Sexual Orientation and Mental Health: Incremental Progression or Radical Change?

By Wyatt-Nichol, Heather | Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Sexual Orientation and Mental Health: Incremental Progression or Radical Change?


Wyatt-Nichol, Heather, Journal of Health and Human Services Administration


INTRODUCTION

There has been a surge of optimism among social equity advocates in recent years as our society appears to be on a trajectory towards equality, particularly within the LGBT community. In 2010, President Obama issued a memo extending benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the "Rainbow Rulings" (Hollingsworth, et al., v. Kristin M. Perry and United States v. Windsor) which upheld marriage equality in California and ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. Each year additional states are added to the list of jurisdictions that allow same sex marriage--the District of Columbia and seventeen states (28) provide full marriage equality. In addition, the significance of the Windsor decision expands beyond ruling DOMA unconstitutional to extending federal benefits to all same-sex married couples, regardless of state, where the federal government has jurisdiction (e.g. bankruptcy, visitation rights in federal prisons, survivor benefits, and the right to refuse testimony against a spouse) (Perez, 2014).

In contrast, discrimination based upon sexual orientation is pervasive in American Society. Thirty states have legislation that specifically prohibits same-sex marriage (FreedomToMarry.org, 2014). Numerous reports on the LGBT community provide evidence of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in employment (Swan, French, & Norman-Major, 2012). Reported hate crimes against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals increased 6% (1, 265) between 2006 and 2007 (Marzullo & Libman, 2009). Individuals who identify as LGBT have reported discrimination in the provision of health care services. A survey administered in 2009 by Lambda Legal reveals:

More than half of all respondents reported that they have experienced at least one of the following types of discrimination in care: being refused needed care; health care professionals refusing to touch them or using excessive precautions; health care professionals using harsh or abusive language; being blamed for their health status; or health care professionals being physically rough or abusive ("When Health Care Isn't Working", 2010).

Furthermore, a study by Hatzenbuehler, Keyes, and Hasin (2009) found that mood and anxiety disorders were more prevalent among gays and lesbians in states without protective policies for the LGBT community.

Given the juxtaposition of the status of gays and lesbians, this manuscript provides a critical historic analysis of the status of sexual orientation nondiscrimination within the context of the mental health profession.

THE MARGINALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY

The mainstream view in American society today is that religion, particularly Christianity, condemns homosexual behavior, however, lively debate continues over the interpretation of Biblical texts. For example, some scholars point out that the word homosexual did not enter the English language until 1912 nor was the term included in the Bible until the "1946 RSV in Corinthians 6:9" (Everding, n.d.). There is also an ideological divide over homosexuality among denominations and churches ranging from acceptance and support of lesbians and gays (e.g. Unitarian Universalist) to active hostility (e.g. Southern Baptist). (29) The most extreme examples of active hostility toward gays and lesbians in recent times are displayed through Westboro Baptist Church (unaffiliated Baptist) in Topeka Kansas. Westboro members protest at funerals and various other events with their notorious signs "God hates fags."

Although religion continues to be a major influence on society's perception of homosexuality, the purview of homosexuality shifted from religious doctrine to institutions of authority in the late 19th century via law and medicine, particularly the field of psychiatry (De Block & Adriaens, 2012; Drescher, 2010; Foucualt, 1976/1990; Wahlert, 2013). …

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