Skip to main content
Coronavirus (COVID-19): Latest updates.

Research

LGBT History Month: How our history continues to impact our health

18 February 2020

LGBT history month is an intriguing time. A time when we look back to all those who came before us and fought to give us the rights we have today. But the struggle is never over. Throughout my education in psychology I continually focused my research ideas around health inequalities among sexual minorities. Over and over, the more I learned about issues such as addiction, depression and anxiety, sexual health, I found that LGBT+ individuals continually had higher rates compared to their heterosexual counterparts. But why?

For one of my dissertations I aimed to look at these health inequalities, focusing on alcohol. Research suggested that the higher rates of alcohol and drug use were largely used as a coping mechanism. A way to deal with the stresses that come with being a minority. These stresses are suggested to come in multiple forms including external prejudice and bias but also internalised homonegativity (IH). This is where an individual take in all the negativity that society presents about being homosexual, believes it and then hates themselves for it. These theories were developed in the 1970s and research did provide evidence of their association with higher levels of negative self-attitudes and increased alcohol and drug abuse. However, 50 years on, is this still the case?

I am not suggesting that nobody suffers from IH, a great many of us have surely experienced it at some point. But due to the changes in the social world around us I doubted that it was still having such an impact that individuals feel the need to drink to cope with their feelings. So if it’s not homonegativity, then what is he reason for the higher levels of alcohol?

A modern concept to explain the higher rates of alcohol consumption is ‘community connectedness’. This theory suggests that those with stronger social connections to the LGBT+ community end up drinking more alcohol because the community itself is largely focused in alcohol-centred environments. For example, LGBT+ spaces are mainly pubs and clubs, events such as Pride are largely viewed as a weekend of binge drinking. Research shows strong evidence to support this, with individuals who show higher levels of community connectedness often reporting higher rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking as well as drug use.  

I centred my dissertation on alcohol use in sexual minorities and found some interesting findings. I examined units of alcohol consumed, rates of binge drinking, drinking to cope, IH and community connectedness. My findings suggested that sexual minorities did not drink more units than the average person overall but were more likely to binge drink. IH was not found to be associated with increased alcohol use but was positively associated with drinking to cope (no surprise there). Interestingly, community connectedness was associated with higher levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking.

So being part of the LGBT+ community may increase you drinking levels. Does this mean we should no longer attend these places? No. But charities and the LGBT+ community need to put more effort into moving away from being an alcohol focused community. More LGBT+ cafes and non-alcoholic events needs to be created and promoted.

My research got me thinking into why the LGBT+ community is so alcohol centred. Where did it come from? That answer was easy. Being LGBT+ was illegal until relatively recently (and in some places still is!) and so we had to develop a community in secret. And these secret communities were in underground clubs, where we could hide away and be safe from the world around. The raiding of our safe spaces and prejudice resulted in us coming out into the light. But now the club and party lifestyle had ingrained into our culture and we have still yet to remove shed it. Gay clubs may be out in the open but they still act as a shield for us to protect ourselves from a world that is not always accepting to diversity.