Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Studying LesBians: homophobia is bad for your health

Studying Lesbians is a monthly column about recent (and not so recent) research about lesbians or the LGBT community as a whole. This time I want to talk to you about yet another very surprising and shocking research finding: homophobia is bad for you!

More specially, several studies have recently linked having experienced homophobic incidents or being in a hostile, homophobic environment to negative health consequences. In other words, these studies are showing that being around homophobia is bad for our health!

This is yet another line of research that makes me go DUH! but I do really appreciate all these researchers taking the time to look into this, because I am sure their are many (homophobic?) people who actually think a little homophobia doesn't do any harm, and they are just "letting people know what they believe in", or something.

Let's have a closer look at these studies. The study that got the most exposure in the (gay) media the last few weeks was a doctoral thesis in clinical psychology by Michael Benibgui from Concordia university entitled Mental Health Challenges and Resilience in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults: Biological and Psychological Internalization of Minority Stress and Victimization.

In his thesis, Benibgui looked into psycho-social and neuroendocrine factors that may contribute to mental health in LGB youth and young adults. In other words, he followed a number of young LGB people and looked at what kind of environment they were in and what kind of experiences they have had and he also assessed what their mental and physical health was like.

The reason for this research was that it is often found that LGB youth experience more depression, anxiety and have higher suicide rates (although let's not forget some studies have actually shown LGB youth are just like everybody else), but not much is known about exactly why this is. Therefore, Benibgui examined a number of environmental risks and protective factors that he tried to link to (mental) health outcomes.

And guess what he found? Those LGB teens who lived in a homophobic environment, that is to say, who had a lot of arguments about their sexual identity, who were bullied or discriminated against, had higher levels of internalized homophobia and an increased production of cortisol, a stress hormone. In turn, internalized homophobia and high levels of cortisol were connected to things like depression and suicidal thoughts.

In other words, being in an environment that makes you feel bad about yourself, makes you feel bad about yourself! It is interesting though, to see what kind of influence the environment can have on the body and consequently ones mental state.

Luckily the influence works both ways. It was also found that those LGB young people who had very positive, supportive environments, didn't have any problems. Even when LGB youth encountered discrimination or bullying, if they had friends and family who supported them in their sexual orientation, they didn't get depressed or experienced internalized homophobia.

It seems like homophobia can do more harm than some people seem to think, although reading through this thesis I couldn't help but make the occasional duh sound. Just like all young people, no one likes to be bullied or discriminated against, LGB youth are no different in this regard.

It's a shame it can have such negative consequences, and I feel more should be done to make it ok for young people to not only be queer, but to be able to be out and proud, without getting hurt too much in the process.

Even though it is important the situation for LGB youth is improved, I'm also happy to read that as long as you have a good support system in place, if your friends and family have no problem with you being gay and they are there for you whenever you need them, it seems like you are going to be just fine! Now that's at least a positive note to take away from all of this.

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What do you think of these study results? Do you think it's good this kind of research is being done? Do you agree all it takes is a good social support system and homophobia can't really hurt you? Or do you think we should seriously try to protect our LGB youth against homophobia? Let me know in the comments.

This post was first published on eurOut.

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