Simply put, sexuality is a complex matter, even at the individual-level. Sexual orientation and sexual identity, as components of sexuality in general, are also complex. And, as I have noted in an earlier post, we must recognize the ways in which our sexual identities vary across, and are even shaped by, our gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, age, ability, and nationality and immigrant status. The unique experiences and challenges of sexual minorities who are racial and ethnic minorities, relative to their heterosexual and white counterparts, reflect the complicated intersection of race and ethnicity with sexuality.
Sexual Minority Status, Discrimination, And Mental Health
In a new study conducted by health researchers David Chae and George Ayala, reports discrimination among a sample of Asian and Latino/a sexual minorities are strongly related to higher levels of psychological distress. Interestingly, however, in the researchers’ nationally-representative survey is the absence of this relationship between discrimination experiences and the subsequent psychological distress among those sexual minorities who do not identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). That is, the discrimination-distress relationship holds for those who identify as LGB, but not for heterosexual-identified Asian and Latino/a adults who report same-sex sexual partners in the past year. Indeed, other recent national surveys of sexual behavior have found that the majority of adults reporting same-sex sexual partners actually identify as heterosexual.
Mediating The Health-Discrimination Link
The above study is not meant to imply that lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities cause psychological distress or other negative outcomes. Rather, there are a number of factors that contribute to a strong relationship between discrimination experiences and psychological distress for LGB-identified people, including a greater awareness of racial and sexual discrimination and/or likelihood to attribute unfair treatment to racism and homophobia. Interestingly, a strong positive LGB identity can actually buffer the negative impact of racial and sexual discrimination.
In another study on Latino bisexual and gay men and transgender women, health researchers Jesus Ramirez-Valles et al. found that involvement in the LGBT community weakens the relationship between discrimination and health. In their study, the researchers examined the positive impact volunteering at an LGBT or HIV/AIDS community organization has on one’s health. In their sample of 643 gay and bisexual Latino men and transgender Latina women, they found that the link between stigma associated with sexuality (i.e., gay/bisexual identity) and ethnicity (i.e., Latino/a identity) and risky sexual behaviors does not exist for GBT Latino/as who have been involved with community organizations. That link does, however, exist for those who were not involved.