A new report, by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, concludes that it doesn’t take violence or abuse to cause stress and health problems among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people.

The American study, We’d Be Free: Narratives of Life Without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism, found that ongoing stigma and social inequality can increase stress and reduce well-being for LGB people, even in the absence of major traumatic events such as hate violence, abuse, and discrimination.

Co-authored by Dr. Ilan H. Meyer, the study examined the effects of exposure to everyday stigma, described as “consistent, ongoing experiences of inequality”. The subjects reported estrangement from families, failure to complete schooling, and isolation in the workplace.

“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,” commented Dr. Meyer.

Black and Latino LGB participants, in particular, said that homophobia, racism and sexism were a source of stress that led to missed life opportunities, including a quality education and higher levels of 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 Dr. 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 research also found that, paradoxically, sexual minorities sometimes view stigma as having enhanced their lives and as having a defining impact on their identity. For example, LGB individuals who were forced to leave their hometowns found a more accepting community and new professional and personal opportunities in big cities that might not otherwise have been available to them.

“The study’s results show policymakers need to think more broadly than simply reducing extreme forms of abuse through measures like anti-bullying policies. 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,” said Dr. Meyer.

The study was published in Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

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