Research Portal Presents Link between Discrimination and Health Harms for LGBT Population

In a review of thousands of peer-reviewed studies, the What We Know Project (WWKP), an initiative of Cornell University’s Center for the Study of Inequality, has found a strong link between anti-LGBT discrimination and harms to the health and well-being of LGBT people.

The research team screened more than 11,000 titles and read over 1300 peer-reviewed studies in order to identify those that addressed the question, “What does the scholarly research say about the effects of discrimination on the health of LGBT people?” The results of their analysis, the largest known literature review on the topic, indicated that 286 out of 300 studies, or 95 percent, found a link between anti-LGBT discrimination and LGBT health harms.

“The research we reviewed makes it crystal clear that discrimination has far-ranging effects on LGBT health,” said Nathaniel Frank, director of the What We Know Project. “And those consequences are compounded for especially vulnerable populations such as people of color, youth and adolescents, and transgender Americans.”

WWKP is an online research portal that aggregates existing peer-reviewed LGBT research in a convergence of scholarship, public policy and new media technology.

“The goal is to bring together in one place scholarly evidence that informs LGBT debates, so that policymakers, journalists, researchers and the public can make truly informed decisions about what policies best serve the public interest,” said Frank. “We don’t call ‘balls and strikes’ in our analysis, but simply describe what conclusions the studies reach so visitors may evaluate the research themselves.”

WWKP’s latest report could play a role in debates currently unfolding at the Supreme Court, in Congress, and across the country about whether to ban discrimination or, alternatively, allow a “license to discriminate” through religious exemptions from discrimination law, noted Frank. The data also offer practitioners and policymakers guidance on what policies and practices can help mitigate the consequences of anti-LGBT discrimination, prejudice, and stigma, noted Frank.

“Sometimes research really humanizes a policy debate, and this is one of those times,” said Kellan Baker of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, co-lead of the study. “Whatever you think of what the law should say about anti-LGBT discrimination, this research makes indisputable that it inflicts great harm on the LGBT population, and gives policymakers and individuals tools to reduce those harms.”

Among the key findings identified by the WWKP are the following:

  • Anti-LGBT discrimination increases the risks of poor mental and physical health for LGBT people, including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, substance use, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Discrimination is linked to health harms even for those who are not directly exposed to it, because the presence of discrimination, stigma, and prejudice creates a hostile social climate that taxes individuals’ coping resources and contributes to minority stress.
  • Minority stress, including internalized stigma, low self-esteem, expectations of rejection, and fear of discrimination, helps explain the health disparities seen in LGBT populations.
  • Discrimination on the basis of intersecting identities such as gender, race, or socioeconomic status can exacerbate the harms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Protective factors against the harms of discrimination include community and family support; access to affirming health care and social services; and the establishment of positive social climates, inclusive practices, and anti-discrimination policies.

The full research analysis and methodology can be viewed on the WWKP website.


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