This June, the LGBTQ community holds its annual Pride celebration by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. In 1969, a tenacious and determined group from the community, led by drag queens, said no to decades of harassment and imprisonment by the police by fighting back. Three nights of riots sent a powerful message to the world and resulted in the first large-scale march for gay rights the next year. Progress for equality has pushed forward since then, always threatened, however, by forces of hate and intolerance.
In this excerpt from our book, Healing the Brain: Stress, Trauma and LGBTQ Youth, we peel away the confusion and show the reality of minority stress and the gay community. How words and acts of hate literally diminish the physical and mental health of this targeted group.
Unique to the LGBT form of minority stress—as opposed to minority stress engendered by societal prejudice based upon race, ethnicity, gender, or disability—is that one's sexual orientation usually is invisible to others. As a result, in addition to being the target of overt discrimination, LGBT individuals are constantly subject to subtle, inadvertent, or insensitive attacks on the core of their very nature, even by people who profess no disdain or disrespect for them.
For instance, if someone has a lesbian colleague but doesn't know the colleague's orientation, an innocent question—such as asking her if she has a boyfriend, rather than asking “Are you seeing someone special?”—implies a judgment regarding what is “normal.” When the “other” is invisible, faceless, or nameless, it is common for those in power to ignore the reality of the other's existence and the challenges the other faces. This interplay of power and prejudice, whether overt or covert, constitutes the phenomenon of heterosexism. Similarities to the racism and sexism so prevalent during the civil rights movements of past generations are obvious.
This sexual-minority status, as explained by Riggle and Rostosky, is defined by a culture of devaluation, including overt and subtle prejudice and discrimination, [one that] creates and reinforces the chronic, everyday stress that interferes with optimal human development and well-being.