Meyer said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: Sexuality Research and Social Policy, news release, Oct. 3, 2011

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