Queer Stigma and Mental Health
Mental health is complicated. Societal stigma around being LGBTQ+ doesn’t make it easier.
People sometimes want to avoid the conversation around Queer issues. When dealing with deeply-held beliefs and biases, it’s hard to know when to start disentangling them, even if you want to. And that stigma can and does hurt Queer people.
What is the stigma around the Queer community? In brief, it’s that we (broadly speaking) do not view Queer people as normal.
Stigma impacts how we view and/or treat Queer people, or people we think are Queer. It can range from an unnecessary differentiation, like saying gay couples are different than straight couples. Depending on the context, that can be a harmless statement. But you can easily imagine how saying “gay couples are different than straight couples” can be said in a condescending context, and hurt somebody.
Once you separate being Queer from being normal, you can more easily view Queer people as objects of disgust. Maybe you would feel justified calling a Queer person a homophobic slur. When you do that, you hurt someone extremely deeply. Imagine if someone in a position of relative power called you out for your deepest insecurity.
What you don’t have to imagine is the impact. According to the American Journal of Public Health, every episode of victimization against LGBT youth multiplies their likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5.
On the other hand, simply accepting Queer youth decreases the likelihood of attempted suicide significantly.
People may point out that Queer people are only 4.5% of the population. So by default, they’re not normal. Some people expand on that argument by saying that since they are such a small proportion of the population, focusing on their issues is a waste of time.
By that logic, less than 0.01 % of the population needs to use a wheelchair. So let’s stop building wheelchair ramps, right?
Many social conservatives will tie the high rates of suicidality, mental illness, and self-harm to being Queer. If you are queer, you will have mental health problems. So, we should discourage being queer. However, Queer mental health issues do not come from being LGBTQ. They come from being discriminated against for being LGBTQ.
For the sake of argument, let me ask: how would you feel if people treated you differently because you were straight? If people didn’t see you not as yourself, but as a single aspect thereof? If people hyper-focused on who you loved, how you have sex, why you like to have sex with the opposite sex, et cetera?
You wouldn’t mind it if people occasionally asked about your partners. Love is beautiful, and an aspect you may want to share with your circle and community.
But you’re not just “a man who has sex with women” or “a woman who has sex with men”, in the same way a gay person is not just a “man who has sex with men”.
In recognizing that straight people are so much more than our romantic and sexual preferences, we as Americans can recognize that the individuality of Queer people should be honored, and our view of them not be limited to what gender they are attracted to.
I don’t think most people have homophobic takes. It’s probably a loud minority. Most Americans are “live and let live”. It’s a cornerstone of American philosophy. But we still have a ways to go when it comes to fully integrating Queer people.
Gay marriage only became legal in all states in 2015. Just this past year, multiple anti-Trans bills have targeted the Queer community, and millions of dollars have been raised for homophobic organizations. And there’s nary a Queer person that hasn’t experienced some kind of mental harm for what boils down to existing.
Why talk about Queer issues? Because stigma and discrimination against Queer people is alive and well. Because Queer people are still viewed by many people in power as being something to suppress. Because conversion therapy, a profoundly harmful practice, has only been banned in 20 states as of 2019.
Anti-queer stigma is probably the number one driver of mental illness in Queer people. Queer people need acceptance and access to mental health resources.
It’s about treating our fellow man with respect. If we don’t treat our fellow man with respect, what other virtues are we letting slide?
I wanted to have an out and proud person’s view on Pride. So I reached out to my friend Kenan—who is bisexual—and asked what Pride meant to him.
“Pride is liberation. It’s pride in spite of what others want us to be ashamed of, and pride in overcoming what we’ve been put through. Pride is yearlong, but Pride Month is when our community expresses itself in unison to grasp the spotlight - and it’s a time to celebrate us. It’s freeing, eclectic, and electric”
Perhaps more relevant to his Turkish identity than his Queer identity, Kenan adds the following:
“Also I grew a mustache”
Happy pride, everyone.
Note: I use “Queer” in this article as a blanket term for LGBTQ+ people.
The Trevor Project: Facts about Suicide
The Trevor Project: Research Brief: Accepting Adults Reduce Suicide Attempts Among LGBTQ Youth
Biomed Research Institute: Wheeled Mobility
Psychological Bulletin: Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence
SPLC: 18 Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda
Born Perfect: Conversion Therapy Bans by US State