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How Discrimination Impacts Mental Health in the LGBTQ+ Community

Mona EshaikerMember of Quartet Queertetians Employee Resource Group

Blog | Stories | Jun 1, 2020

This Pride Month, the LGBTQ+ community has a lot to celebrate: from Lil Nas, the first openly gay artist to win a Country Music Award, to finally seeing an openly gay presidential candidate on the Democratic debate stage. However, the LGBTQ+ community still faces injustices: violence against transgender people hit a record high in the U.S. last year and the current administration continues to roll back anti-discrimination laws such as the Civil Rights Act, which protects transgender and non-binary employees.

From my own experience as an out gay woman, I can attest to the damaging effects of homophobia. I recall the time my partner and I were waiting for the train and a group of men surrounded us yelling slurs. This happened in public, in a crowded train station and no one intervened. Their threats turned violent and again, no one did anything.

I will say outright homophobia like this has been quite rare for me. And if this happened in the workplace I am positive it would not have been tolerated by those around me. What’s more insidious and thus difficult to identify are microaggressions.

At my previous employer, for example, I had a very well-meaning supervisor who would make comments on my appearance such as “you should grow your hair long” and “you would look better with makeup.” This may seem benign, but as someone who does not identify with this gender presentation, I found it quite hurtful. And again at my previous employer, I overheard coworkers who had trans or non-binary patients poke fun at them and joke about their identity. This was also hurtful because I have loved ones in my life who are trans.

These experiences eventually led me to look for a new company that highlights the importance of cultivating a welcoming environment for all. For the pursuit of safety first and foremost, but also for the retention of talent.

To live in a world that is constantly battling your right to exist, it is no wonder that the LGBTQ+ community has higher rates of adverse mental health conditions than the general population.

Here are just a few statistics on the mental health outcomes for the LGBTQ+ community:

  • LGBQ people who live in communities with more stigmatizing attitudes about their sexual orientation die an average of 12 years earlier than LGBQ people in the least-prejudiced communities
  • Transgender adults living in states with more LGBTQ-affirming environments are less likely to have attempted suicide
  • Transgender youth are 4x more likely to experience depression
  • LGBQ young people are more than 4x as likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts
  • 1 in 3 LGBQ adults experience mental illness, compared with 1 in 5 heterosexual adults
  • LGBTQ youth with affirming families reported higher levels of self-esteem

What you can do as an ally?

Trust queer and trans people

Trust that they know themselves. If someone you know comes out to you, practice unconditional acceptance. If an individual asks to be called by a specific name or gender pronoun (even if you don’t understand it), respect this right.

If you see something, say something

Distasteful comments and microaggressions are harmful. If you witness discrimination in any form, stand up for this population. Say something!

See a therapist

If you are part of the LGBTQ+ community or questioning your identity, reach out to a therapist to help you in your process, explore, and cope with a sometimes unkind world.

Educate yourself

If queer or trans people generate negative emotions in you, there are many organizations such as the Human Rights CampaignPFLAGMarsha P. Johnson Institute, and National Center for Transgender Equality that can help you learn more about these communities.

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