It is no secret that health outcomes are amongst the lowest for those who identify as LGBTQ, and the intersectionality of anti-black discrimination compounds the problem. One area of interest is the effect of families on health outcomes for this population. It is widely known that black LGBTQ groups have health outcomes that are heavily dependent on social support and social structures, including both family and friends (Bostwick et al., 2014). One study in Massachusetts found that individuals who came out to supportive parents had better health outcomes (Rothman, Sullivan, Keyes & Boehmer, 2012). Lesbian and bisexual women who did not disclose their sexuality to family members at all also had a higher incidence of illicit drug use and depression.
The group that experiences perhaps the strongest level of discrimination is black lesbians. The phenomenon has been termed “triple jeopardy”, and describes the fact that black women experience three types of discrimination simultaneously – racism, sexism, and heterosexism (Bostwick et al., 2014). Bowleg, Huang, Brooks, Black & Burkholder (2008) found that, whilst resilience amongst this group is high, stress levels were also notable. Bowleg et al. (2008) found that those who had a strong social group, however, could mitigate the effects of this triple jeopardy, particularly if that social group (sociological family) was composed of members outside their social group. Calabrese et al. (2015) also suggested that the multiple microaggressions and resulting stress experienced by Black sexual minority women can be used to understand the poor mental health outcomes and high levels of depression experienced by this group, but that this can also be mitigated by the effects of strong sociological families.
The majority of the research conducted into health outcomes and support networks in black LGBTQ individuals focuses on mental health, notably because this is an area where black LGBTQ groups show the worst health disparities. The research does show that outcomes do not have to be negative – various types of social support lead to better mental health outcomes, especially in terms of biological family members. McConnell, Birkett & Mustanski (2015) found that the incidence of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health disorders were on par with the general population in black LGBT groups who had social support, either from family or non-family groups. Unfortunately, the study also showed that the presence of this support was more likely to be found in higher socioeconomic status individuals, which helps to explain the disparity between white and black LGBTQ mental health outcomes overall (McConnell et al., 2015).
Studies into the health outcomes of older LGBTQ adults gives insight for the future and ways in which we can improve health outcomes for this group. Kim, Jen, & Fredriksen-Goldsen (2017) have recently published insight into the topic based on the Aging with Pride study. As expected, African-Americans and Hispanics that participated in the study had lower physical health measures than non-Hispanic white participants, but they had similar psychological health measures. This suggests that the disparity in mental health outcomes seen in studies on younger groups reduces with age. Kim et al. (2017) also note that African-Americans have the highest reported LGBT-related discrimination, which had a negative impact on the physical and psychological health of the group. The reason for the overall similarities in psychological health measures between black and white participants was that African-Americans recorded higher levels of spirituality. As such, community support or “church family” may be a significant area in which family is correlated with health outcomes for LGBTQ black populations.
- Bostwick, W. B., Meyer, I., Aranda, F., Russell, S., Hughes, T., Birkett, M., & Mustanski, B. (2014). Mental health and suicidality among racially/ethnically diverse sexual minority youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(6), 1129–1136.
- Bowleg, L., Huang, J., Brooks, K., Black, A., & Burkholder, G. (2003). Triple jeopardy and beyond: Multiple minority stress and resilience among Black lesbians. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 7(4), 87–108.
- Calabrese, S. K., Meyer, I. H., Overstreet, N. M., Haile, R., & Hansen, N. B. (2015). Exploring discrimination and mental health disparities faced by Black sexual minority women using a minority stress framework. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(3), 287–304.
- Kim, H.-J., Jen, S., & Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I. (2017). Race/Ethnicity and Health-Related Quality of Life Among LGBT Older Adults. The Gerontologist, 57(suppl 1), S30–S39.
- McConnell, E. A., Birkett, M. A., & Mustanski, B. (2015). Typologies of social support and associations with mental health outcomes among LGBT youth. LGBT Health, 2(1), 55–61.
- Rothman, E. F., Sullivan, M., Keyes, S., & Boehmer, U. (2012). Parents’ supportive reactions to sexual orientation disclosure associated with better health: Results from a population-based survey of LGB adults in Massachusetts. Journal of Homosexuality, 59(2), 186–200.
- Stanton, M. C., Ali, S., & Chaudhuri, S. (2017). Individual, social and community-level predictors of wellbeing in a US sample of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 19(1), 32–49.