What does the acronym ‘LGBT’ stand for?
L (Lesbian), G (Gay), B (Bisexual) and T (Transgender).
LGBT people, as members of a social minority group, are suffering from various forms of socioeconomic and cultural injustice. The lack of social recognition affects the capacity of LGBT people to fully access and enjoy their rights as citizens. In addition, they are more likely to experience intolerance, discrimination, harassment, and the threat of violence due to their sexual orientation than those that identify themselves as heterosexual.
Which areas of life does the rejection come from?
- Social/family – We need to belong. While we find nourishment in these circles, they can also be the source of painful rejections.
- Romantic – You get the speech from a partner, ”it’s me, not you.”
- Workplace/school – Bullying, being shunned in a company because you don’t ”fit” in.
It is due to homophobia (the fear or hatred of homosexuality). The labour market, schools, hospitals, and their own families discriminate against LGBT individuals. Their own families disown some. They are singled out for physical attack – beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured, and killed. Some factors that may reinforce homophobia on a larger scale are a dominant group’s moral, religious, and political beliefs. In some countries, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by fines, imprisonment, life imprisonment, and even the death penalty.
Fast Facts on LGBTI
Rejection often starts at home.
- 50 % of LGBT teens experience an adverse reaction from their parents when they come out.
- 30 % experienced physical abuse.
- 26 % kicked out of their homes.
- 40 % of all homeless youth are LGBTI children, and family rejection is the primary cause.
- LGBT adults who report family rejection are six times more likely to be depressed, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than non-rejected young adults.
Bullying of LGBT children is common in schools, as well. Complaints range from:
- 85% verbally bullying
- 40% physical bullying
- 19 % physical assaults
- 30 % miss school because of feeling unsafe
- Bullying because of sexual orientation results in increased depression and an almost six-fold increased risk for suicide attempts.
What can you do to cope better with rejection?
Revive your self-worth:
- Be compassionate with yourself and tell them critical voices in your head to be quiet. Practice self-care.
- Write down your strengths (attributes & qualities) on a piece of paper.
- Practice receiving compliments with grace. Accept and absorb the compliment.
- Engage in personal empowerment by reading, listening to and watching material that pushes you ahead in life.
- Practice your self-control and willpower to achieve goals. Avoid bad habits.
Seek new social connections.
Luckily, we can choose our friends, and we do outgrow certain groups. Make new friends with whom you are a better fit if you feel excluded from a current group.
Treasure memories you have from good times. Photos, letters and mementoes can all help to replenish our urge to belong.
Grow a thick skin
Fact: the more you expose yourself to difficult situations, the less intimidated or sensitive you will become. If you accept that you might be rejected, emotional hurt becomes less and easier to bear.
Clinical Psychology & LGBTI
Note: the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of recognised psychological disorders in 1973. ¹
The attitude of psychology as a profession toward homosexuality changed several decades ago. Early versions of the DSM listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. However, LGBTI persons argue that their sexual orientation is a natural part of themselves. Apart from society’s homophobia, their orientation causes them no discomfort. In addition, there is little evidence that psychotherapy can lead to a gay person becoming a heterosexual person. Therefore, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of recognised psychological disorders.
South Africa’s Constitution & LGBTI Rights
South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution 1 was the first to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, South Africa was the fifth country globally and the first in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage.
Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights, Section 9(3) states the rights of LGBT South Africans:
“The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, and birth.”
Likewise, in Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights 9(3):
“No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3).”
The Psychological Impact of LGBT Discrimination
LGBT people face multiple levels of stigmatisation, discrimination, and harassment in their daily lives. The majorities of LGBT people learn to cope with this, particularly when they have the support of family and friends and participate with LGBT organisations and social networks. However, a significant number of LGBT people, most particularly younger LGBT people, had to cope with stigmatisation, discrimination, and harassment without support. Many also faced additional stress from experiences such as very high levels of homophobic bullying in schools and physical and verbal attacks.
Most likely due to violence, social rejection, and isolation, the LGBT community experiences higher rates of anxiety, mood and substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts among people ages 15-54.
Experiences that could negatively impact the mental health of an LGBTI person:
- Hostility from or rejection by loved ones or religious groups
- Bullying at school, harassment by neighbours, the danger of violence in public places
- Casual homophobic comments on an everyday basis
- Prejudice/embarrassed response from professionals
- No protection against discrimination at work, housing, pensions, etc.
- Childhood sexual abuse
- Verbal harassment, greater fear of physical violence, and discrimination.
LBGTI & Addiction
LGBT people are more likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs than the general population, are less likely to abstain, report higher rates of substance abuse problems, and are more likely to continue heavy drinking into later life.
Reliance on bars for socialisation, stress caused by discrimination, and targeted advertising by tobacco and alcohol businesses in gay and lesbian publications are all believed to contribute to increased pressures on LGBT individuals to engage in substance abuse. In addition, internalised homophobia is a form of self-limiting, self-loathing— a critical concept to understand in developing substance abuse services for this population.
Which risk factors could contribute to substance abuse?
- Sense of self as worthless or inadequate.
- Lack of connectedness to supportive adults and peers.
- Lack of alternative ways to view ” differentness.”
- Lack of access to role models.
- Lack of opportunities to socialise with other gays/lesbians except for bars.
- The risk of contracting HIV.
How to support the LGBTI individual via communities
We can promote awareness by campaigning for equality for all – the elderly, people of all races, the poor and of course, transgender persons.
Schools and teacher education programmes are crucial sites that can address LGBT issues. To help promote health and safety among LGBT youth, schools can implement the following policies and practices:
- Encourage respect for all students and prohibit bullying, harassment, and violence against all students.
- Identify safe spaces, such as counsellors’ offices or designated classrooms, where LGBTQ youth can receive support from counsellors, teachers, or other school staff.
- Encourage student-led and student-organised school clubs that promote a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment (e.g., gay-straight alliances, which are school clubs open to youth of all sexual orientations).
- Ensure that health curricula or educational materials include HIV, other STD, or pregnancy prevention information relevant to LGBTQ youth, such as ensuring that curricula or materials use inclusive language or terminology.
- Encourage school district and school staff to develop and publicise training on creating safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and encourage staff to attend these training sessions.
- Consider gender-neutral bathrooms that are safe for anyone to use.
Other initiatives to assist LGBT persons are:
- Easily assessable health services, including HIV/ STD testing
- LGBT safe houses for domestic violence
- Easily accessible counselling services
- Engage media to report on LGBT issues and transgressions responsibly
- The media should promote a culture of tolerance and assist in changing attitudes
For more information, you can do a self-test quiz on homosexuality.
Nolen -Hoeksema, Susan. Abnormal Psychology. 6th Edition. 2014. McGraw-Hill Education. p.380.