Those who know me will know I am a bit of a data nerd, so when I got a recent ONS alert with the following subject line, it caught my eye:
“Lesbian, gay, bisexual people say they experience a lower quality of life”
Curiosity got the better of me and I began to inspect. The data showed that people identifying as LGB had a lower quality of life than the national average. Reading the newsletter and looking into the data, I wasn't surprised. The first thing that came to mind was health inequalities, mental wellbeing and resilience. When health inequality is talked about within the LGBT community, one of the first things people talk about is HIV. This is not a blog about HIV (but feel free to read my other blog on HIV). This is about everything else that impacts wellbeing and quality of life for LGBT individuals.
48 years after the Stonewall Riots, we’re able to experience the freedom and equality that was fought hard for. We now have marriage equality, society is becoming more accepting, TFL has even changed greetings to accommodate non-binary genders...happy days! So why do LGB people have a lower quality of life? How does inequality come into this? We have marriage equality - isn't this enough to set us up for a happy and fulfilling life?
A report by the LGBT Foundation found that LGB people are two to three times more likely to suffer from depression than heterosexual people, and are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts or attempt to take their own life. Over half of young gay people harm themselves and there are higher smoking prevalences among gay and bisexual men than heterosexual men.
If you are LGB, you are seven times more likely to take drugs. Three out of 10 LGB people had used at least one substance within the last month (excluding alcohol) and more than one in five had a substance dependency. 43% of those dependant on substances were gay men, while 38% were lesbian.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Hate crimes continue to rise (across the board – this is not just for LGBT people, but also race related hate crimes), bullying, both in schools and in the workplace and discrimination (particularly with experienced by subgroups) are also on the rise. Equality doesn't necessarily mean acceptance.
So why do these issues exist? One of the biggest factors for poor LGBT wellbeing is the fear of being rejected by family members and peers. A report released by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that familial rejection has an impact on mental health, which sometimes results in homelessness. A report by the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) found that 77% of young people believed their sexuality and/or gender identity was a factor in being rejected by their family.
Micro-aggressions also influence the health and wellbeing of people who are LGBT. Micro-aggressions are nothing new and they certainly aren’t exclusively reserved for the LGBT community. From sexism to racism – a good example is when someone once asked me where I’m from, then asked where I was REALLY from. Or when people willingly don’t sit next to me on the train - even when it’s full. In this instance, micro-aggressions would use the word “gay” as a negative connotation. I’ve certainly grown up “ha, gay!”, “no homo” and “that’s gay” being thrown around when insulting or mocking someone else. I can see how something like this is supposed to be a joke, but the reality is far from this. It's toxic, not a joke.
Lets talk about privilege
One issue that’s not well reported is in-fighting amongst the LGBT community. Discrimination within the LGBT community acts as a wider determinant to the mental health and wellbeing of its own people. Don’t take my word for it – just have a look at these headlines!
“As a bisexual man, I feel that gay men discriminate against me” - The Independent
"The queer community has to stop being transphobic: Realising my cisgender privilege” - The Huffington Post
In some instances, we are our own worst enemy. It’s fair to say that some of these issues can be prevented – particularly when it comes to discrimination within the LGBT community. Some people aren’t aware of this because of certain privileges they might hold. In the same way that men have privilege over women (resulting in everyday sexism), there is an undertone of race privilege within the LGBT community.
By no means does this issue have a simple answer - multiple layers contribute towards the health and wellbeing of LGBT people. The complexity of the issue makes it overwhelming, but there are small changes we can make. I’m not speaking on behalf of all LGBT people, nor am I the token BME representative. I am merely one voice, using his personal experience and interpretation of data to highlight an issue. The aim of this is to raise awareness of the complexity around the issue raised by data from the ONS. Yes, there is still a lack of data in some areas – but without the insight, it’s difficult to know how to tackle these issues. Until then, it will be very difficult to improve health outcomes.