Family “Research” Council Gets It Wrong On LGBT Mental Health
October 11th, 2010
The Washington Post has been taking a very strong lurch to the far right recently. If you have any doubt about that, then consider this op-ed by Tony Perkins, which is completely indistinguishable from the propaganda regularly promulgated by his Family “Research” Council. In this lovely gem gracing the WaPo’s web site, Perkins blames gay people for the teen suicides that has garnered so much attention recently:
Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal–yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are “born gay” and can never change. This–and not society’s disapproval–may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.”
Perkins preceded that outrageous statement with this “evidence”:
There is an abundance of evidence that homosexuals experience higher rates of mental health problems in general, including depression. However, there is no empirical evidence to link this with society’s general disapproval of homosexual conduct. In fact, evidence from the Netherlands would seem to suggest the opposite, because even in that most “gay-friendly” country on earth, research has shown homosexuals to have much higher mental health problems. [Hyperlinks in the original]
I guess Perkins doesn’t actually intend for people to click on those hyperlinks. Apparently, he intended them for decoration, the same way FRC people regularly sprinkle their publications with footnotes to make them look more scholarly. But I would invite you to go ahead and click on the first one, which points to a 2002 article from the Monitor On Psychology, the American Psychological Association’s official magazine. Among the studies discussed in that article was one by Susan Cochran (“Emerging issues in research on lesbians’ and gay men’s mental health: Does sexual orientation really matter?” American Psychologist, 56, no. 11 (Nov 2001): 931-947). Her study did find elevated levels of psychological distress among gay people. However,
For one thing, she says, “these are certainly not levels of morbidity consistent with models that say homosexuality is inherently pathological.” For another, the data simply don’t prove either pro- or anti-gay arguments on the subject, whether it’s that the inherent biology of homosexuality causes mental illness or that social stigma provokes mental illness in LGB people, she says.
Cochran also predicted that her study would, no doubt, be misused by anti-gay people like Perkins “to falsely promulgate the argument that gay people are by nature mentally ill.” She was right.
But while her study couldn’t settle the social stigma question, the very next study mentioned in the article came very close to doing just that. This one by Vickie Mays and Susan Cochran (“Mental health correlates of perceived discrimination among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health, 91, no 11 (Nov 2001): 1869-1876. Full study available online here.) “explored whether ongoing discrimination fuels anxiety, depression and other stress-related mental health problems among LGB people,” wrote the Monitor. “The authors found strong evidence of a relationship between the two.” The Monitor continues:
GB respondents reported higher rates of perceived discrimination than heterosexuals in every category related to discrimination, the team found.
While the findings do not prove that discrimination causes mental health problems, they take a step toward demonstrating that the social stigma felt by LGB people has important mental health consequences. That again points to the need for tailored mental health treatment, in particular therapy that includes ongoing discussion of how discriminatory experiences may affect stress levels, they note.
So, instead of blaming the problems that gay people have on simply being gay — as Tony Perkins does by pretending that science does the same — actual real live scientists have found very much the opposite, that social stigma provides a very strong explanation for the psychological distress that LGBT people face.
By the way, that same Monitor article went on to describe two other studies that found that lesbians, especially those who are already out, are actually doing quite nicely on the coping front, thank you very much. They also measured higher in self-esteem. Tony Perkins somehow forgot to mention that.
But where there is evidence of social stress, there is evidence of higher levels of psychological distress. And that extends to “the evidence from the Netherlands.” Here, Perkins links to the full text of that study online, but he appears not to have read it. While the study’s authors notes that the Netherlands is generally more tolerant, it doesn’t mean that LGBT people there are free from anti-gay bias and stress. After all, “more tolerant” is not the same as tolerant. And as for the study’s findings, the authors offered this explanation:
The effects of social factors on the mental health status of homosexual men and women have been well documented in studies, which found a relationship between experiences of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination and mental health status. Furthermore, controlling for psychological predictors of present distress seems to eliminate differences in mental health status between heterosexual and homosexual adolescents.
In fact, anti-gay violence has actually been on the rise in the Netherlands. It’s gotten so bad that a recent rally to protest the rise in anti-gay violence was marred by attacks and threats to LGBT people who were leaving the protest. In 2005, Chris Crain, former editor of the Washington Blade, was gay-bashed in Amsterdam by two persons who called him and his partner “fucking fags.” An observer in the U.K. wrote, “Reports across all media have pointed out that the events of April 30th (the date of Crain’s attack) weren’t a one-off, and that a growing number of lesbians and gay men don’t feel as safe on the streets as they once did.”
This is the nirvana in which, according to Perkins, there is no prejudice or discrimination against gay people.
Perkins’ claim that gay people are their own worst enemy is wholly unsubstantiated and completely without merit. But that is pretty much to be expected from the Family “Research” Council. What’s not expected is for the Washington Post to serve as this propagandist’s mouthpiece without any move by the fact checkers. I assume they still exist there; I could be mistaken.