Battling the Same-Sex Hate

Despite rapid social progress, LGBTI depression rates are still very high. Helen Carroll examines the situation.[br]Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people often suffer from the stigma of those who don’t understand. They have to fight an uphill battle to be seen as equal to the heterosexual, cisgender majority. They have been gaining support hugely in recent years with the passing of the Marriage Equality referendum, showing that the majority of the country believe in the equal right to marry the person you love. Despite all this, there is worrying new evidence that mental health and suicide rates are disproportionately high in this community.A ground-breaking new report called the LGBTI report, published by Dr Mary McAleese on the 22nd of March, is Ireland’s largest study to date of the mental health and well-being of LGBTI people in Ireland. On a positive note, it found that a “majority of LGBTI people aged 26 and over are doing well, report good self-esteem and are proud of their LGBTI identity.” This is fantastic news, particularly as the older generations tend to find it more difficult to change their long-established views about sexual orientation and the family.These findings differ across all age groups, but it is not entirely positive. The researchers at Trinity College who undertook this report found that “LGBTI people still face considerable barriers to good mental health, including bullying at school, fear of rejection and discrimination, harassment and violence and negative attitudes and stereotypes”.This discrimination is bound to have an effect on the community, with this concern being confirmed with much higher rates of mental health difficulties, in particular severe stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies. The statistics show that one in three have been threatened with physical violence and one in six with sexual violence.The higher threat of violence against them, as well as bigotry and outright hatred can lead many to have low self-confidence levels. These high rates are not caused by being gay in itself, but the backlash that occurs as a result of poor attitudes. Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr McAleese called the results “shocking”.Mental health difficulties exist in the population as a whole, but 60 per cent of those in the LGBTI community who have self-harmed in the past year have said the reason for doing so was in relation to their sexual orientation. The younger members of the LGBTI community tend to have statistically higher rates of self-harm in comparison to the older members. The stigma associated with mental health prevents many from seeking treatment and even confiding in those they trust regarding these mental concerns.
“It certainly didn’t help that in recent years, certain countries have passed a lot of anti-gay legislation, disguised as ways of “protecting public morals” and “protecting the family”.
Ireland has an alarmingly high suicide rate, especially amongst young men. In the past, it has been difficult for the health services to secure funding for mental health programs, with many charities finding it very difficult to continue to provide their cheap or free services to those who need it most.Levels of anxiety and depression rose dramatically when the housing bubble burst and the Celtic Tiger came to an end, making the strain on mental health services even harder to contain. It certainly didn’t help that in recent years, certain countries have passed a lot of anti-gay legislation, disguised as ways of “protecting public morals” and “protecting the family”.Bruce Springsteen recently cancelled a concert that was due to play in Mississippi in the US. This was due to a bill passed recently there called HB2 that bans legislation from being passed in local districts granting rights to those who are LGBTI. As well as that, it forces transgender people to use bathrooms that coincide with their birth gender, not the gender they identify with, even if they have undergone gender reassignment surgery.PayPal has also publicly come out about against a similar bill, stating that they are abandoning a business venture that would have created 300 jobs in North Carolina because they believe “The new law perpetuates discrimination and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture”.Many of these bills, which are often called “religious freedom” bills, have been vetoed, especially after public backlash. Georgia was set to pass one extremely far-reaching religious freedom bill that would have allowed religious organisations to discriminate based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This would mean that they would be allowed to fire an employee or refuse service to someone who was in a marriage they didn't approve of.It is said that the media and the corporate world can create pressure against these bills. This includes Richard Branson who eventually convinced Georgia governor Nathan Deal to veto the bill, even though it coincided with his beliefs. This shows that public uproar can and does work to defy bigotry, but many of these bills, as well as TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) bills that restrict the right to abortion have recently passed in the US as part of what many call the “war on Christianity”.These archaic laws are not restricted to just the US though. Russia has famously enacted many anti-gay laws to preserve the “traditional family”, which includes a ban on any sort of “gay propaganda”. These laws are purposefully vague, to the point that several gay couples have been arrested for holding hands in public. These sort of laws perpetuate a culture of hate towards those who love somebody of the same gender. It’s mentally draining and debilitating for those in the LGBTI community to have to hide who they are and tiptoe around laws that exist for no reason except to inconvenience them, or at worst, attempt to write them out of existence.It is possible that such laws can be a factor that drive statistically high levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation in the LGBTI community. This is terrible because of the lasting physical and mental scars it causes people, but mostly because this is entirely preventable. By repealing these terrible “religious freedom” laws and instead promoting tolerance of others, perhaps we could help those with mental health difficulties, and even save lives.