This past Monday, May 17, we observed International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.
This year, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures, and while a small percentage of those became law, it is critical to understand that even the introduction of these bills, and the rhetoric around them, have tremendous impact on the communities they target. LGBTQ+ people, like other marginalized groups, experience discrimination in their daily lives and see their existences used as political fodder, red meat for political points.
1981, social worker Virginia Brooks coined “sexual minority stress theory,” in her book Minority Stress and Lesbian Women. However, the theory is usually attributed to Illan Meyer, who in 1995, published a study of minority stress in gay men, which is cited about 20 times more frequently than Brooks’ work, which is not unusual for a work completed by a lesbian scholar and centers women.
Two hypotheses about the health disparities experienced by historically marginalized people must be understood before understanding minority stress theory.
Two types of stress processes, distal and proximal, accrue over time and lead to high chronic stress levels and, then, poor health outcomes. Distal stress processes are external and include rejection, discrimination, and prejudice. Proximal stress processes are internal and are often the byproduct of external stressors. Proximal stress processes include hiding an identity (staying in “the closet”), vigilance, and internalized negative feelings about one’s identity group (such as internalized homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia).
LGBTQ+ individuals are known to suffer from widespread health disparities compared to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. LGB people are 2 times more likely, and transgender people are 4 times more likely, to experience a mental health condition associated with minority stressors, like depression, PTSD, suicide ideation, and substance abuse. Most research has relied on surveys to collect data on the extent of minority stress and its impact. However, it requires more attention from the public health sphere than what can be ascertained through surveys. Research on the larger LGBTQ+ community’s mental health is difficult, as recruitment for research and interventions is limited. It’s difficult to get a full picture of the extent of stressors and how to quantify them. It's important to remember that people face compounded minority stress if they are part of multiple marginalized communities. LGBTQ+ people of color, for instance, experience homopbhobia, biphobia, and/or transphobia along with racism at the interpersonal and systemic levels. Another example is lesbian and otherwise women-loving-women (WLW) who experience sexism and homophobia.
North Carolina also faced down three specifically anti-LGBTQ+ bills this session. In a session with LGBTQ+ and allied clergy members, several of them said they were seeing more trans people, especially trans young adults, coming to their churches, searching for a place they would be safe and welcomed. Many of these trans folks had not been in a church in some time, as many churches are very unsafe, discriminatory places for them to be. It says something that a church can not only be welcoming and affirming but is also somewhere people can go for refuge when their existences are being attacked and debated at every level.
Inclusive spaces like churches that do everything they can to be safe and affirming places for marginalized people can be tools to help ease minority stress and resist cultural violence through nonpartisan political action. Learn more about how we can journey with you to full inclusion.
In February, the United States House of Representatives passed The Equality Act, which would add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights law. They also passed it in 2020. Different from 2020, however, is that it is much more likely to get a floor vote in the Senate this year. Still, many are worried that it will not be able to withstand the filibuster, which would ultimately require 60 votes to overcome.
Several Republican Senators have said they would support The Equality Act if it had protections for religious freedom. To be clear, they are asking for the religious freedom to discriminate. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was introduced by a Democrat and signed by President Clinton. The primary cause of this bill was to protect indigenous religious practices that were restricted by government expansion onto their land or religious practices that require the use of peyote.
On March 7, 2018, a federal appeals court ruled RFRA does not justify discrimination against LGBTQ employees. However, on October 2019, a federal judge ruled RFRA does justify denial of health insurance and medical treatment based on sex, gender identity, or termanation of pregnancy, even if those services are necessary, medically. This refusal of service also allows providers to deny services to trans people, even if their medical need is not related to the patient being transgender.
The Equality Act specifically provides LGBTQ+ people with protections against RFRA, which opponents claim is their biggest concern with the bill. For the record, religious institutions, like churches, would not have to hire LGBTQ+ people under the Equality Act, despite the misinformation campaign.
It is true the government can not infringe on the practice of religion. However, I would argue that discrimination does not fit the “practice of religion.” Discrimination is not a religious practice. It is not a sacred doctrine or ritual. Providing services to the public or employing the public means just that.
Religion must not be used in public spaces to refuse civil rights to groups of people. First, how can an investigator differentiate between a “sincerely held religious belief” and bigotry? If we allow medical providers, employers, vendors of public goods to deny access to LGBTQ+ people, should we also deny service based on “sincerely held religious belief” to people of various faith traditions, to mixed-race couples, to couples who live together before marriage? The list could go on until we have a society that even more is made for the right-wing evangelical Christian.
And that brings me to my next point. One reason I know discrimination is not a sacred practice or ritual of a religion, one way I know it is not the living out of faith, is that I am a person of faith, as are many LGBTQ+ people. Now, the number of Christians is decreasing nationally, and I would argue that the way the Church sometimes addresses issues like this is part of the reason. Nonetheless, we must reject the false binary between people of faith and LGBTQ+ people and our allies. The media loves to present the “Christian side” and the “LGBTQ+ side,” but often those overlap. Besides, Christianity is neither the only religion in the United States nor the official religion of the United States. That’s because, indeed, we have freedom from the establishment of religion.
Lastly, even Christians who may not fully support or affirm LGBTQ+ people support nondiscrimination protections. In a poll of 10,000 people, 76% of all people in the United States supported nondiscrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. That includes 85% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 62% of Republicans. The religious group least supportive were white evangelical protestants, but they still endorsed the protections at 62%. White Catholics supported at 77% and Mormons supported at 78%.
The Equality Act, as written, is popular and well past-due. It’s time to stand up against misinformation campaigns about LGBTQ+ people and people of faith. That Venn Diagram is sometimes a circle.
Pride Education Services offers this blog in order to share stories, news, and other information relevant to the LGBTQ+ community and organizations, business, direct service providers, and communities of faith working to provide safe and inclusive spaces.