According to a new study from George Washington University, even mild homophobia can be enough to trigger changes in the body that may put some lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people at risk of long-term health issues like heart disease. The health issues may result from the increase in cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate triggered by exposure to prejudice and discrimination.
Exposure to prejudice
June is Pride Month, which gives sexual and gender minorities the chance to publicly celebrate their lives while bringing widespread exposure to the issues these communities face. The bold presence of symbols and discussions related to LGBT issues can also stir up similarly loud expressions of prejudice and discrimination from bigoted factions of society, exposing LGBT individuals to these negative opinions and, at times, threats.
Just in time to talk about this issue is the new study from George Washington University, which focused specifically on exposure to the discrimination and prejudice lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may face. According to the findings, it only takes mild exposure to these issues to potentially trigger harmful physiological changes.
Discrimination and health
The study involved 134 adults who identified as LGB; they were tasked with partaking in an interview, which the researchers describe as a stressful activity. Ahead of the interview, the participants were given a paper with descriptions of the person who would be interviewing them, including that they were — for the purpose of the study — against same-sex marriage.
Participants who were in the control group weren’t exposed to this same anti-gay discrimination. All of the questions presented to the participants were pre-recorded and identical, requiring standard information from the participants. While all of the participants experienced a degree of stress response due to the nature of being interviewed, those who had been primed with exposure to anti-gay discrimination had a more severe response.
Participants primed with discrimination experienced a greater increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels compard to the control group. As well, it took longer for their heart rate and blood pressure to return to normal after the interview. The findings underscore past research that has linked experiences of discrimination with poorer health outcomes.
The study is an important look into the matter, one the researchers say can be expanded upon with additional exploration. For example, this study primarily involved young white LGB individuals; future studies may explore the effects of discrimination on lesbian, gay, or bisexual people who are also part of an ethnic minority, as well as people in different age groups.