Progressively backward: Homophobia and LGBTIQ+ Mental Health

Over the past 50 years, we have witnessed a profound shift towards embracing and accepting diversity towards our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ+) communities. This is evidently reflected in law reforms surrounding marriage and LGBTI rights. However, our LGBTIQ+ community continue to face discrimination and homophobia, amplified in recent same-sex marriage debates.

In a 21st century society that prides itself on being progressive and free, we have unwittingly re-opened a wound that had only just begun to heal through politically fuelled and somewhat ignorant debate over same-sex marriage that has seen the worst of homophobia resurfaced within decades.

The 1970s marked a prominent time for the LGBTIQ+ community with the rise of the Gay Rights movement advocating for equal rights and calling for an end to the discrimination against this minority group. Despite these progressive campaigns, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) was only just removing “homosexuality” as a formal diagnosis of a mental health disorder, representing a turning point for recognition of their diversity as a part of society rather than an illness.

Polls conducted by Gallup in 2015 found that 66% of Americans believed that “gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal”, rising from 43% in 1978. The same survey found an increase from 27% in 1997 to over 55% in 2015 on the view agreeing that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognised in the eyes of the law as valid, and equal with traditional marriages. Australian polls from this year have found that 63% of Australians believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

However, despite a clear shift in societal views and values in many societies, not least here in Australia, Beyond Blue stated in 2013 that Australian LGBTIQ+ individuals are still faced with significantly higher rates of suicide and mental health issues compared to the wider community.

With 36% of transsexual and 24% of gay, lesbian and bisexual Australians confronted with major depressive episodes, Beyond Blue has found almost a doubling in psychological distress amongst our LGBTIQ+ members compared to the wider community.

With increasing acceptance for diversity amongst sexualities and gender identities, and recognition for gay rights, why is it that our LGBTIQ+ youth are still victims to significantly higher suicide tendencies and mental ill-health relative to the wider population?

Beyond Blue states that suicidal tendencies and mental health issues are not a result of a sexuality crisis or gender identity problems, but rather due to underlying social exclusion and discrimination. A 2016 review on mental illness in our LGBTIQ+ youth explored the Minority Stress theory, outlining that sexual minorities are subject to chronic stressors resulting from stigmatisation based on their identities.

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With a critical period of psychological development taking place throughout adolescence – a time where many begin to explore the bounds of their sexuality – it has been recognised that our gay community are faced with intense feelings of anxiety, rejection and isolation, often due to internalised homophobia.

On ABC’s QandA last Monday night, following questioning from a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, National Party senator, Matt Canavan called LGBTIQ+ individuals “delicate flowers”, highlighting the ignorance that is regrettably imbued in sections of our community. After the questioner made a point about his time being aggressively bullied and spat on during high school, Senator Canavan deliberately downplayed the severity of mental illness within the LGBTIQ+ community. Canavan exclaimed Westpac were wrong when stating that 3,000 LGBTIQ+ members were victims to suicide annually, stating himself that it was, in fact, “only 2,800” suicides per year.

Additionally, we have witnessed constant backlash from both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, including violence, vandalism and abuse. Queensland Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad, reported swastika signs placed over “Yes” campaign posters, and a transsexual woman in Hobart reported being strangled and feeling unsafe in a community she calls home.

The current resurfacing of homophobia against the gay community will continue to push the already marginalised further to the edge, potentially intensifying the substantial mental health issues that have devastated our LGBTIQ+ youth for decades.

However, it is not only the Australian gay community who continue to stand against blatant discrimination and homophobia. Two prominent members of the LGBTIQ+ community, actress Ellen Page and film-maker Ian Daniel, explore these pertinent issues on a global scale in their recent SBS VICELAND documentary series ‘Gaycation’.

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The series aims to explore the vast differences in experiences of sexual orientation across a multitude of cultures. The pair interviews members of the public as well as LGBTIQ+ individuals across Japan, Jamaica, Brazil and the US, highlighting how diverse experiences can be across cultures.

Through witnessing the differing attitudes towards this community, Page and Daniel see that the gay and lesbian culture in Japan is deeply closeted due to cultural beliefs, Brazil holds the highest LGBTIQ+ murder rate in the world and members of the gay community are so persecuted in Jamaica that access to healthcare, HIV screening and AIDS therapy is drastically compromised.

In the final episode of the season, Page and Daniel demonstrate how recent, politically and religiously driven anti-LGBTIQ+ movements in the United States have brought homophobia to the surface, establishing a widespread culture of alienation and isolation of the gay community.

Despite the abundance of literature highlighting major shifts in society’s values and increasing acceptance, there has been a concurrent and undeniable rise in intolerance, violence and publicly voiced hate speech towards LGBTIQ+ communities on a global scale. With already elevated rates of suicide, drug dependencies and mental health problems, how are we going to close a gap when politicians are failing to help create a space that promotes acceptance?

It seems that even Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas in his 1894 poem, Two Loves, limned the closeted nature of love that remains relevant today for many of our LGBTIQ+ youth, too scared to express themselves in fear of persecution and rejection – using the first person to embody homosexuality, he writes, “I am the love that dare not speak its name”.

Will we, as a nation, lead the way for a more equal tomorrow, pioneering a country of compassion and acceptance? Or will we allow complacency to rule king, continue to turn a blind eye and embrace the false label of “progressive” we have given ourselves?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Doctus Project.