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.
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