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Understanding minority stress: How to be an LGBTQ2S+ ally

Thursday, Jun. 23, 2022
A group of friends outside holding pride flag

Research shows that individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two spirit, and those who don't identify as CIS-gendered or heterosexual (LGBTQ2S+) experience discrimination that is detrimental to their mental health. Understanding the forces that work to oppress individuals of the LGBTQ2S+ community is essential in becoming an ally and promoting social equity. Read on to learn more!

What is the minority stress theory?

The minority stress theory explains the conflict between a minority and dominant group within a social context. Those who identify as a minority on the basis of age, sex, gender, race or religion may experience stress that is unique to their identity. This conflict may present as racism, sexism, ageism or homophobia as a result of one’s identity straying from dominant and normative social expectations.

Individuals who identify as LGBTQ2S+ are one of the populations that experience minority stress on the basis of sexual orientation within a heterosexual dominant society. Research shows that as a result of experiencing forms of oppression, LGBTQ2S+ individuals are at a greater risk of substance use, mental health challenges (i.e., anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, and phobic disorder), risky behaviors as well as suicidality and self-harm.

Minority stress: intersecting identities

Intersectionality explores how different aspects of a person's identity (i.e., race, class, sex or gender) merge to discriminate and/or disadvantage. Looking at something through an intersectional lens means considering how different aspects of someone's identity in a social context can work to affect them. The discrimination that someone experiences can be a result of their collective overlapping identity, rather than just one aspect. For example, those who identify as LGBTQ2S+ students who also experience a disability are more likely to be bullied and drop out of school than those who are able bodied.

How to be an LGBTQ2S+ ally

pride flag

Do not be afraid to ask - being an LGBTQ2S+ ally is about being respectful and asking how you can support individuals and/or the community at large. Here are some ways to be an ally:

  • Learn to recognize your own personal biases
  • Remain open-minded even if it may be difficult or uncomfortable for you
  • Speak with people in the LGBTQ2S+ community and listen to their experiences
  • Use inclusive language to ensure that everyone feels respected
  • Stand up to those who make offensive comments about LGBTQ2S+ individuals and/or community
  • Intervene safely if you witness negative behaviour by others
  • Educate yourself through your own research

How is Lifemark working to promote the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ2S+ communities?

  • Improving awareness of the social context that LGBTQ2S+ individuals live in
  • Understanding how internalized discrimination can have an impact on mental health and wellbeing
  • Conducting equity training to help staff members learn about the various forces of oppression that enforce stereotypes and/or discrimination
  • Increasing awareness that those who belong to multiple marginalized communities (e.g., those who identify as LGBTQ2S+ and Indigenous) may face additional barriers

Educating yourself on the impacts of minority stress can help decrease the health disparities that exist between dominant and minority groups. These communities often face oppression and/or discrimination, leading to inequitable healthcare services. The minority stress theory allows us to have a better understanding of others’ lived experiences and places us in a better position to advocate for more empathetic policies.

Additional resources

Kids Help Phone – Children and youth ages 5-20 can speak with trained counselors at Kids Health Phone (1-800-668-6868).

Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Trans Youthline – The Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Trans Youthline offers free peer support for youth aged 26 and under (1-800-268-9688).

Parents, Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) – PFLAG (www.pflagcanada.ca) is a resource for LGBT people and their families.

This blog was written by Elise Kopman & Reem Al-Kas, 2nd year OT students at University of Western Ontario

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