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America is a dangerous place to be a minority, and it’s unfortunate that in 2019, it is a traumatizing experience to be anyone or anything besides a white man. Anybody who looks different, speaks different or acts different, then what the white man has defined as normal is criticized and considered “other.” Why? Because the white man has the power to define…everything such as where is a woman’s appropriate role, the kitchen, or the workplace? Or why it’s a sin for marriage to not be between a man and a woman. As a result of this exclusionary power, the “other” or minority population, is tasked with defining a “safe” space for themselves to exist and express themselves. In 2019, minorities around the world experience discrimination not just for their religion or race and ethnicity, but also for who they love.
In America today, 4.5% or 11 million people in the United States identify as part of the sexual minority group identified as LGBTQ+ community (Newport, 2018). That is an astonishing percentage of the population, and that percentage continues to expand as more and more younger generations identify as LGBTQ+. According to The Williams Institute UCLA School of Law, “approximately 3.2 million youth between the ages of 8 and 18 identify as LGBTQ.” Additionally, amongst older youth in high school, “approximately 8% or 1.6 million children identify as LGB”. Although society should be applauding that more individuals today are embracing their “true-identity,” it is still considered radical and controversial to be an openly Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning individual around the world, but particularly in America. LGBTQ+ individuals are of particularly high risk to experiencing poor mental health, high emotional distress, and health disparities due to discrimination, bullying, and rejection at home, school, and in their local community (Russell and Fish, 2016; Almeida, Johnson, Corliss, Molnar, and Azrael, 2009). According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the CDC, approximately 33% of high school students that identify as LGBTQ have experienced bullying at school, and 27.1% of high school students reported being a victim of cyberbullying, a severe threat to adolescents today. Technology enables students to seamlessly hide behind computer screens and phone screens to bully their peers, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or religion. Bullying, whether it’s in the form of verbal or physical harassment or cyberbullying, can be deadly. LGBTQ adolescents are at a significantly higher risk than their heterosexual peers to experience depression, risky sexual behavior, and suicidal ideation (Kann, Olsen, McManus, et al., 2015).
The 2015 CDC report, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 – United States”, uncovered some alarming statistics about suicide rates amongst LGBTQ youth. Twelve months before the survey, just under half (42%) of youth who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual seriously considered attempting suicide compared to 14.8% of their heterosexual peers. Shockingly, from the same cohort, 29.4% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth reported that they attempted suicide (CDC, 2015) compared to 6.4% of heterosexual adolescents. Those are alarming and heartbreaking statistics that illustrate the severity of mental health dangers LGBTQ youth face today. Furthermore, these statistics must continue to a societal “call-to-action” to increase the efforts to protect LGBTQ youth and promote healthy development. It is essential that as a society becomes more knowledgeable of the salient developmental factors of healthy adolescent development and how healthy development can be impacted by one’s sexual orientation.
LGBTQ Minority Status Impact on Salient Development Domains
Biologically speaking, all adolescents experience puberty, the maturation of the reproductive system (Hutchinson, 2015). Outside of adolescents who are in the process of transitioning through the assistance of medication, there is no biological difference between LBGQ adolescents and their heterosexual peers. Except for transgender adolescents that utilize hormones, both cohorts experience the profound bio-psychological changes of puberty: increased sweat gland and hormonal production, enlarged genitals, more hair, etc. (Hutchinson, 2015).
Furthermore, it is essential to note that research has highlighted that the early onset of puberty during middle childhood with higher reported levels of self-esteem issues. Globally, there has been an early shift in the onset of puberty. Perhaps, the global trend of an early shift in puberty coupled with an early exploration of sexuality could provide a plausible explanation for the generational shift in adolescents “coming out,” or embracing their sexual identity at younger ages than prior generations (Hutchison, 2015).
Socioemotional and Identity
Middle childhood and adolescence are defining periods of exploration and discovery in a child’s life (Hutchinson, 2015). It is a dynamic period full of transitions, changes, and characterized by self-discovery. While this can be an exciting developmental period of shifts and changes, adolescence can also be an anxiogenic and stressful period. Middle childhood and adolescence are typically the time in which questions about “normalcy” arise, which can ultimately affect an adolescent’s self-esteem. On top of these “traditional” psychological/development challenges that are experienced by all adolescents, LGBTQ adolescents face an additional challenge of navigating their sexual orientation. Studies have indicated that some LGBT youth experience discrimination about their sexual orientation before “coming out’ to their school community and peers. The process of “coming out” can be a double-edged sword for LGBTQ youth, because, on the one hand, these youth are celebrating and embracing their self-expression, and on the other, they have a deep-rooted fear of rejection from their peers and families. A study conducted by Russell, Toomey, Ryan, and Diaz (2014) identified both positive and negative factors of students “being out” at school – students that came out reported to have a higher positive affect about themselves but were also subjugated to targeted bullying (Russell et al., 2014). Homophobic behavior towards sexual minorities can manifest as both verbal and physical harassment through name-calling, teasing, rumor spreading, and assault, respectively (Poteat & Russell, 2013).
Recently, literature has termed suicide by bullying as “bullyicde” (Ahuja, Webster, Gibson, Brewer, Toledo, & Russell, 2015). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 10 and 24 (Heron, 2017). Additionally, the findings from Ahuja et al. (2015), emphasize that suicide is a complicated factor of internal and external factors. There is extensive research that has identified that bullying, specifically, persistent bullying is a prominent factor of suicide (Ahuja et al., 2015). Too often is suicide seen by trouble LGBTQ youth as a “way out” of their painful life. As a society, we must change the narrative of suicide that is depicted as a “way out”. Instead, we must prioritize equipping LGBTQ youth with protective mechanisms to help them navigate and overcome such adversity to achieve happy, healthy development.
Identity and Spirituality
LGBTQ adolescents are more likely compared to their heterosexual peers to experience high emotional distress because of their internalization of society’s stigma of homosexuality (Almeida et al. 2008). The societal stigma towards homosexuality is rooted in religion, a prominent socializing factor, particularly in the United States (Dahl & Galliher, 2012). Embedded in Christian religious teaching is the notion that homosexuality is “wrong” and “unnatural”. In essence, being “gay” is wrong and against God’s image of the union between a man and a woman. Conservative Christians have often expressed their disapproval of homosexuality through the statement that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” (Schonfield, 2015).
Identity and Resilience
While it cannot be overstated that both LGBTQ adolescents and adults have experienced relentless discrimination and bullying for their sexual orientation, members of the LGBTQ community illustrate a beautiful spirit of resilience and a strong sense of community. In their research, Dahl and Galliher (2012) identified two fascinating factors, that Christian Religion could be both a risk and protective factor for LGBTQ youth that can both aid and hinder identity development. Their perseverant spirit is beautiful to witness as they fight to not just exist in our world but to be seen proudly in our society. Being “seen” can translate into several facets, whether that is wearing articles of clothing with a “rainbow” color scheme, attending a PRIDE festival, or joining a Gay-Straight Alliance organization. Amongst today’s younger, there is an active movement by LGBTQ youth that challenges the status quo about the traditional binary nature of sexuality. According to Higa, Hoppe, Lindhorst, Mincer, et al., (2014), today’s youth define their sexuality in more fluid terms. Hence the continued growth of the title “LGBTQ” +, which is the shortened version for “LGBTQQIP2SAA,” which encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, androgynous and asexual (BBC, 2018).
The Social-Political War on Self-Expression
America’s current political climate has fostered an open and dangerous war for minorities, with a particular target on the LGBTQ community. According to the FBI’s 2017 Hate Crime Statistics Report, there has been a 17% increase in hate crimes in the United States since 2016 (FBI, 2017). Furthermore, the report shows that 15.8% of victims were targeted because of the offender’s sexual-orientation bias. Those alarming statistics strongly suggest that America is enduring a war rooted in an individual’s self-expression of sexual orientation. America’s current political leadership has illustrated, on multiple occasions, his outward bigotry and bullying tactics towards the LGBTQ community. Within the past three years of his presidency, Trump has removed protections for transgender individuals under Title IX, removed restrictions allowing transgender individuals to use their bathroom of choice, and banning transgender individuals from serving in the military (Fortune, 2019).
It is apparent that America’s acceptance of open bigotry from a prominent political leader has created a steady trickle-down effect. Every day, individuals who may have once been more hesitant to express their bigotry views, from personal experience, seem to be more forthcoming. An unfortunate interaction between the firing of an employee based on the nature of his sexual orientation has escalated to the highest judicial court in the United States. Naturally, the case has caused significant uproar and frustration amongst the LGBTQ community and its allies. America waits in anticipation as the Supreme Court, a primarily white and heterosexual board, is tasked with the power to determine LGBTQ workplace rights (CNN, 2019).
- Ahuja, A., Webster, C., Gibson, N., Brewer, A., Toledo, S., & Russell, S (2015). Bullying and Suicide: The Mental Health Crisis of LGBTQ Youth and How You Can Help. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 19(2), 125-144. https://doi.org/10.1080/19359705.2015.1007417
- Almeida, J., Johnson, R. M., Corliss, H. L., Molnar, B. E., & Azrael, D. (2009). Emotional distress among LGBT youth: the influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of youth and adolescence, 38(7), 1001–1014. doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9397-9
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- Human Rights Campaign (2018). Growing Up LGBT In America. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/youth-report/view-and-share-statistics
- Hutchinson, E. (2015). Dimensions of human behavior: The changing life course (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Chapter 5 & 6.
- Kann, L., Olsen, E. O., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., … Zaza, S. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 65(9), 1–202. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6509a1
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- Russell, S. T., & Fish, J. N. (2016). Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth. Annual review of clinical psychology, 12, 465–487. doi:10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-021815-093153
- Schonfeld, S (July 2015). The Surprising History of the Phrase ‘Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve.’ Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/surprising-history-phrase-adam-and-eve-not-adam-and-steve-348164
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