In 2006, after receiving over 2,000 emails from readers of A Life of Unlearning a pattern became clear of the impacts faith/sexuality conflict was having on LGBT people from Christian backgrounds.
LGBT people from faith and religious backgrounds experience the usual issues of resolution, coming out, finding their place in the community and learning what it means to be gay or lesbian in a predominately straight world. They often however, experience these things with greater intensity and have additional issues to deal with.
- Even after coming out, internalised homophobia from years of negative conditioning and self-hatred can continue to have an impact.
- Most have invested years attempting to conform to heterosexuality through personal secret attempts, opposite-sex relationships and formal (‘ex-gay’) programs which left them wounded and traumatised.
- Having a belief system that says your eternal destiny hinges in your acceptance/rejection of your same- sex-orientation or gender identity, creates a cognitive dissonance that is difficult to resolve without information and connection with others who have walked the same journey.
- For most people from faith backgrounds, accepting that you are gay or lesbian means you have to leave the church, and your entire social network lost. It was a strong network, often like family, and your life was filled with church activities and service. Finding a new life of meaning, your place in the LGBT community (with a very different set of values) and like-minded-people is often difficult.
Considering all these factors, my belief is that, LGBT people from faith and religious backgrounds are possibly one of the highest risk groups of:
- Potential and real suicidality. The larger proportion of the emails mentions either thoughts of, or attempts to suicide.
- Mental health issues. The dissonance caused by the perceived conflict of faith, and sexuality causes stress and depression.
- Self-destructive behaviours. When people are rejected from, or leave their religious backgrounds, they are left with strong feelings of failure and shame. Poor self-image leads to unhealthy behaviours. Some believe they will go to hell for accepting their homosexuality and this belief plays out in high-risk activities—a slow form of suicide.
- Obsessive behaviours and addictions. It’s not uncommon for someone who has suppressed or denied their sexual orientation to develop unhealthy behaviours which get out of control.
- HIV & STI infection. Most people from church backgrounds don’t have access to safe-sex education and therefore, if sexually active, are at higher risk.
- Discrimination. LGBT people of faith can often experience discrimination not only from their religious community but also, at times, from within their own LGBT community.
I knew that the data I’d been keeping was firstly anecdotal, and the sample biased. As I searched for more information, there was a substantial body of research on LGBTI communities’ mental health outcomes and also about LGBT people from faith backgrounds. No one was making a comparison between LGBT people of faith and those from non-faith backgrounds. It appeared to me that those from faith backgrounds had substantially, and when I say substantially I mean multiplied by 5-10 times worse outcomes than those who had no faith to contend with.
In 2006 I put out a plea to researchers and academics to work in this area.
In 2009 I met Babucarr Sowe after he’d read A Life of Unlearning. He has devoted many years of his life to researching in this area.
Here is his recently published work.
Religious Anti-Gay Prejudice as a Predictor of Mental Health, Abuse, and Substance Use
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ort0000297
- Exposure to religious anti-gay prejudice (i.e. the disapproval of homosexuality on religious grounds) predicts higher levels of anxiety, stress, and shame, more harmful alcohol use, and more instances of both physical and verbal victimization, etc.
- These harmful outcomes were observed among BOTH LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) and heterosexual individuals, and regardless of whether or not they were religious themselves.
- The disapproval of homosexuality on religious grounds isn’t just a harmless expression of religious belief. Data show that broad and substantial harm may ensue when religious bodies and people of faith espouse, or expose others to, anti-gay religious ideology.
- If religious leaders/groups campaigning against marriage equality are concerned about the wellbeing of society, families, children, and schools, ironically, their gay-negative messages may be jeopardising just that.
- Policies and legislation that enshrine anti-gay discrimination on religious grounds may pose significant threats to wellbeing. This includes, for e.g., exemptions allowing religious businesses to deny the provision of goods and services to LGB persons or couples.
- The flip side is that less anti-gay exposure is associated with better health and mental health outcomes. This is one reason why LGB-supportive curricula, and affirming school/workplace initiatives, can have immense benefit.
- Current Australian marriage law survey, including the ramifications of “NO” campaign messages and anti-gay religious lobbying
- Comments by politicians dismissing the negative effects of a national debate on LGB rights.
- Policies and legislation seeking to enshrine religious anti-gay prejudice in the event of same sex marriage passing.
- Broader anti-discrimination exemptions on religious grounds against LGB individuals.
- “Safe Schools” and LGB-supportive curricula.
- Duty of care of religious leaders, clergy, chaplains, clinicians, and education providers.
- Empirical data of this nature has been greatly lacking in this area until now.
- The study included a very wide range of metrics, and a heterosexual comparison group.
- The study implemented a novel crowd-sourcing methodology to reduce problematic selection bias among participants.
Babucarr J. Sowe, Alan J. Taylor, & Jac Brown ~ MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY