Negative Health Impacts of Prejudice on Sexual Minorities

In a recent speech by Ellen Page she announced her identification as gay (in case you somehow missed it, the video of her speech is here and the transcript here). During her speech, she spoke about the difficulties that members of the LBGT community face in their own communities:

I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain. I am young, yes, but what I have learned is that love, the beauty of it, the joy of it and yes, even the pain of it, is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. And we deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame and without compromise.

There are too many kids out there suffering from bullying, rejection, or simply being mistreated because of who they are. Too many dropouts. Too much abuse. Too many homeless. Too many suicides.

There has been a lot of publicity lately on the negative effects of bullying on children and teens. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals face an increased amount of mistreatment as teens and throughout their lives and suffer accordingly. Researchers who  published a study in Social Science & Medicine have attempted to quantify the effects on life span caused by this stigma and prejudice.

Structural stigma and all-cause mortality in sexual minority populations
Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, Anna Bellatorre, Yeonjin Leec, Brian K. Finchd, Peter Muennig, Kevin Fiscellaf. Soc Sci Med, Vol 103, Feb 2014, pp 33–41.

This result translates into a shorter life expectancy of approximately 12 years (95% C.I.: 4–20 years) for sexual minorities living in high-prejudice communities. Analysis of specific causes of death revealed that suicide, homicide/violence, and cardiovascular diseases were substantially elevated among sexual minorities in high-prejudice communities. Strikingly, there was an 18-year difference in average age of completed suicide between sexual minorities in the high-prejudice (age 37.5) and low-prejudice (age 55.7) communities. These results highlight the importance of examining structural forms of stigma and prejudice as social determinants of health and longevity among minority populations.

It is reasonable to assume that other non-fatal, heath outcomes are impacted negatively as well, although many of these can be difficult to measure. Another study by some of the same authors arrived at a somewhat surprising (at least to me) result when they examined mortality rates for heterosexuals in similar communities.

Anti-Gay Prejudice and All-Cause Mortality Among Heterosexuals in the United States Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, PhD, Anna Bellatorre, MA, and Peter Muennig, MD, MPH

This result translates into a life expectancy difference of approximately 2.5 years (95% CI = 1.0, 4.0 years) between individuals with high versus low levels of antigay prejudice. Furthermore, in sensitivity analyses, antigay prejudice was specifically associated with increased risk of cardiovascular-related causes of death in fully adjusted models (HR = 1.29; 95% CI = 1.04, 1.60).

Conclusions. The findings contribute to a growing body of research suggesting that reducing prejudice may improve the health of both minority and majority populations.

Quoting Ellen Page from her speech:

this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another.

Why is that too much to ask?

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